Drake, who was labeled by Jay Z as the Kobe Bryant of hip-hop, is one of the most popular and influential hip-hop rappers. Drake grew up with a multi-culture background, both ethnic and religious wise; his parents have different race and different religion. Drake is really appreciated for his own personal identity, once he said, “At the end of the day, I consider myself a black man because I’m more immersed in black culture than any other. Being Jewish is kind of a cool twist. It makes me unique.” However, not everyone shares the same feeling with Drake. Drake spent his high school life in a place full of white people, and he felt so isolated during that time. He has said that “nobody understood what it was like to be black and Jewish,” but added that “being different from everyone else just made me a lot stronger” (Biography). From here, it can be inferred that Drake was lack of common identity understanding with others. Drake’s songs are notable for his personal story-telling style and such style came from his constant personal inflection.
Before becoming a rapper, Drake was actually a famous child actor. He played a role “Wheelchair Jimmy”, which earned him some fame; then he starred on Degrassi for seven years. His acting business ended in 2006. Through his acting career, Drake discovered that he wants to do something different, like rap music. Drake released his first mixtape, Room for Improvement, in 2006, that’s where he started his hip-hop career (Biography). This was a bold move for him since he does not belong any scenes or groups nor having sufficient experience to professionalize his interest in hip-hop music. At that time, Drake did not make money from acting nor being a rapper; he was even trying to find day jobs in order to support his own life (Drakewire). The only thing he can rely on at that time was rap music. So, Drake spent at least 3 years to be officially signed under Lil Wayne and to be nominated for awards. His career started to take a dramatic turn and headed toward a more positive direction. Drake earned his Grammy Award of Album with the title of “Best Rap Album” in 2011 (IMDb). However, such success did not bring the recognition he expected but questions and criticisms. Many people questioned Drake’s success, they think Drake is “not an authentic hip-hop artist from his Canadian, Jewish, Actor background” (PopDust) In 2013, Drake released the song “Started From the Bottom”, which vividly describes his reaction to the complicated situation at that time.
In hip-hop, sampling is an important technique for rappers to convey their feelings or meanings of their songs. In this case, Drake’s song “Started From the Bottom” was sampled from the Ambessence Piano & Drones 1. The cover of the original album is a person standing in the mist, demonstrated the solitude that stood in the mist of mysteriousness (WhoSampled). Such depiction echoed with the solitude feeling that Drake expressed in the interview of the song “Started From The Bottom”. This provided the message that the song itself is more than a public message that Drake was trying to send to his critics and haters. It is a personal depiction of his feelings and experiences.
3. Sound and Structure:
Regrading the sound and structure of the song “Started From the Bottom”, it can be divided into eight parts. The first part is the 8 bars Intro (Hook-Chorus), here Drake introduced drums after 4 bars. The second part is the First Verse, which is also 8 bars, here the instrumentation becomes simpler and returns into quite after 4 bars. Then, third part comes to the 8 bars Chorus, which is the same with Hook, here Drake cuts the bass part after 4 bars. Following this, Verse 2, also 8 bars, comes in the fourth part, it shares a similar structure with Verse 1. Then Chorus 2 comes as the fifth part with only 4 bars. The sixth part is the Bridge, the most important and core part of this song in my opinion, here Drake introduced his stylish melodic vocal. For the Bridge part, there is no bass or drums. Then the seventh part comes again the 8 bars Chorus. Then the song ended with the Outro. Such concise instrumentation with deliberate and cautious compositional choice provided an emotional dynamic through the instrumental change.
