2012 Saw a T-Dot Pioneer break his silence on making it in Canada
Words and interview by Rebecca McDonald.
As one of the premier producer/rap artists to grace the Canadian music scene and beyond, you can crown this king the Jay-Z of Canada. Kardinal Offishall first launched his career back in 1997, during a time when the industry was “bubbling,” long before companies like Napster or iTunes came or went, sending single song purchases or illegal downloads through the roof. Still the Jamaican rooted emcee survived and continues to build his empire. In 2012, he returned with a mixtape, Allow Me to Re-Introduce Myself. But after doing it all and accomplishing all the accolodades that you set out for, where do you go next? We asked Kardinal this very question during his visit to MTV Iggy.
So your last release was 2008, and in 2012 you dropped a mixtape. Why did you “reintroduce yourself” this past summer after all that time off?
I spent so much of the previous 10 years before that chasing my dream, and once I started to accomplish them, I was touring around the world. I was barely home. It was dope for me in terms of monetary success, but I wasn’t living my actual life. So what I kinda had to do was figure out how to properly balance my actual life with the actual business side of it. Cause a lot of crazy things had happened since then. You’re on all these different number one songs around the world, you’re on songs with Lady Gaga, you have your own stuff with Akon, and you’re going to India, China, Japan, Romania…So much happened. I was literally only home a couple days a month. And for me—it’s literally tattooed on my arm— family is number one. So, in between all the touring and all that— cause music is definitely my life— I was actually just living life. I had my first son, which is amazing. Bought a bunch of property and really was just trying to have a real existence. The other bonus you have in traveling the world and knowing celebrities and entertainers is you see the mistakes they made in their life, or where they’re lacking. Like they can’t relate to a conversation about Thanksgiving. They’re like, “oh what show did you do?”
I was like, ‘I left space open so I could be in Chicago for the big family cookoff.’ So it was those type of things I was doing over the past years, and still, within my home territory of Canada, we released music steadily. But it was a thing where between 2008-2012 there was such a huge leap with social media and public interaction, that I had to reintroduce myself to people who are just of that generation. People who didn’t go out and seek their favorite artists, just whatever the blogs were reporting, whatever is the hot shit of the day. It’s a reintroduction because to some of them, their first introduction to me was “Dangerous,” which was my first multiplatinum-selling song.
…I’m a conflicted artist, like business vs. personal, but also even within the type of music that I love to make, produce and perform.
So you worked with Nottz Raw for this one. How did you meet?
First time, I ever heard of Nottz was through the Flipmode album way back. I just remember hearing this retarted beat—like, I’ve never heard anything like it in my life. It sounded like a Ukranian sample flipped over some hip-hop drums. It was a combination I had just never heard of and it just really resonated within my spirit. It literally made me want to jump out of a car and headbang against a concrete wall. The beat was just that ridiculous. So when I signed my first deal and I had a bit of a budget, I was able to go to different people and Nottz was one of the first on my list. I’ve always admired Busta [Rhymes]‘s energy ever since I was little, so I wanted to see if there was some way that he could, in my own unique way, bring a certain energy out of me.
Besides the business part of it, we’ve been good friends for over a decade now. Every time I go to Norfolk—and anybody who knows about Norfolk knows besides school or the military, there ain’t much to do there, so whenever we go there we always bang out classics. We have about at least 5 or 6 albums’ worth of material. So we was like, we gotta do this for the love of this.
Moreso on this album than any other, you blend genres. You have P Rock. You have Green Lantern, so you’re mixing old and new, hip-hop, dancehall, reggae…
That’s one of the blessings I have as being an artist, I’m able to execute different styles well. Cause a lot of our favorite artists, and no disrespect to them but they’re really good at one style. They try as much as they can to milk that style, but they can’t really venture off to other things because people don’t get it [coming] from them. But for me, just my musical taste growing up, my father was a DJ so I grew up around a lot of different music: hip hop, reggae, funk, just a lot of different black music. My dad had an extensive collection, so whatever stuck on my skin is what I try and put out in my music.
It sounds redundant, but my truth is: music is an extension of who I am. So to be truthful to myself, I can’t neglect certain things and pretend it doesn’t exist which is why my Jamaican heritage comes out. That’s who I am when I’m at home, so it comes out in the music. In terms of the different genres, I just like to push the envelope because I think that’s what music should do. I think it should always be rediscovering itself, regenerating new energy. Especially right now, I think music lacks those people willing to take chances. I’m always willing to take a chance, whether it’s widely received or just by a certain part of the population.
What about the music community in Toronto?
Toronto is the fourth largest city in North America, but the country is really spread out and the population is not that big. So what happens is you only have a small talent pool. In Toronto there’s an exception because there’s a lot of people with talent, but the mentality that we have as a nation is one at a time. So it’s always been, me, Drake, K-os, Saukrates—whoever it’s been, it’s always been one at a time. The infrastructure we have inside the country has never been large enough to support more than one huge act within hip-hop. I think it’s probably a subconscious thing, but it kind of lives on cause they don’t know how to handle it. With everything, maybe with the exception of acting, even in a different genre, like alternative with the Barenaked Ladies, it’s just, Barenaked Ladies. Or if it’s Nelly Furtado, it’s just, Nelly Furtado.
It’s the same thing within all genres. It’s tougher on some of the up and coming artists, because of that mentality. They’re like, “I can’t really blow unless Kardinal’s not doing anything.” “I can’t really blow and get my shine unless Drake is taking a year off.” That’s just how it is. Our media is set up that way. Now is probably the first time ever [that] we’ve had that many people successful internationally, between myself, Drake, Bieber, Melanie Fiona, K’Naan.
