First time hearing this track in years and I’m still absolutely floored.
It’s safe to say that “Northern Touch” reigns as one of the most significant rap posse cuts of all time. It’s up there with Tribe‘s “Scenario” or Main Source‘s “Live at The Barbeque.” A top-flight single orchestrated by stalwart emcees at the top of their games who put a whole damn country on their backs and won. It was a pivotal moment for Canadian hip-hop in 1998, reinvigorating the scene and establishing it as more than just a fluke. This record did a whole hell of a lot.
So let’s back up a bit. The Northern Touch Allstars are composed of Vancouver emcees The Rascalz and Checkmate, and from Toronto, rappers Kardinal Offishall, Choclair, and Thrust. All of these dudes were pretty active in Canadian rap in the ’90s, scoring local and underground hits. However, in the mainstream, Canadian rap was on life support. While rap up North came to the fore in the ’80s with pioneers like Maestro Fresh Wes and Michie Mee the genre didn’t garner the support it needed to blow up like it had in the U.S. A potential hip-hop radio station in Toronto fizzled in the early ’90s, and lack of support by the media lead to Canadian hip-hop being on the sidelines, bubbling underground through college radio and local venues with artists sporadically landing mainstream hits.
As a result, in the ’90s a lot of Canuck rap flew in under the radar, with some acts gathering burn on MuchMusic, our take on MTV, as well as occasionally on radio, but not going much further than that. Growing up in Toronto in the ’90s I remember the Buffalo-based 93.7 WBLK, a radio station that could you could hear in the Greater Toronto Area and at the time the only source where you could hear rap and R&B 24/7. That station put a lot of Torontonians onto many American rap and R&B acts, but folks weren’t checking for local artists.
That’s why “Northern Touch” was so invigorating.
Righteously rocking a sample of B.T. Express‘s “Everything Good to You (Ain’t Always Good for You),” the same tune at the heart of DMX‘s “Get At Me Dog” also from the same year, “Northern Touch” is bombastic, with fantastic verses from all involved. I love the jubilant, defiant feel, the bragging and boasting, and energy among the group, with everyone going all out like they got one chance to show and prove.
“Northern Touch” was like pouring gas on a fire, becoming a massive hit in the country and giving rap from east to west the shot in the arm they needed to thrive. This track incensed the Toronto and Van-City scenes, and forced rap into the Canadian mainstream, setting the scene for the new millennium and a new wave of rappers who would take that energy and run with it. Without this song you wouldn’t have a Drake or Tory Lanez or The Weeknd or Majid Jordan or K’NAAN, and countless others. This record showed the country and the world that the North had something to say.