KARDINAL OFFISHALL: A blessing in Disguise
Often credited as “Canada’s hip hop ambassador”, Toronto rapper/producer Kardinal Offishall has in recent months attained his first global success with ‘Dangerous’ - the first single from his current album’ Not 4 Sale’; his debut release for Senegal-born urban megastar Akon’s Konlive label.
Born Jason Harrow in Toronto’s 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 latter’s first visit to Toronto. Recording his first single at age 20 (1996’s ‘Naughty Dread’), Kardinal released three albums domestically (‘Eye & I’; the Gold-selling “Quest For Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1’; plus ‘Fire And Glory’) 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 Akon’s recently-launched Konlive label, Kardinal’s latest (and fourth) LP ‘Not 4 Sale’ 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 ‘Dangerous’ (featuring Akon) and ‘Numba 1’ (a percussive hip hop update of Blondie’s ‘The Tide Is High’); to harder cuts like the aggressive, dancehall-infused ‘Burnt’; darkly menacing ‘Set It Off’; and sinister, synth-heavy ‘Go Home with You’.
With his seasoned, reggae/dancehall-influenced hip hop now finally reaching a global mainstream audience, an instantly-friendly, articulate Mr. Offishall relaxes with ‘Blues & Soul’’s Pete Lewis within the plush surroundings of Central London’s newly-refurbished Cumberland Hotel.
Titling his current LP ‘Not 4 Sale’
“A buncha years ago I just randomly made a T-shirt that had a bar-code on it and said ‘Not 4 Sale’. 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 ‘You know what? I‘m gonna make that ALBUM called ‘Not 4 Sale’!’ … And the reason why I personally relate to that whole ‘Not 4 Sale’ slogan is because I’m 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 I’m 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.”
Kardinal’s music in general
“If you look at some of the people who’ve inspired me over the years - everyone from KRS-One to Heavy D to The Fugees - these are people who‘ve all managed to fuse together hip hop with other styles. And I think really and truly, since the first day I started rapping, what I’ve always tried to do is put my own culture and my own heritage into the music. ‘Cause 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 I’m 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.”
The impact his now-label-boss Akon has made on him as an artist
“He’s 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 ‘The US is cool. But really and truly what we most need to focus on as a collective is the INTERNATIONAL vibes’... 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 he’s 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 - ‘Dangerous’ - having also become my first bona fide hit as far as the international market is concerned.”
Growing up as a Jamaican Canadian
“With 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 wasn’t 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.”
Kardinal’s views on the Toronto hip hop scene
“Toronto 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 you’re definitely doing something good with your career! But, while some may view that as a bad thing about Toronto, it’s actually good. In the sense that the harshness of it actually makes for a better calibre of MCs coming out of the city!”
The single ‘Numba 1 (Tide Is High) Feat. Keri Hilson’ is released February 2. The album ‘Not 4 Sale’ is out now, both through Konlive Distribution/Geffen
Words PETE LEWIS