Canadian rap classic “Northern Touch” is turning 25 this year.

Rascalz, Checkmate, Kardinal Offishall, Thrust, and Choclair changed the game with their timeless hit, and to celebrate the occasion, Super Premium Cognac brand D’USSÉ sponsored a one-of-a-kind party at Northern Touch Vintage Streetwear in downtown Toronto on Feb 25, 2023. Legendary Rap City VJ Master T hosted.

Canadian hip-hop is breaking boundaries and transcending what is expected. The same could be said for D’USSÉ. More than a spirit, it’s a cultural icon centered in hip-hop culture, and stands for integrity, boldness, freedom, and the elevation of authenticity.

Released in 1998, “Northern Touch” had it all from the jump: the energetic DJ Kemo beat, the indelible hook from Kardinal, the momentum of the verses, the Director X video. The track wasn’t initially included on Rascalz’s 1997 album Cash Crop, but as a single the song blew up to the point where their label had the album re-pressed with “Northern Touch” on it.

At the time, the song played a pivotal role in getting rap on the Junos broadcast. After Rascalz declined the Best Rap Recording award because it wasn’t on the main telecast, a year later, the “Northern Touch All-Stars” were able to perform at the ceremony.

Fast forward to last year, and Drake brought them out to close his All Canadian North Stars show. Drizzy introduced them by saying, “It’s national anthem time.”

But what really makes “Northern Touch” stand the test of time? Complex Canada got to ask Kardinal Offishall and Red1 of Rascalz about their memories of making the smash hit, and why people are still bumping it today.

How are you feeling about “Northern Touch” being 25?
Red1: I’m confused because I’m only 27, so I don’t know how it works. [Laughs.]

Kardinal Offishall: “Northern Touch,” in a good way, it’s a blink for us. Me and Red, probably out of the whole crew, talk the most still. From my side, anyway. And it just feels like yesterday we were doing that cross-Canada tour. We had so much fun on that tour. I remember Thrust driving the van and almost killing us. We went to places where we had no idea what the reaction would be. “Northern Touch” has been an incredible journey for us. There’s been so much from the inception, from Rascalz asking me to be on the joint. And then even Director X doing the video, you know? Melyssa Ford was in the video, too.

There are a lot of memories, but for me it’s just an honour because it helped solidify, even though it was a group joint, it helped my solo career that Rascalz thought I was worthy of a feature.

How did the lineup for the track come together?
Red1: I don’t know if Kardi remembers, but I met him at Fresh Fest 92 or 93. We had come to Toronto and it was a showcase, all kinds of people on it. We performed and spoke after, and we started keeping in touch with the Toronto people after that show and every time we’d come up to Toronto we’d hang with The Circle: the Choclairs, the Saukrates, the Solitairs, the whole crew. There was an energy between us, and my relationship with Kardinal was more than the rest because we were kicking rhymes and throwing our Caribbean heritage in there.

KO: Red1 was on “Make It Happen” from Eye & I, so we were developing together anywhere. Still to this day I have incredible reverence for those guys, but back then, they were already established as West Coast kings, so I was hyped to work with them. Here’s the thing I don’t think people understand: Things are way more premeditated today. There’s a lot more elements that go into people doing collaborations. At that time, we were only doing collaborations with people that made sense and trying to come up with the most organic songs we could. It really was family: I became part of the Figure IV family right around the time of “Northern Touch.” I was spending a lot more time in Vancouver back then.

Red1: And when I visited Toronto, I stayed at Kardi’s house. When we made the song, I knew Kardi was the choice for Toronto MC. I think the story goes, Kardi told Choclair to be on it, Choclair showed up to the studio with Kardi. I think….

