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Drake’s ‘Started From the Bottom’: Sincere Trolling

Drake / Photo by Getty Images

Drake’s new single, “Started From the Bottom,” released over the weekend, is slim. But that’s the plan for big-time artists in the Internet era who are dropping return singles, it seems. You throw something underwhelming out there because there’s no need to do better, let the buzz build (and oh, it will, regardless), and follow it up with something far more substantial when the stakes are higher later on. Call it the Beyonce model. Since 2006’s B’Day, she’s released a derivative, or at least highly characteristic single at first, and saved the good stuff for later: “Crazy In Love” rip-off “Deja Vu” (the third single was “Irreplaceable,” the fifth single was “Get Me Bodied”); “Single Ladies” was not the first single from I Am…Sasha Fierce; 4‘s rush of singles began with the sore-thumb shuffler “Girls (Run the World).” You get the point. Also, despite its baffling success, Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie” is squarely in the “really dude, this is what you’re giving us?” category.

“Started From the Bottom” takes the buzz-savvy Beyonce model further, also employing some artful trolling. Here’s Drake, who made his name as a suburban-enough sweetheart rapper, pushing a narrative that he’s been struggling like the majority of far-less-fortunate MCs out there. The song was released via Drake’s October’s Very Own blogspot (which, by the way, get a Tumblr, doggie), and framed as a dedication to the true fans. Only Drizzy diehards won’t bristle at the ridiculously loaded title. This song is a weird one. It’s also quite good, hanging very heavy on a pretty pissed-off hook and Drake doubling down on gauchely tossed-off lines like, “I wear every single chain, even when I’m in the house,” which is both unbelievably badass and, knowingly, the most pathetic thing ever.

What is he doing, here? He’s either creating struggle raps for already upwardly mobile shitheads, or he’s sending our debates on authenticity and hustle and grind into a never-ending volley. The former isn’t really the type of in-the-pocket pandering Drake usually indulges, while the latter has been his shtick from day one. Typically, he’s daring you to scoff at his candor and callow sincerity. So, here’s Drake remaking and remodeling the “ain’t never had shit” trope to fit his mostly comfortable upbringing, in which his tortured come-up was, like, arguing with his mom a whole bunch. Then again, rap songs about arguing with moms are rare and that’s pretty fascinating. “Look What You’ve Done” is Take Care‘s emotional highlight.

And this is what we want from Drake, don’t we? Just these total affronts to what’s appropriate or the “right” thing to say and, in doing so, and by, you know, going there, he transcends all the petulant bullshit and hits you right in the gut? There’s also something tragic and unfair about Drizzy’s “Started From the Bottom” arriving on the same day as a new My Bloody Valentine album. He originally announced the song would drop on Grammy night. Who knows why he moved it up, though there was a small but vocal presence who saw the idea as spotlight-grabbing and offensive, so perhaps he reconsidered? Only to then get overshadowed by some shoegaze legends. And on the “obnoxious artist” tip, not sure if this free song called “Started From the Bottom” is any more obnoxious than My Bloody Valentine asking for $16 for a clump of mp3s. There is now a remix featuring that other just-doesn’t-get-it rap jerk Wiz Khalifa. It seems to exist only to further higlight Drake’s rarefied smarm. “Started From the Bottom.” 10 stars. Or zero. You decide. Drake, you done it again.