On Drake, OVOXO, “Started from the Bottom,” and the journey from the top to the middle…
The drive to the top is followed by the drive to the middle. From a logistical perspective, the clear mainstream pop edict that has driven the success of rap’s most vaunted superstars seems off, but, it’s entirely true. It’s what got Jay-Z to switch up from jiggy raps and double-time flows to becoming an introspective rapper with hook-driven tracks. It’s the same thing that’s driven Lil Wayne from inventing “bling bling” to making rap ballads. “Started From the Bottom,” Drake’s Friday night-released debut single from his yet-to-be titled fourth studio album, follows form and is the clear start of his descent to creating a superstar legacy. In being a genre defined in it’s early era by being so much of the other to now being a genre that is so much of everything, rap’s maturation is often a difficult notion to intellectually consider. In Drake, a Canadian outsider presented with a unique view of rap history, rapping itself and access to the roots of hip-hop culture’s most relevant ascendant legacies, in one single showed exactly what rap’s divergent future as a mainstream sound may become.
The great key to Drake’s excellence is that he, as well as his team, are entirely okay with not following accepted norms of how rap would tend to translate well to American, then global tastes. The great tradition of rap crossing over has always tended to involve rap hitting pop at the core. From Rick Rubin sampling Aerosmith to Method Man rapping with Limp Bizkit, a great preponderance of mainstream rap moments have been all about rap invading spaces where the largest amount of ears are the largest amount of the time. Drake’s excellence, from sensitive mixtape-era raps with then relatively unknown Swedish pop darling Lykke Li to most recently sounding very comfortable over a sample of blogosphere-adored British producer Jamie XX, he has set a standard. This excellence even extends to the comparatively less progressive moments: sing-song hooks on soulful rap singles with drums that belie their melodies, or even simply rapping over a chopped and screwed take on Juvenile’s “Back Dat Ass Up.” These are moments that anyone could have created, but Drake and the OVOXO team did it first, and as always tried their best to execute to the best of their unique abilities.
What allows “Started From the Bottom” to either immediately win over your ears or be considered something to grow on is what will be called for the purposes of explanation, “the theory of organic progression.” Much like A$AP Rocky, and a plethora of rising emcees, Drake and the OVOXO team are comprised of young men who were raised in and are entirely obsessed with the digital age. The excitement of being able to have access to a globe of sounds to interpolate into one’s career in an iconic manner is amazing. However, where other performers fail and where Drake and company win is in finding unique connections in the double helix like construction of top-tier pop sounds. It’s in the scientific ability to introduce new DNA to pop music’s double helix without disrupting the progression of, or entirely killing pop music as a species that makes Drake and crew special. In crafting a seamless bridge from the underground to the mainstream, the Toronto native is now able to travel a self-created path to pop’s most basic, yet understated, mainstream space.
If a fan of Drake and afraid of really contemplating the notion of an expanded musical diaspora, then the raps about the “bottom” as it relates to a “top” of running the universe, over barely there trap notions blended with classic NYC boom bap in “Started From the Bottom” makes absolutely no sense to you whatsoever. If a fan of intriguing music, then this song is probably going to warrant a repeat listening. If aware of the space that Drake is attempting to occupy – that place of taking the reigns from the Jay-Zs, Lil Waynes and Dr. Dres of the world – in taking rap music to a new level of intrinsic value to both the American and global social and commercial consciousness, you’ll be impressed by the execution of this single and hopeful for the vision of what’s to come.