For a while, when you thought of Hip-Hop in Canada, Kardinal Offishall was the only name that had any resonance. He dominated an era where he had singles ringing across the world with artists such as Akon, Lady Gaga, Estelle, Timbaland, Pharell, Rihanna, The Clipse and many more. He’s an impressive man, powering the City of Toronto through multiple generations; he’s been on more red carpets and green rooms than we can count. His towering presence over Hip-Hop culture in North America carries with it added weight as he is also Senior Director of Urban Music at Universal Music. He is one of Hip-Hop’s greatest live performers, and as he heads out with his new single “Run,” we got a rare chance to chat with the introspective legend as he was on his way to the Championship Parade in Toronto, Ontario where the Raptors rode through downtown in what will be recorded as the longest Championship parade in history.
RESPECT.: As a Torontonian, how redeeming is today? Now that Toronto is an NBA Championship City, how excited are you?
Kardinal Offishall: A lot of people use that word, but I don’t know if it best describes how I personally feel because when you been kind of been believing in something I don’t know since 1995, literally you know excitement kind of wears off after a couple decades. This is more proud I would say. It’s the feeling of being victorious rather than being excited you know. That’s a different type of energy I feel today. I didn’t grow up having money it was my drive and wanting the city do well that motivated me. This parade almost is a congratulatory “bow” on our progress. It’s a “Badge of Honour” now most definitely, but I remember being the lone solider out there for a long time. It was about standing on the shoulders of giants, like I stood on the shoulders of people like Maestro, Michie Mee, Dream Warriors, those are the real pioneers.
RESPECT.: Any plans on doing Bakardi Slang 2?
KO: Nah, somethings in my opinion you gotta leave alone you know. There is a lot of times we want that feeling back, we want that idea back but i think creatively some up and comer could creatively do a similar thing because the slang has definitely been updated since 2001. So I don’t think I would do Bakardi Slang 2 at least as of today. I remember we tried to revisit some of the themes and stuff but yeah ‘Bakardi Slang 2’ I gotta leave it to one of the new giants to do.
RESPECT.: You know what we’re really excited about? Your new single “Run”! Tell us a little about the process and how it came together.
KO: That song to me is amalgamation of a lot of different things. So, I produced it and i wanted a vibe that, to me anyways, that I felt, embodied everything about who I am and also where we at with music so. Even if you listen to the different production elements I put into it. I think (I hope) I was successful at being able to bridge kind of a boom bap era that I came from but then adding the knocking 808s and the melody of present so, it’s not what I went in there and said what can i do to infuse everything together, I was just on an energy where I wanted to be true to myself and then also be aware of the present vibrations of today and I think it’s been pretty dope musically in terms of the reaction. Various people have been reaching out and to be completely honest the energy of the song , I haven’t felt energy like this since when I first came out on a major back in the day. It’s very very much reminiscing of “Ol’ Time Killin” or something. Because musically it has a similar energy and also like lyrically connecting with people for various reasons but I think it all leads up to the hook. You know, where as soon as the hook comes in and you sing “I ain’t run from a fight before and I never will” like everybody relates to that message. That’s one we can all relate to. No matter what we’re fighting or what we’re facing in life, that’s really what it was about. That’s what it was all about for me, is that we will never run, we will face everything head on and that we will win and you’ll be covered.
RESPECT.: You’re in album mode right now! What can fans expect from “Pick Your Poison”.
KO: The thing is that about “Pick your Poison”, I was talking to one of my best friends, actually he’s the one who came up with that. There’s a lot of different sounds on the album. Obviously we just dropped run so we are going to be in “Run” mode for awhile. The fun is going to be, what is that next single we pick? I don’t know how else to explain it, there’s one with Assassin it sounds like King Kong and Godzilla. Is it going to be the song with me and Akon and Blackway called “Coco”? That’s kind of an afrobeat kind of a joint. Whether it’s R&B with me, Conscience and T-Pain on the song. So we don’t know which direction we are going in yet. Is the song with me, Pit Bull and Ricky Blaze, which is kind of a Baltimore house song. We don’t know which direction we are going to go in yet but i guess that’s why it is called Pick Your Poison. We just had fun and went and killed it. We zoned out. So that’s where my head is at. My head is just like remaining creative and just really trying to do my own thing or continue to exist in my own lane and not really care about what anyone else does. I think that’s the only reason, musically I have been able to stay creative. Now that I’m comfortable putting music out, I make sure I put out the highest level of music possible.
RESPECT.: Any ‘Money Jane’ or ‘Ol’ Time Killin’ types? We’ll even settle for something as hard as your classic banger ‘Set It Off’ with The Clipse.
