There’s nothing glamorous about the unanswered grumbles of hollow stomachs; wearing hand-me-downs; and poverty’s unparalleled ability to steal one’s livelihood without ever being charged with manslaughter–unless, of course, you’ve never been there. If that’s the case, you may think it’s something to brag about.
I often joke about Drake‘s “struggle,” which could also be described as “middle class people’s problems.” Despite my status as a die-hard Drake fan, I’ve given myself permission to respectfully question his alleged crawl from poverty’s trenches into rapping stardom, where he currently reigns–birthing ubiquitous phrases like “YOLO”.
Drake was born to a Jewish mother named Sandi Graham–an educator, and Dennis Graham, an African-American drummer who worked with Jerry Lee Lewis. In the sixth grade Drake says he and his mother moved to Forest Hill–“an affluent neighborhood in central Toronto, Ontario, Canada,” where census data shows “an average income for all private households in Forest Hill to be $101,631.”
In an interview with Complex Magazine Drake spoke about his mother, “She wanted the best for her family. She found us a half of a house we could live in. The other people had the top half–we had the bottom half. I lived in the basement, my mom lived on the first floor. It was not big, it was not luxurious. It was what we could afford.”
For many this is not descriptive of a particularly harsh or uncomfortable upbringing but Drake continuously emphasizes his relationships with poverty through his music, and, in interviews. “Say I never struggled/wasn’t hungry/Yeah, I doubt it n***a,” he raps while jogging beside a white Mercedes-Benz in latest video “Started From The Bottom”.
At the crux of hip-hop’s foundation is the ‘rags-to-riches-straight-outta-Compton’ story. The majority of the hip-hop greats: Jay-Z, Biggie, DMX, Lil Wayne all boast their own “started from the bottom” personal narratives. Peddling drugs through the halls of Marcy projects provided Jay-Z with the content to create his classic debut album
Reasonable Doubt, and the rest of his career follows this suit.
It only makes sense that Canadian born Drake seeks to tell his own version of this fundamentally hip-hop narrative. But since Drake did not grow up in the projects, sell drugs or gang-bang, Drake’s identifiable “bottom” feels inadequate. His story goes something like this: he grew up in middle class Toronto; landed a role on a hit TV series at age 15; then set his sights on a lucrative career in the hip-hop music industry. A few short years later he was “25 sitting on 25 mil”. Not bad considering he just wanted to be successful.
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How can you blame Drake for bludgeoning us with his watered downed version of the hip-hop dream when his mentor Lil Wayne’s had already inherited his street cred by age 9, growing up on the tough streets of the 504?
Drake’s struggle to identify as authentically hip-hop or “hood” likely explains why he tries so hard to live the image. It perhaps, sheds a little light on the bottle-throwing incident at Club WiP that left mostly bystanders injured, rather than Chris Brown, who was his target; or explains why he chooses to spend $50,000 in strip clubs on any given night. It may all just be an attempt to overcompensate for his lack of street cred. Gangsters don’t have Bar Mitzvahs.