Back in 1998, we were introduced to one of the most successful hip-hop anthems to ever come out of Canada when Rascalz, Kardinal Offishal, Thrust, Choclair and Checkmate got together for “Northern Touch.” The track was an instant classic, and helped put Canadian hip hop firmly on the map with it's unforgettable hook, "We notorious; ain't nobody can hang with us.”
Whether you watched the music video on MuchMusic or witnessed it reach No. 41 on the Top Singles chart (at a time when no other domestic hip-hop song had broken through the Top 100), the beat is sure to spark some fond memories for every Canadian music fan. In fact, during an interview with Nardwuar in 2017, Seth Rogen referred to "Northern Touch" as the Canadian version of "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin. “It’s kind of like the be-all, end-all of Canadian rap music,” Rogen said. “I think DMX stole the beat from that song."
Now, 23 years after its release, the minds behind "Northern Touch" are reflecting on its lasting imapct on Canadian music.
“It’s interesting, because in 2021, 'Northern Touch' and all that surrounded — it’s almost like this interesting folklore,” Kardinall told etalk.
Rascalzs had won the Juno for the Best Rap Recording in 1998, but stunned the press, the Juno committee and the music industry when they declined their award over the show's decision to not include the category in its televised broadcast. This paved the way for the next year, when "Northern Touch" won the award following the Junos' decision to move the category to the main ceremony.
“A lot of people didn’t know that the Rascalz protested the year before and declined their Juno to get us to that point,” Thrust said.
“For the next year, they invited us to come perform,” Rascalz’s DJ Kemo said. “It was a good thing. I felt like we made some sort of mark or statement, and they heard us and they wanted to pay it back.” He continued, “I’m sure it crossed a lot of our minds, like, should we do it? And it was kind of like, 'Well, they’re giving us what we wanted, I guess, so we kind of have to do it.'"
“It was very bittersweet,” Kardinall added. “It was a tough time. I feel like we had pushed the system up against the wall.”
That difficult path made the song's success all the sweeter. “To see how that song progressed into what it progressed into, and be able to perform it on the Junos, and then win it,” Choclair said. “It was a euphoric moment.”
Reflecting on its impact, Choclair said that “Northern Touch” is definitely a historic song. “It was great to be a part of that moment and it’s great to be a part of that history,” he said. “I don’t even say that's Canadian hip-hop history. That’s Canadian music history.”
The creation of the track itself also faced its share of setbacks. Choclair recalled that Kardinall was sick the day they went into the studio to record “Northern Touch,” and said he was “sneezing all over the place.” Kardinall added, “I had Kleenex stuffed up my nose, I had a box of Kleenex beside me.”
When someone in the studio said the words “we notorious,” Kardinall knew he had his hook. “I went in the booth in between a thousand sneezes and just murder the hook, and I remember we came out and we’re like ‘Yo, that’s fire,'" he said. "That song, and the video, and the movement penetrated way past Canadian borders.”
The song's release also brought its own challenge when it found itself up against a track by another hip-hop heavyweight, DMX. “Northern Touch dropped and DMX dropped and we were like 'oh man,'” Choclair said.
Reflecting on the song's impact and lasting appeal, the group all agree that "Northern Touch" is truly something special. “It was definitely us being recognized outside of just the underground hip-hop world, and it was great. It was an amazing feeling,” DJ Kemo said. "I wish I had more footage and memories of it."
“There really is something that I’m super thankful for, something that I’m super grateful for,” Kardinall added.
Choclair sums it up nicely with his take on its place in Canadian music history. “I don’t say it’s Canadians' hip-hop national anthem. Really I just say, maybe it didn’t sell as much, but it’s as important to Canadian music history as the ‘Summer of 69’ by Bryan Adams was,” he said.