The Ones of the ’10s: Rihanna’s “What’s My Name?” (feat. Drake)

In The Ones of the ’10s, I’m reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and working my way up into the present.


Rihanna- “What’s My Name?” (feat. Drake)

HIT #1: November 20, 2010

STAYED AT #1: 1 week

Throughout the history of pop music, most of the songs that have gotten popular have in one way or another discussed sex. Considering most pop songs are about young people falling in and out of love so sex is always implied. Even in the more innocent songs, sex is there but is often covered up in playful metaphors to make it appeal to the radio and mainstream audiences. All of this is obvious with “What’s My Name?” the Rihanna song that also became the first #1 for one of the most dominant pop stars of the 2010s.

Born Aubrey Drake Graham in Toronto, Canada, Drake came from a musical family. His father played drums with the legendary rock n’ roll star Jerry Lee Lewis and his uncle Larry Graham was the bassist for the legendary band Sly and the Family Stone helping to pioneer the slap bass technique. Drake largely grew up with his mother and his parents divorced when he was five. Growing up biracial and Jewish, he often got bullied due to his background which lasted into high school. It was in high school where he developed an interest in acting.

It was in high school where one of Drake’s friends introduced him to his father who was an acting agent. It wasn’t long after when Drake got the role of Jimmy Brooks (“Wheelchair Jimmy”) on the Canadian teenage drama Degrassi: The Next Generation immediately making him a star in Canada while dropping out of high school. The acting success was a big help for Drake and his family, “My mother was very sick. We were very poor, like broke. The only money I had coming in was off of Canadian TV.” 

During his time on Degrassi: The Next Generation, Drake began releasing mixtapes as early as 2006 garnering attention in the hip-hop industry. It was one of his songs “Replacement Girl” that caught the attention of record executive Jas Prince who sent the song to Lil Wayne after noticing Drake sample one of his verses for “Replacement Girl.” Right after, Lil Wayne invited Drake to join him on his Carter III tour and record some songs right as Drake was getting cut from Degrassi due to casting overhauls. 

Under Lil Wayne’s guidance, Drake released his third mixtape So Far Gone in February 2009 which contained the hip-hop/R&B infused single “Best I Ever Had” which sampled Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds’ 1975 #1 soft-rock hit “Fallin’ In Love.” Once released, “Best I Ever Had” blew up launching Drake into the mainstream and the US charts with the song peaking at #2 (It’s a 5. “Fallin’ In Love” is also a 5.). The success of “Best I Ever Had” led to Drake being signed by Lil Wayne to his Young Money Entertainment label becoming part of a collective that included fellow hit rappers Nicki Minaj and Tyga. For a short while, Drake and the Young Money crew scored hits: 2009’s “Every Girl” peaked at #10. (It’s a 2.) 2010’s “Bedrock” peaked at #2. (It’s a 1.). 

With this success, Drake released his debut album Thank Me Later in March 2010 whose lead-off single “Over” peaked at #14 and launched the Top 10 hit “Find Your Love” which peaked at #5 (It’s a 6.). These early songs helped set a lot of the template for many of his big hits later on with his infusion of rap and R&B, rapping and singing all delivered with a pop appeal. As a featured artist, he also landed in the Top 10 with the 2009 “Forever” collaboration with Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and Eminem (It peaked at #8. It’s a 6.) and 2010’s “Right Above It” with Lil Wayne (It peaked at #6. It’s a 5.).

“What’s My Name?” was written by Rihanna’s production duo StarGate, and songwriters Esther Dean and Traci Hale. The song had been hyped by Drake during a 2009 interview with MTV News where he discussed collaborating with Rihanna for a song that had missed the cut for her then-recent album Rated R, “the record we have is great. It’s a special record, so for it not to make it, I know something had to click. It’s all good. I think the project’s gonna be great no matter what.” Rihanna reportedly met Drake backstage at an event and asked him to record a verse for her song. As Hale put it regarding the inspiration, “Oh love, love, love! And it’s sexy – it started as a real sexy track and then you put something sexy over it.”

Originally, “What’s My Name?” was supposed to be released first as a remix with a solo version to be included on Rihanna’s fifth album Loud until it was decided to keep the collaboration version for the album. Released in November 2010, Loud was meant to represent a shift back to the upbeat pop Rihanna had been known for after the darker sounds and themes of her previous album Rated R. “What’s My Name?,” released as the second single, definitely fits into that theme with its breezy electropop style beat mixed in with the R&B Rihanna and Drake had become known for. 

Lyrically, “What’s My Name?” is a playful love song that discusses a sexual relationship in metaphorical lines like, “Hey boy, I really wanna see if you/Can go downtown with a girl like me, Yeah, I heard you good with them soft lips/Yeah you know word of mouth, Baby you’re a challenge/Let’s explore your talent.” All of this is done over a repetitive chorus of “Ooh na na, what’s my name?” that doesn’t get annoying as you expect it to be but still nothing that amazing.  

“What’s My Name?” is clearly a well-made song but for me, there’s nothing much in the song to make it anything above being just passable enough. Drake’s verse, in the beginning, is fine in a technical sense but like a lot of guest verses ends up coming across as forgettable filler aside from this laughable line, “The square root of sixty-nine is eight something, right?” Rihanna is fine enough as always but doesn’t do much to grab my attention. Not the worst but nothing all that great either.

After “What’s My Name?,” Drake would continue releasing music at a nonstop rate landing in the Top 10 a bunch of times but he wouldn’t get back to #1 til more than halfway through the ‘10s with another feature on a Rihanna song. Shortly after that, Drake would finally get to #1 on his own and as Stereogum’s Tom Breihan pointed out he then effectively leased an apartment there for the next couple years. We’ll be seeing a lot more of him in this column later on. As for Rihanna, she’ll be back in the next post.

GRADE: 6/10

BONUS BEATS: Here’s Rihanna and Drake performing “What’s My Name?” together at the 2011 NBA All-Star Game Halftime Show

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