KO: [Laughs.] Here’s how the story goes. Here’s the real. It was a warm, nice, sunny day, but I had the worst allergies. I literally had a box of Kleenex up my nose. I got the call to go to the studio, and I got there, and Thrust was there, Chox was there. I remember there was the skeleton of the song, it was still being put together, and the hook came about because everyone knows Notorious B.I.G. is Choclair’s favourite artist in the entire universe. We were mumbling stuff, starting from “we’re notorious,” and it came from the energy of the room. But I’m sure if there was a camera crew that day, they would’ve seen the snot coming down my nose. I don’t remember a lot of studio sessions, but I’ll never forget that one.

Choclair Red1 Kardinal for D'USSÉ
Image via D’USSÉ

Did you all record your parts together?
We did our part in Vancouver. It started with Jay Swing and Kemo—they did this mixtape together. It was supposed to be a song for the mixtape. But it was dope so we wanted more people on it. Then we wanted it on the album. Cash Crop was already out, but our label stopped pressing CDs and re-pressed it with the song. So we had people buying two copies of it.

Right away you knew it was a hit?
Some songs you do before it’s finished, you know. We felt that with “Top of the World.” Kardi when he did “Dangerous” I’m sure…

KO: I didn’t. [Laughs.] I didn’t play “Dangerous” for the team until three weeks later.

Do you have a favourite verse?
 [Repeats verses to himself.] No. Every verse has been impactful. Whenever we perform it to this day, everybody can sing every verse word for word. But if I’m being honest, and it’s probably the position of the verse, but whenever it gets to Thrust, it’s mayhem. The pressure cooker explodes. But everybody has quotables.

Red1: Back then, everyone wanted to be last on the song. But for me, the chorus made the song memorable. Kardi did that justice and took it to the next level.

Did the video also take it to the next level?
Red1: By the time we got Director X to make the video, the song had already taken off on its own. But having X do a video gave it wings, because back then Hype Williams and X were controlling the visual game. I met X at that same Fresh Fest; he was doing graffiti.

Are you looking forward to the 25th anniversary party? What are you most excited about?
KO: We’re looking forward to having fun. Northern Touch Vintage took the name and they’re etching the name in the fashion space, which is dope. One thing about hip-hop and us is having an organic relationship with our event sponsors, so it’s dope that D’USSÉ, who is a brand rooted in culture and hip-hop, came on board and even created a custom Northern Touch cocktail for the event. 

We need to do a better job in Canada commemorating the history, the people, and their contributions. Not just us specifically, but we have so many incredible things that have happened in 50 years of hip-hop to celebrate. “Northern Touch” was one of the most important Canadian hip-hop songs of all time and nothing can lessen the impact. And that’s before how it penetrated America—it was on BET.

rascalz northern touch party
Image via D’USSÉ

What’s it like hearing from younger fans who love the song?
Red1: “Northern Touch” was the first hip-hop song performed on the Juno stage after the year we didn’t accept the award, so I feel it broke barriers in Canada and helped paved the way for younger artists. You listen to it today and it doesn’t sound dated. People still come up to me and say it’s their jam, and I’m proud to be part of this music moment that’s still being celebrated.

KO: You see it with TikTok today, young people have favourite songs that came out a long time ago but they talk about it like it just came out today. If you look at Drake last year, you have people like him who appreciated artists like us, and it plays a role in preserving the music. It doesn’t matter how you discovered “Northern Touch,” whether it’s TikTok or a (Toronto) Raptors game.

And for us, this is 100 percent Canadian. I don’t always like saying Canadian hip-hop because you don’t say American hip-hop, but in this case, I’m proud of it.

Red1: That night, Drake called it “the national anthem.” That’s the kind of impact it had. 

In honour of the 25th Anniversary, here is the “Northern Touch” Cocktail, specially curated by D’USSÉ, featured and enjoyed at the event.
A Canadian-inspired cocktail in honour of the 25th anniversary for one of the country’s most influential hip-hop songs.


  • 1.5 oz D’USSÉ 
  • ¾ oz Martini Dry  
  • 1 oz Fresh Pressed apple juice  
  • 2 Dashes Maple bitters 

Method: Built over ice in rocks glass. Garnished with apple slices and cinnamon.

the northern touch cocktail
Image via D’USSÉ