But it does sound like some doors have opened..
Not in Canada.
Well, you’re kinda doing it with a new clothing label?
But that stuff is me doing it myself. There’s a difference between you putting it on people and somebody else coming to the table. Like I did a Pepsi campaign a few years back and some stuff with Coca Cola for the winter Olympics, but a lot of these things are spearheaded by international companies as opposed to in Canada.
Canada has to take more risks. There’s a lot more Kardinals and K’Naans and Drakes and Biebers, but they have to take better risks.
What’s the music scene like right now in Jamaica? It seems like the US isn’t really catching on?
They are, but it’s still subcultures though. It’s not really in the mainstream, but artists come here and tour heavy to sold out shows all the time. Dancehall parties, shows, are still very much authentic and filled with people who love it, no matter what race. So it’s not that it’s not poppin’ right now, it’s just something you have to seek out. You can’t go to MTV.com.
But you know with reggae it goes in cycles. There’s always been a history of time where reggae is readily accepted. Over the last year or two, it’s started to come up again because Rihanna, who has a blatantly reggae song like “Man Down,” went to number one. Shouts to Rihanna, that’s my girl right there. I’ve known her since she was young, before the deal and all that. It’s unapologetically a reggae song, and it’s capable of going to number 1. And when they play it, they’re not dancing to it just because it’s Rihanna, it’s because they love it.
If you could put together the ultimate lineup for the next Sunfest, who would be on it? Living or dead…
Oh shit…Bounty killer, Supercat, Beanie Man, Vybz Kartel, Bob Marley, Gregory Issac, Garnet Silk, Shabba [Ranks]… Jamaican concerts go ’til 7 in the morning anyway. Tanya Stevens, to say the least…
Best festival story?
Performing at Sunfest with Akon in Jamaica. First of all, we were on tour but we flew there on a private jet. Got there the day of— I remember that’s when Nas’ the N word album came out. I remember listening to that album on the beach that day with some jerk chicken and some rum. My first collaboration with a reggae artist was Bounty Killer, and I remember he was like, “Yo, Kardinal, don’t perform at those things until you’re ready, until the people know ya.” Jamaica’s one of the toughest crowds in the world to impress.
When we got there, the energy was crazy, the media was going crazy. I remember going out on stage, wildin’ out, doing my thing and ‘Kon jumps into the crowd which is something I would not suggest to this day to do in Jamaica. But he went way out in the crowd, climbed a tower, hopped a fence… So much crazy stuff going on. Gunshot salutes were going off. It was an amazing time and the funny thing was after that we had to get back to Vancouver, Canada for a concert. We were on tour with Wyclef and Sean Paul at that time. And ‘Kon had some problems with his paperwork getting back into the country. That whole run there was absolutely bananas cause we had to do it in less than 48 hours. I’ll never forget that. It was a welcoming home, I was on Konvict [Muzik; Akon's label].
How did fashion and music come together for you?
It was something I had to learn. We take things and make them fresher to suit us. Those high-end suits are made for Italian men that have different shapes than what we have. My ass is big, I can’t fit into a lot of them shits. [Laughs] So it’s high-end stuff that won’t fit me. It wasn’t made for someone who’s 6’4. When you travel internationally, you see something amazing and you know they don’t make something in your size or color, that’s where my line comes in.
You have a track that you’re working on with Wizkid. What do you think about other newer artists?
Shoulders up, shoulders down. No disrespect, cause there are dope new artists over the last few years. You can see what happened in music, the shift to making money instead of good music. Whether you hate Kanye or love him, I respect him because he’s pushing the envelope. Even [his] street records are never regular. Even when he’s rapping the same way, sonically behind him, there’s [new] structure changes and elements you are introduced to. Nicki Minaj is catching all this flack for expressing the pop side in her, but I think that’s dope cause she’s capable of doing it. It’s a bonafide side of her. Some hip-hop fans are like, “I don’t mess with it,” but the rest of the world does. I always applaud people who go out there, and try and give you something other than the norm.
I have to ask you about Snoop. I’m just curious…
You ask me. I’m not gonna voluntarily…
Where do you think he’s going?
Don’t know. As a Snoop Dogg fan I am awaiting to see where he is going to take us. I’m intrigued to see where this musical journey takes him.
Are you excited about his transformation?
I think with Snoop it’s a bit more than the music, so that’s why it’s interesting. There’s a difference between diving into different genres, and embracing and taking on a culture. I’ve loved Snoop from ’93; he’s the godfather, he’s no dummy. When he came out with “Sexual Eruption,” people were like, “Where’s he going?” And it shot to number one. He’s a great thing for hip-hop, he’s an icon. Where is the lion taking us?
You’ve paved the way for someone like Drake. Where are you going from here?
Im blessed with a great team, with the Bystorm family, who’s headed up by Marc Pitts and my day-to-day guy Chris. With Bystorm they deal with me, Miguel, J.Cole— being with that family and knowing their history from dealing with the Notorious B.I.G., I feel comfortable in terms of them guiding my career in the business cause over the last year we’ve just been restructuring the way I present myself to the public. They know what I enjoy doing. All they do is get me to focus, and besides music, [they] expose people to who I am.
Right now we have a lot of hit songs, but we don’t have star power anymore because we don’t know about the people who make number one songs because there’s not much to them. That’s why we report about who somebody is dating, or someone was high at the club and fell on their face cause there’s not a lot of depth to people anymore. We’re trying to promote being an actual real life person who fans can relate to, not somebody perfect.
Once the fans can see your truth and realize you’re going through the same thing, there’s a lot more of a connection and those people will stick around. Love for a certain way of life outlasts love for a song.