Why I Can’t Call Toronto ‘The 6.’
“History is written by the victors.” Walter Benjamin
I recently came to grips with the fact that I’m a fan of Drake’s music. I compiled all the songs that I like of his into a playlist and it came to about 35 songs.
When I told my brother Isma’il Latif this he said, “Damn, that’s a lot of songs. I bet you don’t even have 35 favorite Black Moon songs…”
Math don’t lie. So I had to submit.
But despite that submission, there’s some stuff I just don’t like. Never mind the backstory stuff: “Coming From The Bottom…” with a pool. That’s a rap given nowadays.
I’ll name the other irritants later, even though they’re minor to me now. But I can’t let the renaming go. Turning Toronto into ‘The 6,’ a place we grew to know as the ‘T-Dot,’ that’s the serious work of a usurper. Let me explain.
I was never checking for Canadian rappers. Never. When Toronto’s Dream Warriors’ “My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style,” eased it’s way onto Rap City and Yo! MTV Raps, the only thing I could think was “derivative.” And I wasn’t alone, when that video came on, that was the universal cue in Morehouse’s Commons to go re-up on some fries, use the bathroom, or read a paragraph or something.
Anything but watch that video.
Outside of being tortured by Snow, I would have to say — honestly — it would be ten years before any rapper from up top got my attention. (And no, I will not call Main Source Canadian because of ‘those two DJs.’ Extra P is from Queens. So Main Source is from Queens)…and no, we’re not talking about k-os and that song “Superstarr, Part Zero” either.
As we explained in “Video Birthed the Rap Star” one of the greatest connectors of Rap music for 15 years was the music video. And that is the only way that I would have ever got put on to “Bakardi Slang.”
I kept missing the video, and my brother Roland Caruth swore by it…a serious rarity. But on and on he went, “Yo….you gots to see this vidjo, yo.” When I finally did catch it — I got it.
Roland’s a Crown Heights Brooklynite with family from Saint Vincent and looking at “Bakardi Slang” it’s pretty damn obvious that Kardinal Offishall’s from the West Indies. But what makes the video so cool is Kardinal’s not trying to be anyone other than who he is. And the lyrics reflect that…
My style's off the thermostat plus I’m coming from the cold
Jamaicans alone are the fourth largest “minority” in Canada with the majority of that population concentrated in Montreal and Toronto. But Jamaicans, as Kardinal points out, aren’t the only Caribbean people in Toronto:
You think we all Jamacian, when nuff man are Trini’s
Bajans, Grenadians and a hole heap of Haitians
Guyanese and all of the West Indies combined
To make the T dot O dot, one of a kind
Sounds like Brooklyn. So I got it. Good video. Hot single. The end, right? Nope.
I think I’ve said it enough, I was not rocking with rap music in this era. But Quest For Fire: Firestarter Vol. 1 was an exception to that rule. If I had of bought that jawn on cassette, it would have been a tape I flipped. (Translation: I would have listened to both sides, flipped it over, and started again with ‘Side A’).
I even used one of the songs, “U R Ghetto 2002,” in a short film of mine…and Kardinal’s next video…better than the first.
Like I do with any artist who’s work I appreciate, I read his interviews and learned about the scene he came out of. That’s why when Drake came out my first reaction was, “who?”
I won’t retract my assessment that I’m a Drake fan, but I have to provide a disclaimer…I’on’t know his music like that. First time that I could recall him talking about “The 6” was on his very recent mixtape If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.
That’s almost a solid nine years since his debut that I can think of (and I know Drake fans will rush for the correction) before Drake is proclaiming himself the “6 God.”
Far as I know, Drizzy went from acting to making music in his bedroom to blowing up. Again, this is my perception. But I don’t ever remember him saying “T-Dot” or getting on a track with any of the Toronto pioneers. And I had a problem with that. But that was my age talking. Soon as I came to grips that it was a new world…and we’re talking four years after Drake’s first mixtape…I was ok with him.
Previously, I liked his songs begrudgingly but by the time Thank Me Later came out, I could at least feel okay with liking music done by Aubrey.
