When the Toronto Raptors played the Golden State Warriors at home in Game One of the National Basketball Association 2019 championship finals on May 30, a famous local rapper did a hype-building mini-concert performance for the 5,000-plus fans gathered in “Jurassic Park” just outside the Scotiabank Arena. The song the rapper played was a love letter to the 6ix. (No, it wasn’t Drake.) Its familiar line, “I’m from the T dot, Oh / Rep it everywhere I go,” may be the definitive pro-Toronto rally cry.
The song, of course, was Kardinal Offishall’s “The Anthem.”
Originally released in 2010, Kardi’s Toronto-loving song was remixed and re-imagined for the Raptors playoff run at the behest of giant American sports broadcaster ESPN, who used the new version of “The Anthem” to anchor their video tribute to the eventual world championship-winning team.
“That whole re-vamping of ‘The Anthem’ was something very, very special,” says Kardinal Offishall, whose updated version of the song features mentions of key Raptors players Kyle Lowry, Kawhi Leonard, Pascual “Spicy P” Siakam, Danny Green, and Marc Gasol.
Kardinal, whose career in the Can-rap spotlight stretches all the way back to the breakthrough Rascalz posse track “Northern Touch” in 1998, says the new lyrics for “The Anthem” came to him in a burst.
“I think, literally, at 5:00 in the morning, it was just, ‘Oh, there it is’ and I banged it out one-time, and it was done within 15 minutes,” says Kardinal. “But that’s kind of my method, that’s how I write. I’m one of those people, when I’m in that good zone and that good vibe, it doesn’t take long for me most of the time.”
That Kardi got to soundtrack the Raptors’ run — and get paid by ESPN for doing so — isn’t lost on him. “Would I have done it for free? Probably. Is it nice that I got a cheque and got to represent?” asks Kardinal, rhetorically. “Absolutely amazing.”
The Raptors’ playoff run has coincided with a period of renewal for the rapper / producer / actor/ Universal Music Canada Creative Executive Director of A&R. He released the potent new single “Run” on June 12 — the day before the Raptors’ championship-clinching Game Six — and is planning to release Pick Your Poison in the fall, his first album in four years. Though “Run” wasn’t released specifically to coincide with the Raptors’ run, the song’s stand-tall themes and high spirit matched the feeling of the city during the sports team’s march to victory.
“I don’t like to just do random stuff. I try to attach songs to moments.”
“I don’t like to just do random stuff,” says Kardi. “I try to attach songs to moments – and rather than it have anything to do with the Raptors per se, it was just the energy and the vibe of it. We were maybe going to release it Canada Day, but there was just such an indescribable energy and magic that was in the city at the time.”
There’s an unlikely source behind the newly jump-started Kardinal: veteran American comedian Dave Chappelle. A pep talk with Chappelle helped Kardi put a period of feeling “uninspired” in perspective.
“Dave said to me, ‘Man, Kardi, I’m a massive, massive fan, and I know that if I’m a massive fan, that means there are hundreds of thousands, and possibly millions of other fans across North America, and Canada, and Europe, and Asia, and everywhere in between.’ So, it was like one of these scenarios where we had a very transparent, honest, really great night over some drinks in his hometown,” says Kardinal. “Dave Chappelle needs absolutely nothing from me, so him telling me this is not because he’s trying to butter me up ’cause he needs a favour, or needs to borrow some money. It was just a very honest discussion between friends, and I’ll be forever grateful to people like him.”
For a different take on gratitude, one only needs to surf Kardinal’s Instagram account to see the rapper in the heart of Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square, surrounded by thousands of fellow revelers celebrating the Raptors’ Game Six championship win on June 13, 2019. Pop star Jessie Reyez and local super-producer Rich Kidd are seen celebrating along with Kardi in one post. Kardinal has also proposed a giant free Raptors victory party featuring himself and the likes of Drake, Tory Lanez, The Weeknd, Nav, Justin Bieber, and Daniel Caesar. That Toronto’s music community would back the Raptors in their finest moment seems entirely natural to someone who’s been doing it for the entire history of franchise.
“We’ve been supporting them the entire way,” says Kardi, “so a win for them is a win for us in a way.”