#FlashbackFridayVideos: Kardinal Offishall’s “Bakardi Slang”

Each and every last Friday of each month, we here at South Shore Ave will be releasing  #FlashbackFridayVideos, a segment focusing on music videos from back in the day, to something semi-recent (like a few months ago), & every once in a while, we might review a classic game or sports moment. We’ll have quick overall rundown on what was hot about them, how it helped moved its culture along, the ridiculousness of the videos, and everything else in between.

In our first monthly installment of #FlashbackFridayVideos, Shawn Adonis and I, will take you back to a pre-Drake Toronto where one of the signature artists from the T.Dot educated us on the city’s slang.

Cee: Before Drake & the OVO Team, there was The Circle led by Kardinal Offishall, Choclair, and Saukrates. These guys (along with help from The Rascalz) changed hip hop in Canada, taking it to higher level of respectability, and let’s face it, put out some good quality music (Northern Touch anyone?). When Kardinal dropped “Bakardi Slang“, at the time, it was one of the biggest Canadian hip hop tracks to hit the market & actually gain notoriety outside of this country. This song became Toronto’s version of Big L’s “Ebonics“, giving everyone outside of the Toronto a peek into the West Indian cultural pot that’s been simmering in this city for decades.

For me, as a Canadian who lived & breathed hip hop, I kinda wish this song came out a few years before, when I just moved to Toronto. Believe me when I tell you Shawn, when I moved here, I couldn’t really understand what anyone was saying. They may as well have been speaking Mandarin. You know when someone’s speaking to you in a different language & all you do is smile and nod? That was me the first two years here. In fact, I used to come home from school & with my cousin Brian, we used to try to break down what we learned in T-Dot ebonics like a periodics table. The only thing we were missing was the lab coats & the goggles around our necks. If this song dropped 3-4 years beforehand, I could have at least printed it out & kept the shit in my pocket anytime someone started speaking to me. I could have referred to it like a thesarus. How didn’t I get jacked for my lunch money more often?

Shawn: I hear you Cal, that T Dot slang did leave me scratching my head on a few occasions. When you’d be talking to one of the “gyal dem”, and you’d feel like a total square for not being able to participate in the slang-extravaganza.  The most I could offer to the conversation was a strategical placed “Guy” every few sentences (which Kardinal conveniently left out of the song. Go figure…), as I’d think, “She must think I’m cool, she’s clearly a girl and I’m calling her ‘Guy’. My act of deception is working perfectly”.

You know, thinking about it now, it’s a shame that Kardi didn’t come out with this song in today’s day and age.  He could have packaged the song with a “Bakardi Slang Translator App”, and gotten the honorable mayor Rob Ford to endorse it at the height of his infamous late night drunken patois rants.  You couldn’t dream of better promotion than that, it would be flying out the App Store. Think of how much easier this would make the lives of old white sugar daddies dying to spend their money to get a lil’ taste of chocolate,  and how ground breaking this would be for young gold digging sisters, no?

Cee: That translator app would be awesome. You think the commercial for the app would look as professional as the Game of War App game with Kate Upton in it, or would the quality be more cheesy like the Shamwow guy?

Speaking of “Guy”*, here’s another word he left out: Arms. This was the most confusing word I ever heard by far. It’s basically the equivalent of saying, “That’s messed up”. However, no one ever said that. They’d always say, “That’s arms!” or “That’s arms house!” (which always sounded like “Arms-Zus”) or simply “Arms!!”. During that period when I’d basically black out & start depending on my smile & nod defense mechanisms, in my head, I would have a mental interrogation about what that word meant. I’d be like, “Arms? Arms?? That’s arms??? Who’s arms?????……. ***thinking*** ….. My arms???? The fu**?!?!” If someone took a good look at me at that moment, you could probably see the faint smoke coming out of my ears trying to hold it all together. I even had to bring in my brother-in-law (who’s Jamaican) in on the case & the most he came up with was that it’s supposed to mean “House of Arms (Guns & ammo)”, but was still confused as to why it was used this way. That word still gives me a twitch to this day.

