It’s almost sacrilegious, with half a dozen “The Grant Slant” column submissions written to my credit for Urbanology, I have managed to, for the most part, spend little to no time discussing Canada’s most successful hip-hop export. I’m talking about none other than Aubrey Graham, affectionately known as Drake. It’s not that there has been a lack of relevant subject matter to discuss surrounding Drake, however given the recent successes of the Toronto Raptors; I would be remised not to give some attention to the anointed Raptors’ brand ambassador.

The Raptors rise to success these last two seasons is due largely in part to its cohesiveness as a team, but moreover to the team’s floor leader Kyle Lowry and, perhaps to a much less extent, Drake. Success in sports is usually measured in wins and losses for teams. That barometer often indicates fortitude or ineptitude on the court and typically doesn’t demonstrate prowess off the court. We’re in a new age where not only does our favourite team have to win on the court, but also in other distinct areas, such as the box office, the concession and with apparel. The Raptors have successfully added to that trifecta with Drake’s involvement with the team, which has manifested into a cross-brand pollination.

In a recent Toronto Star article, Peter Widdis of George Brown College indicated that “rap culture and basketball have been linked since the 1980s,” which makes this merger of sorts one that was ripe for the picking. Drake, having recently been catapulted into superstardom, has always placed Toronto on his proverbial back and has professed his undying love for the Raptors despite recent sub-par years. It would seem as though everything the rapper touches turns to gold; which rightfully explains why many of the Raptors branding around the team’s logos have bright gold embroidery, unmistakably similar to that of the OVO clothing imprint founded by the rapper.

Drake is debatably the most successful hip-hop music artist produced out of Toronto.

In a city that houses some of the most culturally diverse suburbs in the world, Drake is debatably the most successful hip-hop music artist produced out of Toronto. There has been a cross-section of people who have supplanted themselves within hip-hop’s culture since its inception. Despite this fact, Toronto has failed to present itself as a viable breeding ground for long-term commercial success – until Wheelchair Jimmy came along. Don’t get me wrong, Toronto is home to a number of rappers that can most likely take Mr. Graham in some underground cipher, but their viability or marketability has never found its way to the mainstream in any enduring fashion.

With the ever-present lingering dark cloud of Vince Carter’s departure still fresh on the minds of Toronto fans, Drake’s mercurial ascension and subsequent position with the Toronto Raptors, has signaled some bright days ahead. Drake’s style has often been met with criticism, however the simplistic branding of his Raptors/Mitchell & Ness/OVO line has provided fans with a sense of pride and some newfound swag.

Haters will undoubtedly hate the machine that is Drake…

Haters will undoubtedly hate the machine that is Drake, the main engine behind the upstart brand, October’s Very Own (OVO). That hate however should not mask the reality that Drake has made formidable strides with the Raptors, not only as brand ambassador, but moreover as a personality who effectively is revolutionizing sports and apparel marketing in North America’s fourth largest city . Even if, at some point, this marriage of brands goes sour down the line, it conceivably bodes well for Canada’s hip-hop scene in general and will undoubtedly serve as a breeding ground, a starting point of sorts, for other Canadian artists to pledge their allegiance to their hometown teams.

On and offline melees with Chris Brown, open-handed slaps to the face from Diddy and occasional midnight romps with your favourite celebrity’s girlfriend has not, and most likely will not, hurt the brand that Drake has created and allowed to morph into a marketable engine that even Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment can no longer ignore. Like it or not, Drake is hip-hop, and has positioned himself with like-minded leaders in the hip-hop industry. Leaders like Jay Z and Kanye West who have solidified their profile in music as well as fashion and sports, will welcome the heart and hustle of that half Jewish kid from Forest Hill named Aubrey.

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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