The 2000 single "Money Jane," by a group of four Toronto DJs called Baby Blue Soundcrew marked a pivotal, and unique, moment in Canadian music history. It was part of a major label-backed mixtape, Private Party Collectors Edition, that built on Baby Blue's own series of DIY mixes. The song featured Kardinal Offishall, a rapper who was starting to redefine the country's hip-hop scene, and the R&B singer Jully Black, as well as a young Sean Paul. "Money Jane" had a hypnotic bassline that bubbled like a riddim, and a soulful hook; it was a club banger that turned into radio gold. And its commercial success, helped along by a slick music video directed by Kevin De Freitas, took a bunch of young artists from Toronto and an emerging Jamaican dancehall star to Canada's top music stage, the Junos, in 2001. They didn't win the award for Best Rap Recording, but "Money Jane" remains a shining example of Canadian hip-hop's take on the turn-of-the-century "jiggy era" in rap — and, for many, an honest take on defining a truly 'Toronto sound.'
KARDINAL OFFISHALL: It was my song, for my album Firestarter Vol. 1. Kid Kut hit me up and wanted to put Sean Paul on it, and use it for the Baby Blue album. I produced everything, and wrote it all except for Sean's piece. When they brought it back from Jamaica it was raw, as expected, so I just fit it together. We ended up putting the “Money Jane” remix on my album, just because the original one had been out for so long.
KID KUT OF BABY BLUE SOUNDCREW: Kardinal Offishall, Jully Black, a lot of other artists, and I — we all came out of a [government funded] community program called Fresh Arts. I hit Kardi up, like, ‘Baby Blue got this record deal. I’d love to have you on the album, do you have anything?’ And he was cooking on some things and played me “Money Jane,” which was pretty much finished. Our DJ at the time, KLC, suggested it might sound dope with a collab and a bit of reggae. I flew out to Jamaica and met up with Sean Paul’s manager, Jeremy Harding. We already knew who Sean was, but he didn’t have anything bussin internationally at the time — just Jamaica. He was, in our eyes, someone who could be easily accepted in the Canadian market because of his appearance, and his lyrics and delivery were melodic and easy to digest. If it was a Vybz, if it was anybody else, people would be like, What did he say? What’s that now?
He came into the studio and we were just vibing. He kept repeating that mad little catchy melody — she get around, she get around a lot — and I thought it was sick. Pro Tools wasn’t in every studio at the time, so we had to record it and manually move things around to incorporate that bit while also breaking down Kardi’s verse. When I got home I played it for Kardi and he re-recorded his portion to make it flawless, like they were in the studio together, and that’s how “Money Jane” came to life. But it was a big risk. The label didn't even believe in it: they were, like, ‘Oh, it's too hardcore, we're not gonna get any plays. Can you do a softer version and take Sean Paul out?’ We tried to appease them with this R&B, sing-y version, but the song didn't feel the same. So we gave them that, but said we were going to play the version we thought was the best.
“There are some records that never had a music video or radio play, but you can sing every word and “Money Jane” fell into that category. It just had Canada all over it: we weren’t trying to be American.”—Kid Kut
JULLY BLACK: Kardi and I did our parts the same day. I’m a lyric person, so when Kardi brought his I was, like, 'What does this mean? What is a money train? What am i singing about?' [Laughs] But it was really about letting your guard down and having fun. Kid Kut masterminded that whole thing with Sean Paul. As Jamaicans we knew his songs in the dancehall; by then he’d made it into my neighborhood, my school — I was hearing Sean Paul in various places. So it was huge. And, personally, I revere artists who make the leap and try new things. There was something special about the song, even though we had no idea where it would go.
SEAN PAUL: My first step out [of Jamaica] was through the song with Kardinal Offishall. I was, like, 'Who is this dude?' I wasn't heavy into rap — more into dancehall — but I was like sure I'll do it. They brought me up to shoot a video and that was crazy too; it was the first time I met Little X, and the first time I met Tanisha Scott, who still choreographs my dances onstage and in my videos to this day. It was just, like, it was a link. That was my first video, and it was my first taste of international waters.
KARDI: We used to drive down to New York all the time. I remember I went to Brooklyn where I used to buy all these mixtapes, and I remember me and my boy were so hyped, like, 'Yo! Super Cat is back!' Just to find out that it was not Super Cat — it was actually Sean Paul. I still remember the first time I met him because, you know, he was a bald head. Everything about him was just different. Around that time is when I was being courted by labels south of the border, and I still remember going in to meet with MCA. I was going through music, and, by that point “Money Jane” had blew up all across Canada. And they were like, ‘Yeah, I passed on Sean Paul a month ago. Not really a fan.’ I'm sure there are a lot of A&Rs that kick themselves all the time for passing on people, but that was such a sweet win because it really was an, I told you so.