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After the structure characteristics, understanding deeply into detail characteristics of this song became important. “Started From the Bottom” shows Drake’s unique and un-orthodoxical understanding of rap music. Different from Tricia Rose’s understanding of Rap Music, which states that rap music should be “Dense configurations of independent, but closely related, rhythms, harmonic and nonharmonic percussive sounds, especially drum sounds, are critical priorities in many African and Afrodiasporic musical practices” (Rose). Even though most popular hip-hop songs tended to use melodic hooks to be more popular, Drake’s heavy reliance on melody and harmony in his songs forged a particular style, which differentiated him from normal rappers and provided a different kind of emotion to his songs that are more personal and delicate, even though there is an unconventionally lack of melody in vocal like his present style. However, throughout the whole song “Started From the Bottom”, the only melody phrase from the bridge part. This continuation of using melody while sacrificing parts of it in the general structure of the song can be regarded both as a consistence of his style and a compromise to prove himself to be an authentic rapper. Specially, Drake introduced his famous stylish melody in the Bridge with the special feature “5 4 3 2 1 2 3 2”. Most vocalist will end their melody around “so” or “do” (in the traditional do-re-me-fa-so-la-ti-do) since in the classical music regard both notes as stable notes. However, Drake specially ended his melody on “re”, which in stability is between the stable notes such as “do” or “so” and unstable notes such as “me” or “ti”. In the modal terms, this fitted into “Dorian” mode and provided a dreamy and sad kinds of experience without being disturbing like Phrygian or Aeolian mode. Drake is famous for using such mode. From the harmony part, Drake uses back melody to deliver a sense of dreamy kinds of environment. For example, the backing arpeggio of the song is composed of notes “ti”, “do”, “la” and “fa”. These notes formed the chord IV add 11 and fitted into the Lydian mode and again, delivering a dreamy feeling to the general mood of the song. All these creation of moods through melodic and harmonic choices demonstrated the personal nature of Drake’s song such that the entire song sounded like a personal reflection with floating ideas and supernatural thoughts.
Lyrics are probably the most direct part how Drake express his feeling of the song. From the introduction part, Drake repeated “started from the bottom” and “now we are here” many times to reiterate his past and future. I think through those repeating lyrics, Drake wants to show how poor he was before and how great he is now. Then for the First Verse, Drakes talks about his past story, at the time when he is not famous, and ended with how he thinks of himself now. Here Drake introduces himself once again and disses back his haters who called him “unauthentic”. Then the Chorus comes to reinforce his change from “nothing to everything”. For the Second Verse, Drake directly talks to people, who questioned him and then talk back to himself, to reiterate his own importance while relying upon those questions toward. Then for the Bridge part, Drake reinforces that he never changed through lyrics like “story stayed the same”. That’s the general characteristics of Started from the Bottom’s lyrics.
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However, there are more meanings behind the lyrics of the song “Started From the Bottom”, both explicitly and implicitly, which implies Imani Perry’s technique of “signifying”, meaning “a way of saying one thing and meaning another” (Perry, page 61). For the explicit aspect, Drake continuously talked about his past stories, for instance arguing with his mom and borrowing cars from his uncle. These may seem very superficial; however, indeed, Drake is trying to tell his audience that He was heavily influenced by his background, especially his family. It totally changed his life; he is very lonely and struggled from the beginning, which echoed with Verse 2 that he is always struggling.
After the detailed analysis of the meaning of “Started From the Bottom”, I want to move on to the techniques Drake use. Drake is not particularly special at lyric techniques, at least not in this song; the simple style of lyrics expresses more authenticity and make Drake’s song more “real”. However, Drake still makes his words intriguing in Bridge part (his most noticeable part where he put melodies in). Through the lyrics of the Bridge, we can have a sense that Drake is both lonely but also want to be stronger, which express his pain when people are questioning him. Here also echoed with his childhood experience, how he was isolated.
Overall, the song “Started From the Bottom” as one of the most famous songs Drake made, demonstrated his unique music style, which keeps himself real. Despite this, Drake answers back to those who question his success on hip-hop and show his audience what he really feels and what he has struggled. All these struggles and questions made who Drake is today, one of the most famous hip-hop rappers in the world.
- “About Drake Aka Aubrey Drake Graham.” Developmental Biology An Everchanging Realm, Drakewire, blogs.lt.vt.edu/morelus/drake/.
- “Drake.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 9 July 2018, www.biography.com/people/drake-596834.
- “Drake.” IMDb, IMDb.com, www.imdb.com/name/nm1013044/awards?ref_=nm_awd.
- “Drake’s ‘Started From the Bottom’ Lyrics Analysis: Where’d He Start? The Bottom!” Popdust, Popdust, 10 Sept. 2018, www.popdust.com/drakes-started-from-the-bottom-lyrics-analysis-where-he-start-the-bot-1889666464.html.
- Perry, Imani Prophets Of The Hood: Politics And Poetics In Hip Hop Durham: Duke University Press, 2004. Chapter 3 “Stinging Like Tabasco: Structure and Format in Hip Hop Compositions”
- Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Hanover: Wesleyan U, 1994. Music Online: African American Music Reference Database. Web.
- “Started From the Bottom by Drake on WhoSampled.” WhoSampled, George Martin, 1 Jan. 1970, www.whosampled.com/Drake/Started-From-the-Bottom/.
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