Having famously penned a trio of sports anthems celebrating Montreal’s teams, it’s no secret that Annakin Slayd is a Hab at Heart, and his #Habs4Life trilogy of singles has racked up over a million views online since 2010. The canadiens.com crew recently caught up with the local rapper to get the inside scoop on his love for all things CH, and we didn’t need to break out our rhyming dictionaries to figure out that spitting a verse and sticking with his teams through better or worse always go hand-in-hand for the Laval, QC native.
How long have you been a Habs fan?
ANNAKIN SLAYD: I’ve been a fan my entire life. Like most people in Quebec, I was kind of raised around the legacy of Les Canadiens. My dad is like every other dad in that he’s always telling us, “Oh, you know nothing about Cups! I used to see them every year!” But I do have memories of watching the ‘86 Cup as a kid, and ’93 is super clear to me, obviously, since I was a teenager by then. I didn’t actually go to the parade downtown, but I grew up in Laval and they had a special parade for us less than a month later with all of the local players. I remember touching the Cup, meeting some of the guys and getting my jersey signed. I think that if you grow up in Quebec, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll become a Habs fan at some point. It runs in our blood, I guess.
What’s your best Habs memory?
AS: It’s funny for me because since I started writing these songs I’ve found myself in scenarios that I never dreamed of being in, getting to meet certain players who I never thought I would meet, getting to know some of the guys personally, and performing at the Bell Centre. When you’re young and just becoming an artist you never think, “One day I’m going to play the Bell Centre during a hockey game and all the Canadiens fans are going to be there.” Those are easy picks [to be my best memories] because they’ve been so amazing. Plus all the times I’ve worked with the Canadiens Children’s Foundation and things like that – playing ball hockey with some of the alumni – it’s all been a lot of fun.
On the ice, Saku Koivu coming back from cancer was a big one. In our generation, if you take away the Cups, I think a moment like that was one of our most important. But even last season, I think P.K. [Subban]’s breakaway goal against the Bruins in the playoffs was one of the most exciting I’ve seen since [Eric] Desjardins scored the overtime winner in Game 2 of the ’93 Finals. That’s been my go-to goal for years. To me, it’s the best goal I’ve ever seen, but P.K.’s goal is up there. There have been a few moments over the last couple of years that have been pretty huge.
Did you ever dream about one day suiting up for the Habs while playing hockey as a kid?
AS: No, I actually played baseball when I was young. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up and hockey was expensive so I didn’t get to play much as a kid. But in recent years I’ve started to play. Believe it or not, I actually learned how to play while in L.A. (laughs) Living in L.A., I had a friend of mine who played in a local pick-up league and he said it was a good way to meet local Canadians working in the industry. I told him “Dude, I haven’t skated since I was eight years old, I’m terrible!” but he said, “It’s okay, I’ll lend you my equipment, go on the ice, and you’ll figure it out.” It was awful the first couple of times, but over the last year I’ve started playing two times a week and now I can at least keep up. I’m not good, but I get a good workout, I can make a couple of plays here and there, score a couple of goals… It’s actually been one of the most fun things I’ve done so far in my life, picking up hockey in my 30s – pretty crazy!
Who was your favorite player growing up?
AS: I’ve never had one that really stood out. I liked Mats Naslund as a kid, Chris Chelios too, but I’ve always been more of a team guy. As much as I appreciate the players when they’re here, to me it’s the logo and the team that really count and the players are here to serve both. At the end of the day, I try not to get too attached to the players. There are some recent guys I really like, though, and I feel lucky to be able to call P.K. a friend. Not only is he a friend, but he’s also a great player – [Max] Pacioretty too, I love those guys.
Where did the idea for “Rock the Sweater” come from?
AS: Ideas come from a lot different places, of course, but with “Rock the Sweater” specifically, I knew that if I was going to do a song for a third time [about the Canadiens] it would have to be a really good one. I didn’t think much about it at first – these things often just come in a flash – and then out of nowhere I started thinking about the The Hockey Sweater, the Roch Carrier cartoon that we all loved watching as kids. I remember telling myself that if I could find a way to use that as a theme and pull a good musical sample from it, I could probably get something interesting going. Something about the importance of the sweater because that’s what the story is all about, how the character feels like less of a person when he doesn’t have his Maurice Richard sweater on. It shows how iconic the logo and the jersey are and I wanted to express that in a song, so I sent the cartoon to one of my producers and he pulled this amazing sample from it. The rest of the idea came naturally, like how putting on the sweater can empower you in different ways, depending on which one you’re wearing. [Alex] Galchenyuk really helped when he did the sweater kiss [celebration], too, because it was exactly the kind of gesture that shows what the video is all about.
Was it easy to convince all the local and not-so-local celebs to participate in the video?
AS: Yeah, most of them. Some of them were quicker than others, but you know everyone is busy. It’s funny though, because a guy like Viggo Mortensen, who’s a big Hollywood star, was actually the first to deliver his video – he the first to say yes and the first to deliver the video. I had people here who are my close friends and they still took longer to get their videos to me than Viggo did and Viggo doesn’t know me at all – maybe he knew of my songs. You could see how passionate certain people are.
Do you consider your songs to be something of good luck charms for the Habs?
AS: I’m not going to lie to you, I was waiting to see how we did against Tampa before putting the most recent video out. I knew last year there was something special about this team, so once we beat Tampa I thought, this team could go far, that this team could win the East with all the pieces we’ve got in place. Plus we were playing Boston – it was a no-brainer at that point, I was putting the song out and if we lost we lost, but if we won then it would be great for everybody because the fans would love it while I would get to live it up for a couple of weeks. (laughs) But honestly, I think if the songs were lucky charms, we would have won the Cup by now. (laughs) The important thing for me is that the fans love it, and the players have told me they really dig it, too. That’s all I need.
Were you surprised by just how much “Rock the Sweater” caught on with fans?
AS: Yeah, I’m always surprised. “Feels like ‘93” was really big for me so I thought that if I could equal that with “Rock the Sweater” I’d be really lucky. And I think I did, at least in some ways. So yeah that always surprises me. I think I’m lucky that people catch on to these songs the way they do. In music, to succeed in anything, you have to be lucky. You have to be talented as well, but luck and timing is so important and the luck and timing have been right with all three of the songs I’ve done so far. I’ve been really lucky that people have gravitated to them the way they have.
Interview conducted by Hugo Fontaine.
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