Started From the Bottom...Says Who?

Rapper Drake

Well, Drake has done it again. He’s effortlessly dropped a single that introduces a catch phrase that we’ll likely wear out very soon because Black folks love catch phrases. The song’s hook is now being overused as tweeted lyrics, photo captions, memes and celebratory club anthems. “Started from the bottom, now we here..."

The song tells the Canadian rapper's story of going from nothing to something as a performer. He struck gold with this one. We use those songs and similar stories from our favorite entertainers, mentors and role models to fuel us in our own pursuit of success. One notable example: the classic Kanye West song, “Spaceship,” where he talks about working at the Gap and making "five beats a day for three summers" until he caught a break: “Ya’ll don’t know my struggle/Ya’ll can’t match my hustle.” Talk about inspiration!

The climb from the bottom up is the American Dream, but doubly so for Black folks. Allow me to broad brush, but perhaps, it's because historically, we’ve always been at the bottom. From the Middle Passage to the Civil Rights Movement to present day---when even our President of the United of the States, who’s Black is still treated as if he’s second class. 

We love that story of nothingness and grind, but while we’re all shouting Drake’s catchy hook so passionately (with our hands up in the air for added drama), are those words really true for us individually, or is it just a song that sounds great in the club? Did we really start at the bottom?

Drake himself didn’t even start at the bottom, per se. He was a teen actor on a popular sitcom, so the checks had been rolling in for a while, even if they didn’t come from rap. Many of the folks embracing the mantra are actually from middle class families with parents who worked and had multiple college degrees. How would the people who sacrificed for their well-being feel about them claiming they started from the bottom when their only struggles have been privileged first world problems?

The real question, as Joe Budden would say is, “Where is this “bottom” you speak of?” I’d say it’s relative and almost everyone has a “bottom,” at some point in their lives because few of us start at the top of our desired endeavors. I listened to “Spaceship” daily for a year straight as motivation as I worked as a substitute teacher and cashier at Target while I attended graduate school full-time. I lived off Hot Pockets, two-for-one specials and box wine (don’t laugh). I wasn’t homeless, unemployed or hungry, but to me, I was definitely at the bottom.

What about that executive who started in a lowly entry-level position or as an unpaid intern but is now enjoying the perks of being the boss? That self-made entrepreneur who now has a profitable business? The artist who built a worldwide audience after years of playing to empty rooms? Don’t they have the right to claim that they started from the bottom, even if they didn't grow up "scratching and surviving" like the Evans family?

Yes, but we must also remember that reaching whatever level we define as success doesn’t equal disregard for areas that were always on track, whether that be family/home life, personal relationships or finances. We focus so much on the rough spots and struggle that we forget that there’s a responsibility in making it. We should celebrate the high places just as much as we do the low places from which we’ve come. You don't have to have a hard-knock life to have experienced the bottom; just don't lose sight of what sort of advantages you may have had along the way.