We all know Drake and his popular rap song titled ‘Started from the Bottom.” It’s a great track to listen to, but the truth is that Drake never really had to start from rock bottom like a lot of other rappers in the industry. Of course, this doesn’t take anything away from Drake and his accomplishments, but this article takes the time to shine the light on some rappers who had to grow up in some really difficult and harsh circumstances.
If you keep up with the news about urban violence in America, then you already know that Chicago is the present gangland capital of the nation. It was these same streets that brought up the intelligent and very unique rapper, Lupe Fiasco. In the sixth grade, Lupe actually left the streets of Chicago to live with his Dad, but this situation wasn’t any better. His Dad lived next door to a crack house so he taught his son how to use a gun to protect himself. But even with all these setbacks, Lupe went on to become the successful recording artist he is today. He was actually just appointed as Music Director of the USA soccer team’s World Cup Bid this summer.
The story of the rapper DMX is one that consists of extreme highs and lows. He had an extremely difficult start to life. His mother was just 19 years old when she had him, and his early years were filled with abuse and torment. He ended up going through several foster homes and juvenile delinquency centers. However, he was able to get past all that and become one of the biggest rappers of the 90’s era. To date, DMX has sold over 30 million records worldwide but he can’t seem to keep himself out of trouble. In the last few years alone, there have been several run-ins with the law for drug possession, driving under the influence, animal abuse and the list just goes on and on. One may even venture to say that he was never quite able to shake the demons from his childhood.
Another extremely tough area to raise a kid in the United States is the neighborhood of Watts in Los Angeles. This area is notorious for its gang infested streets and high level of guns and violence. This is exactly where West Coast rapper Jay Rock grew up. As a youth, he was part of the notorious Bloods gang and was arrested twice for taking part in illicit activities. But even with all the negativity, he was able to focus on following his dream to become a rapper. He is currently signed to one of the hottest rap record labels called TDE (stars like Kendrick Lamar and Schoolboy Q are also signed to the same label). He has also had hit songs with mega-artists like Lil Wayne and Will.I.Am.
Marshall Mathers aka Eminem literally came from the wrong side of the tracks. He was raised in a low-income black neighborhood in Detroit. As one of the few white families living in the area, he often got picked on by the other kids in his area. His life at home was pretty difficult too. His mother’s substance-abuse and parenting issues have been documented in many of his songs. But somehow, he was still able to find great success. He connected with Dr. Dre in 1997, and as they say, the rest is history. Eminem has a net worth of over $150 million dollars and accomplished all this without being born with any semblance of a silver spoon in his mouth.
When we think of CeeLo these days, the image that comes to our mind is the jovial, larger than life, rotund character that judges on The Voice and belts out catchy hit songs like “Crazy.” But when you actually learn about his past, CeeLo had a hard upbringing marred with some heart-wrenching tragedies. Growing up, his father died when he was just 2-years-old, and his mother became the primary person looking after him. His mom was a firefighter and tragedy struck her too. She was involved in a car crash and became paralyzed when Ceelo was 16-years-old. She died two years later. But Ceelo had the support of his fledgling group, The Goodie Mob and their production team, The Dungeon Family. With such a strong circle around him, he was still able to chase and attain his dreams.
Even though he is one of the most respected hip-Hop artists in the history of rap, things weren’t always that rosy for Nasir Jones. He grew up in the tough Queensbridge projects of Queens, NYC. His family lived in government subsidized housing, and from his apartment window, all he could see was drug dealing, police shakedowns, daytime shootings and other social ills. He dropped out of high school, but he used the inspiration of all the negativity around him to become a brilliant “ghetto poet.” It was these stories and memories that he vividly captured on his debut album Illmatic that make it such a classic and vaunted album to this day.
One of the most heralded street rappers of recent times has to be Meek Mill from Philadelphia. He was raised in the bleak, rundown and gritty North Philly area, and his father died when he was just five-years-old. With all the hard times around him, Meek Mill realized that his love for rapping would be his only his way out. At the age of 12, when most of us were obsessed with super heroes and sports, Meek was in the tough streets of his neighborhood battling anyone who wanted to challenge him. But the hard work and dedication paid off, and 13 years later, Meek Mill was signed by rap heavyweight Rick Ross to the Maybach Music label. That was the major push he needed, and since then he’s had a very successful debut album and several huge singles.
The South Bronx in NYC is notoriously known as one of the toughest urban locales of United States. This is the gritty turf that Fat Joe was born into, and his environment really shaped his development. Always a tough kid, he realized early that being a menacing character garnered respect, fear and street cred. Fat Joe has actually admitted to being a bully in his younger years and stealing to support his family. In other words, he was very much a product of his environment. But thankfully, he found rap music and channeled his energy in more productive ways, and now he’s living large and doing very well in his newly adopted home of Miami.