Saukrates talks Subban, Raptors, Blue Jays

Saukrates love of sports has brought him work with the Raptors, Blue Jays, Argos and P.K. Subban. (Culvert)

We all know the ties between hip-hop artists and professional sports have grown much stronger since the day Snoop Doggy Dogg wore a Pittsburgh Penguins sweater in the “Gin N Juice” video.

But Toronto MC Saukrates’ connection to the sports world runs deep — and wide. The 36-year-old artist has performed at the Grey Cup, been tapped to voice promotional videos for both the Raptors and Blue Jays, and recorded a single all about P.K. Subban’s rise to the NHL. Now he’s dropped a new song that samples Allen Iverson’s infamous “Practice?!” press conference (although he wasn’t the first).

We caught up with the Juno nominee to talk about Joe Carter’s home run and that time he only brought one skate to the rink and missed his chance to skate with Subban. You wrote 2011’s “Say I” about P.K. Subban. Where did the concept come from?

Saukrates: That was for a Nike U.S. campaign called Always: On. They were featuring four athletes and doing a song for each athlete. My photographer, Patrick Nichols, and my manager at the time, Chase, put it together. They figured me and P.K. would be a perfect combo, because I grew up playing hockey and I’m a fan of PK and what he’s done in the NHL. The stars aligned for me to get that opportunity, and we kicked ass. Ours was the best part of the whole campaign. They also had Lamar Odom and DeSean Jackson from the Eagles.

To shoot the video and go meet P.K. was great. In our household, we were familiar with him since his junior career but had never met him. Being a black family that grew up playing hockey, it’s rare to see black folks step into the NHL and make noise like that, so we really had that pride going.

Describe your early experience with hockey.
I started when I was six. My brother, who’s five years younger than me, started at six as well. And my son started at seven. We love the sport. It was hockey in the winter and soccer in the summer. His mother’s a huge football and basketball fan, so we’re trying to get him well-rounded in sports. Hockey was a place to start because we’re familiar with the area club, West Hill [in Toronto]. So for him to start house league there, it was a good choice. Right around the corner from where we live. He’s had a good time.

Did you deal with prejudice when you started playing?
When I started playing, we lived in Edmonton during the Oilers dynasty. There were a couple times when I was a kid and the n-word came around. I would get pretty emotional about it. I wasn’t the tough guy, the fighter. I would cry about it because my feelings were hurt. And I notice now, with this new generation, because there are a lot more of us in the sport and more awareness of each other’s culture—thanks to hip-hop, of course; Obama’s another good one—you don’t feel the same prejudice, even if it lingers here and there. Nobody has the guts to show that anymore because it’s becoming a more well-rounded sport.

So who do you root for?
My heart’s always with Edmonton, but we’ve been living in Toronto for a while and I love to see the Leafs succeed, which is pretty rare. Again, I like how they added some colour to the team [in Lebanese-Canadian Nazem Kadri]—who ends up shining. But I enjoy watching the playoffs and rooting for whoever’s doing well and deserves it.

Listen: Saukrates’ Allen Iverson-sampling “Practice”

Which athlete were you most thrilled to meet?
When I was a kid growing up in Edmonton, my mother used to run these camps in the summer for cricket. My dad played on the Albertan provincial team. So she brought in a guy called Clive Lloyd, who played for the West Indies’ national club. That was my first brush with athletic stardom, and I was seven or eight years old.

Meeting Vince Carter was super cool. Me and Kardinal Offishall popped into a Raptors practice while Vince was still here and got to meet him. I did a charity event with Chris Bosh at Scadding Court. That was a trip.

“I realized I forgot one skate. And I was so pissed. Man, I had an opportunity to skate with P.K. Subban.”

You figure as you get older, the excitement wears off, but as me and my son were getting ready to do this shoot with P.K. for his parts of the video at a rink in Etobicoke, we got our shinny gear together, and I was so excited. I made sure my son had all his stuff, and I was rushing to get my stuff. And by the time we got there, I realized I forgot one skate. And I was so pissed. Man, I had an opportunity to skate with a pro! But at least my son got out there and we got some photos. My brother popped up, and I was like, “Man, where’s the nearest Play It Again Sports? I gotta grab a cheap pair of used ones.” We got to hang out and see that we have a lot in common.

What’s the biggest similarity between rappers and athletes?
Competition. Trying to be the best out there. Carve your own style and not only stay afloat but stay relevant, on the court, on the field, on the mic. It’s competition whether it’s freestyle battles or record sales, popularity. That’s the direct connection.

What do you make of Drake as the Raptors’ global ambassador?
Once I heard the news, I was like, “This is good.” I felt proud because Toronto hip-hop keeps moving up. Every time someone does something well, it helps expose a lot of what’s going on. I was definitely proud. It shows that corporations, not just American but Canadian, are starting to pay attention and using our music, our fuel to help their fire.

What sports do you play now?
I play a little shinny. I take my son to open ice at Canlan Ice Sports. In the summer me, my wife, my son and his friends will go to a field and bring a sports bag with a football, baseball gloves, bat, soccer ball, cleats, and spend a few hours playing everything. The two sports I grew up playing were hockey and soccer, but in high school basketball. And I played football at Agincourt when I went to that school. Badminton, volleyball… I’m pretty well rounded.

Of the Toronto teams, you’re mostly into the Blue Jays, though.
Gotta be the Jays. What the Raptors did last year was amazing; it absolutely surprised me. We haven’t kept cable in the house, but I stay up on the games through highlights on the Internet. I was proud of the Raptors last season, but our staple for the world is the Jays. Winning back-to-back World Series brings your confidence up, and we were recognized as a world-renowned team. And the Leafs make Yankees money, so Toronto has something good going on. But the Jays grab my faith. I watched Barfield and Bell and Fernandez as a kid.

Where were you when they won in ’93?
Me and my friends were at my house watching in the basement, and once Joe Carter hit that home run, we lost it. My parents were upstairs screaming themselves, but we ran out the house, down the street screaming to see my neighbour three or four blocks away. That era, you could feel it coming with all the talent passing through the team.

What’s your take on what the Jays need?
It’s just that on-base percentage—you can’t win games without turning that up. And strong defence—you can’t win games without these things. It sounds very cliché, but that’s what baseball is. Because it’s not a timed game, maybe the secret is relaxing a bit and leaning on your confidence. I see the Jays getting nervous here and there.

How did you get involved doing voice work for the Jays?
A production company called Project 10, run by a producer named Kevin Foley, who partnered up with Vernon Wells when he was in town. They got the contract for the Jays’ commercials with Sportsnet. Kevin called me up because he was a fan of my music and liked my voice. We were on tour with Nelly Furtado at the time he called. They booked me a studio to try it out, and he loved it.

I did commercials, a [Hall of Fame] induction video for Roberto Alomar, and a Carl Crawford EPK. I learned so much about baseball stats, and Crawford ended up getting the contract. My son was featured in a Junior Jays commercial as well, and he got to meet some players. We got free jerseys—I got my Bautista jersey. It was surprisingly easy work, but I was working with great people. We even won a couple awards in New York.


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