Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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KARDINAL OFFISHALL: A blessing in Disguise


Often credited as âCanadaâs hip hop ambassadorâ, Toronto rapper/producer Kardinal Offishall has in recent months attained his first global success with âDangerousâ - the first single from his current albumâ Not 4 Saleâ; his debut release for Senegal-born urban megastar Akonâs Konlive label.

Born Jason Harrow in Torontoâs east end - where he was raised by Jamaican immigrant parents - Kardinal began rapping aged eight and, at 12, prestigiously performed before Nelson Mandela during the latterâs first visit to Toronto. Recording his first single at age 20 (1996âs âNaughty Dreadâ), Kardinal released three albums domestically (âEye & Iâ; the Gold-selling âQuest For Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1â; plus âFire And Gloryâ) between 1997 and 2005. During which time his talents as both rapper and producer saw him accumulate several notable Canadian awards while also (groundbreakingly for a Canadian) collaborating with such multi-million-selling hip hop royalty as Busta Rhymes, Method Man, Sean Paul and The Neptunes.

Now signed to global hitmaker Akonâs recently-launched Konlive label, Kardinalâs latest (and fourth) LP âNot 4 Saleâ impressively boasts such chart-topping guests as thugged-out Virginian rappers The Clipse; Caribbean urban pop starlet Rihanna; award-winning UK songstress Estelle; plus R&B auto-tune king T-Pain. Musical moods meanwhile range from the crossover hit singles âDangerousâ (featuring Akon) and âNumba 1â (a percussive hip hop update of Blondieâs âThe Tide Is Highâ); to harder cuts like the aggressive, dancehall-infused âBurntâ; darkly menacing âSet It Offâ; and sinister, synth-heavy âGo Home with Youâ.

With his seasoned, reggae/dancehall-influenced hip hop now finally reaching a global mainstream audience, an instantly-friendly, articulate Mr. Offishall relaxes with âBlues & Soulââs Pete Lewis within the plush surroundings of Central Londonâs newly-refurbished Cumberland Hotel.

Titling his current LP âNot 4 Saleâ

âA buncha years ago I just randomly made a T-shirt that had a bar-code on it and said âNot 4 Saleâ. And, everywhere I went in the world, everybody - from little girls to old men - just seemed to take to the whole slogan for different reasons. You know, it crossed a lotta different colour barriers. So what happened was a light bulb went off one day, where I was like âYou know what? Iâm gonna make that ALBUM called âNot 4 Saleâ!â ⦠And the reason why I personally relate to that whole âNot 4 Saleâ slogan is because Iâm really against sacrificing things that I really believe in, purely to acquire a certain monetary gain or material wealth. Like for me I have to be able to, at the end of the day, look in the mirror and know that Iâm doing the things that I feel are really right within my spirit. Whether that be through my music, or just how I live my life in general.â

Kardinalâs music in general

âIf you look at some of the people whoâve inspired me over the years - everyone from KRS-One to Heavy D to The Fugees - these are people whoâve all managed to fuse together hip hop with other styles. And I think really and truly, since the first day I started rapping, what Iâve always tried to do is put my own culture and my own heritage into the music. âCause I think I just come from a beautiful people. So, for me to be able to fuse my culture and where I come from with my music and have people dig it at the same time, is a great thing. Then lyrically my albums tend to be just a musical expression of what I go through every day, living the lifestyle that I live - whether it be one day partying and having fun, or another dealing with relationships... Plus Iâm also a person that deals with the political aspect of things. You know, in my family we have a lotta teachers and a lotta people that work within the community. So, with me having grown up underneath that, I do have a certain consciousness that I definitely wanna put out there in the music too.â

The impact his now-label-boss Akon has made on him as an artist

âHeâs expanded the way that I look at my business, and the way that I look at the world in general. In particular Akon has opened my eyes wider to the whole international thing. I remember last year we had this big Konlive showcase in LA, where he gave this speech and he was saying âThe US is cool. But really and truly what we most need to focus on as a collective is the INTERNATIONAL vibesâ... You know, Akon is very much at the forefront of those artists today who are doing big things internationally, as opposed to just doing well in one or two markets. So something heâs definitely drilled home to us as artists is the importance of the WORLDWIDE market, as opposed to just focusing on a small region of the world. Which I think is a big factor behind my first single for Konlive - âDangerousâ - having also become my first bona fide hit as far as the international market is concerned.â

Growing up as a Jamaican Canadian

âWith me growing up in a Jamaican family, my parents were very hands-on in trying to shape the way that I looked at myself and the things that I valued in life. You know, for them it wasnât just about me growing up in a society like Toronto, which in itself had a lotta positive things to offer. They made a point of flying me back to Jamaica every summer, where from a young age I spent my holidays just going all around the island and basically seeing where my family came from. Which is why it comes out in the music, and why my music also reflects the lives of a lotta OTHER young black men in Toronto who have a similar story to myself.â

Kardinalâs views on the Toronto hip hop scene

âToronto is very HARD! You know, the fans there can be very tough. So, if you can make it out of Toronto alive without having bottles hit you on the head and all kindsa crazy stuff, then youâre definitely doing something good with your career! But, while some may view that as a bad thing about Toronto, itâs actually good. In the sense that the harshness of it actually makes for a better calibre of MCs coming out of the city!â

The single âNumba 1 (Tide Is High) Feat. Keri Hilsonâ is released February 2. The album âNot 4 Saleâ is out now, both through Konlive Distribution/Geffen

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