Kardinal Offishall recounts the rise of Toronto basketball and hip-hop
© Alex Viau
Looking back at the evolution of basketball in Canada, Toronto's hip-hop godfather outlines the parallels between the genre and the sport's come up. Hear his selection of court side jams below.
It's no secret that Toronto breeds an abundance of talent in the realms of basketball and hip-hop. The rise of the Toronto Raptors franchise and the proliferation of the OVO Sound empire has put the Canadian city on the map as a hotbed for moving street culture forward.
Explore the rise of Toronto basketball in True North, a 9 part docu-series that offers a glimpse into the hoop dreams belonging to five young athletes.
Twenty years ago, Canadian hip-hop and basketball weren't always as ubiquitously accepted into the urban canon of cool. When the country received its two NBA teams in 1995 — the Toronto Raptors and the now defunct Vancouver Grizzlies — sport fans were slow to hop on board and rally. And according to Kardinal Offishall, hip-hop coming out of Canada at the time was suffering from a similar lack of support and infrastructure. "The culture of basketball in Toronto is very parallel to hip-hop. In Canada, we had a whole host of MCs, DJs and producers who really wanted to get their music out there," he remembers.
Inarguably, the pivotal moment in Canadian hip-hop came with the release of "Northern Touch" in 1998. Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the single by Rascalz featuring Checkmate, Kardinal Offishall, Thrust and Choclair, was formative in placing the country on the genre's global map. Despite the shared perception by a few music labels that the track was too "hardcore" at the time, the song invited a generous amount of commercial success and transformed invalidating stereotypes towards Canadian hip-hop. For Kardinal, the exposure changed everything: "It was the first time as a nation that we were proud of being north of the border."
You can almost always expect that hip-hop is going to be blasting at the same time that ball is being played in Toronto.
Growing up in Flemingdon Park, Kardinal's earliest memories of being exposed to hip-hop took place at the basketball court. These public spaces served as a forum to share the latest hip-hop jams that anyone could get their hands on. "If it wasn't putting in a cassette and taping music off CKLN's 88.1FM [The Fantastic Voyage, Canada's first show dedicated to hip-hop], people from our neighbourhood would go to NYC to record radio shows and bring it back on tape. You'd go to the ball court to hear the craziest new joints coming from the US at the time."
More than ever, Canada now produces NBA talent that commands respect. As competition becomes more fierce, athletes are getting into the game younger and younger, as explored most recently in True North, a docu-series which gives an intimate look at the rise of Toronto's hoop dream. For Kardinal, it's important that as a country, we get behind the talent rising from both hip-hop and basketball. "In Canada, we only have one basketball team in the NBA, the Raptors. The whole country should come together and support that team. With hip-hop, artists outside of Toronto think that they aren't getting support because they aren't from the city. Everyone needs to get together and stand behind the culture."
In pop culture, Toronto is often synonymous with Drake, leaving the city's rising talent in the shadows. Yet there is much more to be discovered, which is becoming increasingly evident as the city continues to carve out its unique identity along the international circuit. We'll be watching.