Linden Boulevard represent, represent
Tribe Called Quest represent, represent
When the mic is in my hand, I’m never hesitant
My favourite jam back in the day was “Eric B. for President”
Rude boy composer, step to me you’re over
Brothers wanna flex, you’re not Mad Cobra
MC short and black, there ain’t no other
Trini-born Black like Nia Long’s grandmother.

– A Tribe Called Quest, “Steve Biko”

Those that know me, and know me well, understand the importance that the twin island of Trinidad and Tobago play in my life. As the product of two T&T parents, who immigrated to Canada in the 1970s, I’ve grown to embrace a cultural identity rich in character, history and tradition. Because of dozens of trips “back home”, as it is affectionately called by ex-pats, I’ve indoctrinated myself into Trinidad and Tobago’s rich culture and folklore. It has enabled this nappy-headed kid from Toronto to feel a connection to a society dripping in an opulent history that stems from the enslavement of African people and indentureship of Indian people, and manifests itself in exquisite cuisine, ground-breaking music and instruments and, of course, the world-famous celebration — Carnival.

Uncanny are the similarities between hip-hop and Trinidad’s calypso and soca, and the surrounding culture.

For this, and other familial reasons I’ve found myself smack-dab in the celebration every year, like this year. Uncanny are the similarities between hip-hop and Trinidad’s calypso and soca, and the surrounding culture. Both art forms are born out of struggle, and draw their lineage from African roots. Both are laced and tinged with socio-political motivators that dictate their expressions through music and culture. In hip-hop, the quick-witted rhymes that come from the top of the head are called freestyles. In calypso, this method is called “Ex-tempo” – calypsonians are given topics that range from politics, sex and poverty, and then must spew thought-provoked melodic lyrics to impress judges and onlookers in the Carnival grandstands.

Remember White Shadow? My click stay sharper than an arrow (c’mon)
Plus in Trinidad I’m treated like the Mighty Sparrow.

– Phife Dawg, “Steppin it up”

Arriving in Port of Spain, on Super Bowl weekend, it’s always curious to see the interest garnered by residents of the island and visitors. Having not missed a Super Bowl in what seems like an eternity, I wasn’t about to make this trip any different. A sports bar called Trotters, owned by a family of wealthy Lebanese-Trinidadians, was my destination of choice. With a fleeting interest in both the Philadelphia Eagles or the New England Patriots, I still found myself squarely fixated to several large screens enjoying what may have been the most exciting SB to-date.

Carnival in Trinidad is like none other in the world.

Sitting at a table with some fellow foreigners, gobbling spicy/sweet barbecue wings and sipping local libations, it became clear, as I panned across the very patronized restaurant that, amid the excitement of the Trinidad Carnival season, the Super Bowl still played a small, yet significant, role. It was refreshing to hear heavily-accented Trinis yelling at flat-screen TVs using expletives that would make their own mothers blush. Indeed. I was home.

As a native son of a land that has yet to claim me as its own, I still feel the yearning every year to make my presence known in Trinidad. My father and relatives in T&T make for an excellent excuse and even better reason to be there. They somehow manage to keep my drinks chilled, mosquito coils handy, and an inviting place to lay my head after fete events like Machel Monday and the BeachHouse all-inclusive. Carnival in Trinidad is like none other in the world. Many artists in the world of hip-hop can attest to this, I have vivid memories of Jay-Z and UGK throwing money in the air as they filmed the video for “Big Pimpin’”, while last year rapper YG filmed one of his videos during Carnival. And more recently, other artists have pledged their allegiances to Trinidad such as Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. A$AP Ferg was so vehemently moved by Trinidad that he dedicated a freestyle to a Bunji Garlin soca tune called “Carnival Tabanca” which he dubbed “Petit Valley” – a suburb of Port or Spain, Trinidad’s capital city.

Fell in love with a girl from Petit Valley
She have a tough life but she pretty smiley
We join Carnival for the finale
But I want to move to Trinidad and keep her happy.

– A$AP Ferg, Petit Valley

Many destinations have attempted to mimic, copy or reproduce this festival with marginal success. In its purest form, however, the festival that begins after Christmas and ends on Ash Wednesday, in this twin-island republic, is the epitome of unadulterated enjoyment at a dizzying pace.

Every year a part of my heart remains in Trinidad with a compulsion to return — a desire so real and evident it has been coined by the natives as a “tabanca”. Tabanca is what happens with you lose something very close to your heart, with the result that a depressive longing persists within your soul. This tabanca is like what I feel at the end of a football season, or the end of an era of hip-hop greatness that has yet to return. In both cases, their evolution will manifest itself in another form, still paying homage to its older realization, with refinements that will evidently push both cultures farther. By this eventuality, I am comforted, and moved to look forward toward the next season.


Karim Grant is a former professional football player who has spent time in both the NFL and CFL. His love for hip-hop spans nearly three decades of beats, rhymes and fashion. His love for sports is equally expansive, as he’s made money playing one sport and has made enemies playing countless others. If he’s not on the field or the hard court coaching inner-city youth, he’s either reading or listening to your favourite artist’s favourite artist while exercising his competitive demons at your local gym. Grant has never been one to mince words on either subject of hip-hop or sports – or anything for that matter – and he’s not about to start anytime soon.

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