But yo, that whole “6” thing rubbed me the wrong way. So when I heard the title of his most recent album, I was perturbed. I think it’s personal.
The Spring of 1992 I caught a Greyhound bus from Atlanta to Denver, Colorado with a determined idea. I was going to start a branch of Five Percenters in Denver. There was already a Mosque, Mosque #51, that had Wazir Muhammad as it’s Minister and my long-standing mentor, Jeff Fard, as the First Officer.
Sayyed Munajj and I decided that we would first become Five Percenters and later register in the Mosque and I followed that plan by getting my Supreme Mathematics on October 31, 1991.
Five months later, I had my lessons memorized and was off to teach in Denver.
Once I arrived in Colorado, Sayyed and our Brother Syncere (my first students), met me at the bus station. Our first order of business — what would we name the place? Consulting our lessons, what fit best was West Asia as Denver is a short ride from the mountains, is isolated from damn near everywhere…and definitely could qualify as the Europe of America.
And that’s what it remained for over twenty years — West Asia.
Then, somewhere around 2009, we caught wind that this new bunch of…Gods and Earths (they didn’t call themselves Five Percenters) were now calling Denver ‘Divine Essence.’ None of these people knew the history of the place. And practically none of them were around when we started rallies out in City Park on Sundays.
Wherein lies my disgust with the term, “The 6.”
From what I can see, the internets gives Jimmy Johnson (now known as Jimmy Prime) the credit for coming up with ‘The 6.’ And, in support of Johnson, back in 2014, one particular hashtag that Drake threw up on his IG, “#JimmyPrimeNamedIt,” annoys me the most. That’s so European — naming something that already has a name. For the record, I don’t blame Johnson — people always find clever names for where they’re from. But at Drake’s stead, it’s as if nothing came before. “Jimmy Prime Named It…”
No. K4ce named it.
[It] came from a dub plate I was recording called Deep Kover, when I’d come back home from New York in 1994 or 95. I was visiting my mom at the time. I’d been living in NYC for a few years and was tired of everybody calling our city T.O. So I wrote the lyric like I saw the short form T.O. abbreviation. Every other city had a name. I was trying to say something different, but I didn’t think it would stick. K4CE
The same way I can say that Isma’il Latif is the one who truly carried the West Asia banner and made it known among the Five Percenters and Nation of Islam members throughout America, K4ce is humble enough to say that it was Kardinal who blew the TDot up worldwide.
Kardinal was a part of a ten-deep massive (called The Circle) that included Saukretes, Choclair, and a young video director, Little X. And, although not one of the pioneers like the Dream Warriors, Kardinal has been around long enough to be able to trace the origins of Toronto’s modern Hip-Hop scene:
If you look at the L.A. area riots after Rodney King, that had a ripple effect in Toronto. From that ripple effect, the provincial government implemented programming that helped take kids off the street. It was called the JOY program: Jobs for Ontario’s Youth. From that JOY program, they partnered up with the Toronto Arts Council and created a program called Fresh Art. From the Fresh Arts program came myself, Saukrates, Choclair, Director X, we all came from that program. Kardinal Offishall
Drake was probably in the first or second grade (or whatever they call it in Canada).
Perhaps my beef isn’t even with Drizzy. (It is…but that’s another article for another day), my primary problem lies with the way folks like Professor Allan Middleton have saddled up on the term saying crap like, “Drake is making Toronto sexy.” And how other media outlets are saying that Drake is “bringing attention to Toronto.”
What that means…what that translates to is…the attention that Kardinal brought for over 15 years among Black Hip-Hop heads who never would have checked for anything Canadian, that attention is not of any importance. That the only true attention is when “mainstream” attention comes…and white folk are let in on it, that that’s when it becomes significant.
And I get it. Outside of Biebs, Drake might be the biggest export out of Canada since hockey (that’s not factual, btw…they just seem better at it) & Jim Carey and the spoils go to the victor. So Drake calls it “The 6” then the people are going to call it “The 6.” But I won’t. Not Now. Not never. And personally, I have yet to see Aubrey rep his hometown like this:
And even if he did…I’m still gonna call Toronto the TDot.