KO: I mean of course but has to be updated because all those song you are talking about those are early 2000s. I don’t think any successful artist out there that just replicates what they did 20 years ago. They make different versions of it. I don’t know I guess my favourites would be anybody from J Cole, Jay Z, Andre 3000, you know so many different people, who else, Tyler The Creator. So you would elements that remind you of why you fell in love with them. But I think as artists we would be doing a gigantic disturbance to ourselves and more so our fans if we were just replicating. So what you would get is a new birth, a new version of them. Music is like our children, you know sometimes they come out looking the same, but they have their own qualities. That’s how I think songs come out. I feel as long as I can still create relatable music, like if you were on your way to work and are stuck in traffic and my music comes and gives you that energy? I feel accomplished. I like making music that people can relate to, so so far so good.
RESPECT.: I’m originally from England, and I grew up listening to your song “Dangerous” “Freak” like everywhere, on radio, at every retail strip. I just heard them again in the morning and swear to god I ended up back in West Yorkshire interchange. Do you plan on releasing any big singles targeted to the UK?
Funny thing is, the other day Wiley hit me saying “yo, Kardi! send me some rhythm” because I produced for him as well and then he did a post of tracks he’s working on for the album. One of the joints that I sent him, it was on the list. So I’m hyped to see what that final product will sound like. Wiley has been someone I have been a fan of for a minute. So yeah, me and J2K might link and who knows. You know I got a lot of friends in the UK so you never know but yeah the joint with J2K is pretty much what is left, because for the most part the album is done.
RESPECT.: Akon has become a world leader of sorts. How do you feel about that?
AK has always been doing stuff but I think what he’s doing now has gotten some world press and it’s funny because the way it was reported was like you know, we big up all of these random artists but then we have people like Akon, who is bringing electricity to Africa. He’s lighting up Africa and not many people are talking about it. Akon has always been doing things, it’s not new and knowing Akon, I mean I’m proud of him but it’s not anything new, he has always stood up for Africa from day one. He has always been a great representation of what it means to exist within the diaspora outside of the actual continent. It’s just amazing he is two feet on the ground back in Africa doing things in a really big way. He has always spoken up about the global community, being an international artist anyway. So I guess for me I just continue to support him whatever way he needs me to and continue to encourage not just him any other artists.
Myself and my wife, we’ve been doing things for many years. We have an initiative we started ten years ago. It’s not for profit and charity called ‘30 Elephants‘. Now what we’ve been working with We Organization to do a joint trip around the world. We went to Kenya for years, we went to India last years. we been raising money that so kids who don’t have opportunity to travel give back, we give back to them. Now it is not limited to the youth. It’s also for those who have money but their parents cant afford it, by all mean send them down. What we’ve been doing, we’ve been going to Kenya and we’ve been building schools, clinics, hospitals, community exchange. We’ve been taking dozens and dozens of kids over the years and they been having transformative trips of not just their lives but my life too.
Every single year, I’m reminded why I take my time to raise the money, you know over the years I’ve had Jay-Z, Dave Chappelle, Just Blaze, Sean Paul, Russel Peters and the list goes on, who dedicated either monetarily or dedicated their time or help spread the message, Nelly Furtardo so many different icons from around the world that have helped me and I did my Annual Kardinal Christmas Charity Bash last year. We’re going back to Kenya, so thats something I do because I believe kids need to have opportunity to travel so the get a perspective of where they live, like blue collar neighbourhood from Greater Toronto Area or whichever area you come from and it’s been difficult but then you go to areas where kids don’t have shoes and clothes and see how happy they are with very very little. So it’s very interesting to see all of the kids all of the sudden have different perspective on life and see how much more grateful they become and how hard they work to give to those communities. It’s things like that is what I’m about. My philanthropy is designed to encourage the leaders of tomorrow. Because I know just me, I’ve been able to effect hundreds of thousands and sometimes million of people at a time. So I know if i can do that for dozens and eventually hundreds of kids over my lifetime. Imagine the effect it will have on the world. I’m also the type of person who believes that you start with one person and keep building it because there is strength in numbers. So yeah, I’m blessed to be able to get my energy out there make life better for other kids.
RESPECT.: Tell us a good Pharrell story.
KO: Okay, so I can’t even remember if I told this story to any publication, I’ll skip over the first part which is an another story altogether. So I met Pharrell in Toronto when he was doing a promo tour for N.E.R.D., and you know out of that meeting we were able to do The Clipse remix which was like massive for me at that time and it was me, Sean Paul and The Clipse together on that record. From then, we performed at this conference that use to be called Mixshow Power Summit and it was me, The Clipse, lots of guys. It was a wild wild time we had. So Pharell says to me “I gotta get on your next album” and i said “of course!”