We forget now, but that song back then was huge in Toronto, and Canada overall. I remember it being on heavy rotation, you literally heard it everywhere. The video back then represented Toronto properly, showing off the requisite local stars, the Circle crew (ie. Saukrates), took you through some of the popular areas and streets, Kardi basically checked off a lot of boxes here. In the era where rappers were still proud to sound different from one another, he made a regional song that helped The North get even more awareness to the masses, similar to what the south was doing (especially in New Orleans. See No Limit & Cash Money records). Choclair was the first from The Circle to cross over to the Stateside, now Kardi was next in line. You were rooting for them to make it & put Canada on the map in hip hop just like Vince Carter did for basketball. The buzz from this song eventually made it across the border, & next thing you know 106 & Park was going to launch the video. This was the official “N**** We Made it!!” moment……

…….until AJ & Free stomped out the buzz by calling Kardinal “The Canadian Puffy” after they played the video. It was like hearing fingernails being dragged across a blackboard, but if the fingernails were connected to a microphone & was being scratched over a loud speaker. Listen, Puffy is a GREAT businessman. You may want to be compared to Puffy in a lot of ways. As an executive, an owner, a spokesperson, a marketer, a tastemaker, a baller…..but never a rapper. Not especially if you’re a legitimate one. It’s not like we got our hip hop knowledge from AJ & Free anyway, they weren’t exactly The Source or XXL. Nevertheless, they still had a huge platform, & to be more or less categorized with a guy who would tell you firsthand he’s not a rapper….. I mean, I can’t say for certain if it hurt his record sales in the States, but I’m sure it didn’t help. The only reason why there wasn’t more flack about this (at least from me) was…..well, Free wasn’t exactly hard on the eyes, and I enjoyed watching her, um, host the show (yeah, that’s it) on a daily basis. So for that they got a pass as a whole. But it still wasn’t the greatest of looks in Kardi’s sake.

Shawn: You know, they say that the true measure of a man is his ability to admit when he has made a mistake (According to an inspirational quote I read on a Facebook page, where the profile pic was a chick wearing just enough clothing so that her page doesn’t get shut down….. so basically a very reliable source).  With that said, Cal my good man, it pains me to admit that I may have not been giving the T-Dot slang innovators the full credit they deserve. I’ve said for years that young black Torontonians simply sprinkled bits and pieces of Jamaican patois into their conversations, and tried to pass off as their own lingo, like nobody would notice (which I think is still true 90% of the time).  But this whole use of the word “arms” has me completely flabbergasted.  You and your brother-in-law already spent enough time drinking coffee and chain smoking while you exchange theories, so I’m not gonna spend any more energy on it, that mystery is unsolvable.

After all this time has passed, and the members of the Circle have fallen from the limelight (Did I say fallen? I meant skydived, hit the ground, then put on a wet suit & oxygen mask to continue to descend to the bottom of the sea. Basically as far from the limelight as humanly possible), it’s easy to forget what kind of impact these guys, especially Kardi, had on Canadian hip hop fans as a whole.  Let’s be honest Cee, Canadian rap fans are generally US hip hop dick riders.  A club could be packed with dancing party goers until the DJ threw on some Canadian hip hop, and the crowd would suddenly look like they were waiting in line at the license bureau.  But with Kardi, it was different.  Dudes would drive down the block with the window rolled down and bump tunes from him and The Circle with pride.  I even copped Kardi’s first album (which was the first & last Canadian hip hop album I’ve ever bought. Sorry Drake, I’m a fan but thanks to the internet I can be one for free).  But that Kardi album was legit, that shit was certifiably & undeniably dope.  Call me a product of my “self hip hop hating” environment, but nothing would have made me happier than to say that slang translating rapper was trash…. but the dude was really talented, and forced you to enjoy the music for what it was.  Like you mentioned Cal, the fact that the Americans embraced it actually made us feel like we all made it. Of course to show our gratitude, we turned our backs on him as soon as he became lukewarm, in true Canadian fashion.

Cee: Man….. tell us how you really feel. I feel like I should send you a Hugagram, but upgrade it to the premium package where people group hug you for like 15-20 minutes straight while humming gospel hymns and everyone in the room fights back tears. Like Luscious said to his son in Empire this week (I’m paraphrasing here), it’s your music that’ll live on forever above all else….. & this song/video was evidence of the path that Kardi was taking towards making his mark on Canadian Hip Hop history. The song was innovative, and it shed light on the talent that Toronto (& this country for that matter) has. Bacardi Slang made an impact, otherwise, we wouldn’t be having this #FlashbackFriday moment…..still.

*“Guy” Translation: It’s like using “Yo” at the beginning of the sentence in slang speak. For example, “Guy, you won’t believe what happened to Mikey today”. Or you can use it as a statement if or when someone says something that you agree with. For example: “Did you see that game last night? Yo that shit was crazy!” Then all you have to say is, “GUUUY!” & everything’s understood. I’ve also added the lyrical meanings of this song off of Rap Genius here, so you should be at least 80% more educated on Toronto slang. I hope.


Cal Cee // South Shore Ave

To subscribe to The Baseline Blog, click onto the Follow button or by entering your email address. Very special thanks to Shawn Adonis for his contributions to this posting.

1 thought on “#FlashbackFridayVideos: Kardinal Offishall’s “Bakardi Slang”

  1. Pingback: The Ave Podcast with Cal Cee – The Playoffs & The Trap | The Baseline

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