The nadir that world-renowned rapper/singer/former actor Drake raps about in his smash hit, “Started from the Bottom,” could easily represent his childhood or even his early days on the Canadian TV show Degrassi.
But Thursday evening in the bowels of Minute Maid Park, speaking to a group of 50 kids from the Astros Urban Youth Academy, Drake (real name: Aubrey Graham) hinted at a different explanation.
“I got a phone call from Lil Wayne one day, and he told me he was interested in my music and he booked me a flight to Houston,” Drake told the children. “I remember so clearly, I stayed at the Hotel Derek.
“I sat there and [was] just so nervous, waited about eight hours to meet him. That hotel was the beginning. When I finally met him, we listened to Tha Carter III, which wasn’t out yet… From that point, I never really left [Houston]. He ended up signing me after two weeks [here] and I put out my mixtape under his watch, so this is where it started.”
Drake is in the midst of showering the city with his oft-mocked but widely beloved brand of affection this weekend. His appearance for Houston Appreciation Night at the ballpark was the first leg of his Houston Appreciation Weekend, which includes a charity dinner, a show at Warehouse Live, the premiere screening of the Kevin Hart sequel Think Like a Man Too, a basketball tournament, and a lavish pool party.
Clearly, Drake is dialing up his H-Town love to absurd levels. Of course, he’s never been shy about his affinity for the place, what with numerous lyrical references to the city (“H-Town my second home like I’m James Harden,” he raps in “No New Friends”) and the Astros logo tattoed on his shoulder. While speaking at Minute Maid Park last night, Drake sounded like a native with his effusive praise for a town that, in many ways, couldn’t be more different from his hometown of Toronto.
“It’s just a culture that doesn’t exist anywhere else that exists here,” he said. “It’s about how proud people are to be from Houston. That reminds me a lot even of Jamaica and when you go there, all anyone wants to talk about is Jamaica. All they wanna listen to is music from Jamaica and eat food from Jamaica.
“It’s a lot like that in Houston. You can play the biggest rap record in the world, but nothing’s going to get more reaction than something that’s classic Houston. I love that. To me, it just shows a lot of loyalty."
The city reciprocated the rapper's devotion by declaring June 10 Drake Day in Houston, despite his appearance coming on June 12 (whoops!). But after his pre-game introduction, he was mostly out of sight for the rest of the Astros game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, with a lineup of Drake-only walk-out songs and a charity raffle the only reminders of the occasion. The Astros still provided enough entertainment of their own with Chris Carter’s walk-off home run in a 5-4 win.
Despite his low profile throughout, the end of the above clip reveals why Drake was such a big hit in the Astros clubhouse: “Started From The Bottom” has become a mantra for a team that has been the worst in Major League Baseball for the last three seasons. Now that the Astros have turned that around by winning 20 of their last 31 games, Drake might even get accused of more bandwagon cheering.
Besides his career-launching fortnight with Weezy in the Bayou City, Drake's ensuing music career owes a hefty debt to Houston. The city’s notorious brand of murky bass, sludgy hip-hop, and storytelling technique has crept into his production style, and he outright admits one of his early songs, “November 18th”—the title refers to the date Weezy summoned Drake to Hotel Derek—was a tribute to Houston.
“I remember initially when I was obsessed with Houston music, I went and made a song called 'November 18th' and I was really nervous because I made a song for a city I wasn’t from, a brand of music that didn’t necessarily belong to me because I’m from Canada,” he said.
“I got accepted. They listened to it, they loved it, and it was an anthem here. That’s why I’m going back to Warehouse Live, which is the first place I sold out a show.”
From the bottom, now he’s here, back in Houston for a weekend when he could sell out Warehouse Live 20 times over, as he boasts in "Too Much."
“It’s a really important weekend to me,” Drake emphasized. “This is where I birthed my entire career.”