I remember going to New York and we had the studio session booked and I was super hyped to get in the studio, Pharrell is making a beat and there was this girl in the studio. Now, here’s a thing, I’m used to recording in the studio without any type of distraction. When I’m in my sessions I don’t really have extra friends or females in the studio and I remember there this random girl was in there. I literally paid her no mind what so ever. I kept it cordial and moving but I remember in my head I was so pissed because I needed to remain focused.
Eventually the beat was done, we had to finish this track, it was called “Belly Dancer” so Pharrell was like ‘cool Kardi do your thing me and my friend gonna bounce we’ll come back or whatever’ I was like ‘alright, no problem’ so Pharrell left for a little bit I was a little cheesed, like what kind of thing is this? I’m in a studio and this guy is there with one of his female friends. But I was like it is what it is, whatever. Anyways, he comes back when I finished the song and Pharrell goes crazy standing on tables saying “that’s what Im talking about! I was the one who cracked the new sound for Britney Spears, Justing Timberlake whatever whatever!” he was just really really hyped! and anyway, the girl was like I really love this song and I was like “oh thanks” I looked, the random girl that was in the studio that whole time was actually Naomi Campbell. I mean what was cool was that me and Naomi were super cool after that. Like I use to see when I use to travel all over the world because she would be traveling for her modelling or whatever and I was traveling for my music. I would see her in London, I would see her here. Whats super cool is that she actually a good friend of Dave Chappelle and because me and Dave have become super cool as well so Naomi is back in the fold also so I see her time to time with Chappelle. It’s funny how degrees of separation and how like circle of life works. Yeah, I hope that story is good enough (laughs)!
RESPECT.: Your cameo in Roy Woods’ Gwan Big Up Urself is probably your funniest, the whole city went crazy. How was it like working with the 4’Yall boys & the UTU crew?
KO: When I say it was nothing, it was just like some friends getting together and having a good time. Jay & Trey Richards are super cool and its funny they came to a party on Friday that i threw that just passed few days ago, we had a ball together. In terms of Roy Woods and his whole camp I originally met them performing at A-Trak’s Fools Gold in Montreal and since then we’ve always been cool. So when his management reached out to me it was like “yo, say the time i was there”. It’s funny that they actually filmed that part at one of my favourite downtown roti spot which is Ali’s Roti. When I went there you know it was mad fun. To be honest we just had a good time. Had a hard time keeping a straight face to be completely honest. We had a good time working with those guys. That goes down in the history books as a legendary Toronto video.
RESPECT.: “We Nuh Have Dat!”
KO: [laughs] It’s one of those that at any Caribbean restaurant in the world, whether it’s Brooklyn or Paris anywhere in the world, for some reason they don’t plan it out well enough so by the time you get there, even if you get there ten minutes after they open, just seems like they nuh have dat! everything is finished. That was a classic one that we’ve been thinking and talking about within the culture for so long and I think that those guys executed that whole vibe perfectly.
RESPECT.: Every legend has collected tons of souvenirs on their artistic journey. Looking back what are some things you’ve collected on your journey to becoming an icon.
KO: To be completely honest I’m not more of souvenir guy. I’m bigger on memories. The head of international Interscope many years ago he goes “when you get to there cities don’t just stay in your hotel, get out there, go have a meal, go see a place, go get to experience it”. So, i mean when I first went to India I bought things but I’m not big of a souvenir guy more than I am a memory guy. I remember doing a show in south of France and was playing bocce ball in a vineyard before a show, those are the things that I’ll never forget. Or shooting the video for “Clear” when we were on tour in China. I remember getting a call to perform what was that reality show called “Real World” or something? I remember we went from Paris to London to Mexico to shoot and come back in 48 hrs. You know, things like that I’ll never forget. I’m more of a person who collects experiences more than actual souvenirs.
RESPECT.: Are you into the new music that’s coming out of the city? anything new artists on your playlist?
KO: I’m into new good music. Including myself. I don’t just support someone just because they from my neighbourhood or my city. But yeah man, as an executive for Universal, we’ve signed some amazing people that will be coming out with projects later this year that are literally going to change the landscape of music not just in the country but in the world. I have an artist name Zach Zoya from Montreal who is super dope. We’re working on his project right now. I like Jugger he’s dope, he’s got some dope joints. Swagger Rite is going to come out with a dope project. There are a lot of different artists but i’m just into good music. Also, KTOE is dope!
RESPECT.: What are your 5 goals for this year?
1. To release music.
2. To establish myself as an executive who’s able to find world class talent.
3. Be better with my finances.
4. Help people help themselves.
5. To continue to become a better man.
Take in Kardinal Offishall’s latest single “Run” below and be on the look out for his forthcoming album Pick Your Poison.
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