KID KUT: Baby Blue Soundcrew was DJing every Friday and Saturday night, and building a following. And we got the record deal because we were already Canadian ambassadors: we were putting out mixtapes that would circulate from Canada all the way around the Caribbean, even touch Africa. On the mixtapes, we'd always make our own original music, dating back to 1995. We had hooked up with Kardinal and did it dubplate style: anybody who was from our city, we got them to cut a version, shouting out our name. It was one big happy family: Jully, Kardinal, Ghetto Concept, Choclair, some underground rappers. So it was a no brainer to give us a record deal because Canadian radio wasn't playing that much urban music, and labels needed a vehicle to push their music out. “Money Jane” took us to the Junos; it took Sean Paul to the Junos. From there, everything just happened for him.
JULLY: When Baby Blue got signed, that was monumental: I wasn’t signed yet, and I believe Kardi was just just embarking on his MCA deal. It was a beautiful thing to hear that song coast-to-coast on mainstream radio. College radio played a huge role for us, but the success of that song was the opportunity for us to be signed to agents. It proved to Canada that we were worthy of being booked on stages that black artists weren’t being booked for. I remember sitting backstage at the Junos with Sean Paul and it was bigger than a dancehall, club thing. I remember sitting behind Celine Dion that year... To think about who was in the audience taking in our performance is amazing.
“It was a beautiful thing to hear [”Money Jane”] coast-to-coast on mainstream radio. It proved to Canada that we were worthy of being booked on stages that black artists weren’t being booked for.”—Jully Black
SEAN PAUL: “Money Jane” gave me a break in Canada. Canada was the first place, internationally, to endorse me and say, this kid's dope! It was before New York started playing any of my singles. Canada gave me the first step, and then, Hot 97 and these stations started to really pay attention to me and so my singles from Jamaica really broke there. Now dancehall is top 40.
KARDI: They also used to play “Money Jane” all the time in Jamaica. Like, I’d go back there and people would yell out, “Ayo! Money Jane!" at me all the time. That track was special to me because that was my first bona fide combination joint. It was dope to be able to be friends with Sean early early, before all of the craziness, you know what I'm saying? It wasn't like one of those, ‘Yeah he was poppin', so we became friends.’
The Toronto scene, at the time, was fire. We had Little X who is from here and was doing all of our videos; I think “Ol’ Time Killin'” was kind of a blueprint for a new look X was going with. We had the illest dancers, like PonyTailz. That’s why Sean was here and shooting his videos. I remember his crew saying, Alright, Kardi, you can’t be in this video because we don’t want people to know he shot it in Toronto! How hilarious is that? What people have to understand is, especially at that time, them vibes was just organically who we were. It was a historic song, and it should definitely be noted that our relationships came out of Fresh Arts: literally, government intervention into the music scene.
JULLY: I still do “Money Jane” in my show. It’s part of my identity: that song represents total innocence. We were a bunch of passionate people who had no idea where it was going to end up. People would tell me how good the song made them feel: how it didn’t sound “Canadian.” There was a certain level of production quality at that time and people could hear the difference, so I give so much credit to Kardi and Baby Blue for sonically creating a song that appeals to the world. At that time, a true Toronto sound was more similar to Slum Village; a Dilla thing. The way Saukrates and them produced; it was an analog sound, a heavy, weighted, soulful sound, a Caribbean slash Detroit sound. You’d hear it over multiple artists: Ghetto Concept, Jelleestone, my song “Rallyin.” There was one mixer, Gadget, doing everyone’s records. I give Drake, 40, Boi-1da, and T-Minus credit for having their own sound but it’s not a fingerprint of the city. You know a UK sound, a Nigerian sound.
KID KUT: Toronto's always been this big melting pot of cultures and music styles and genres. We are about that Caribbean vibe: everybody you knew, even from two doors down, was West Indian. That was what Toronto sounded like, to me. Dancehall was underground music at the time, so for “Money Jane” to be mainstream across the country was like, wow.
When you produce these records, you’d test them out in the club. It didn't sound like anybody else, and I think that's what made it so great. I wanted it to sound “in” but we couldn’t make it fit, which is probably a blessing. There are some records that never had a music video or radio play, but you can sing every word and “Money Jane” actually fell into that category before our CD came out. The song had the right players, and the video had the right look — the style was done by this store called Lounge. It just had Canada all over it: we weren't trying to be American.