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Kardinal Offishall - Not 4 Sale

Posted September 12, 2008

It’s hard to have a conscience, especially in the music business. That’s why the list of...

Not 4 Sale Album Review

It’s hard to have a conscience, especially in the music business. That’s why the list of rappers willing to stay true in the face of easy money is shorter than Yung Berg, and why so many underground cats can’t make the transition to mainstream. As soon as the major label sharks manage to take a bite out of your principles in the name of chart-success, underground fans will start screaming “sell-out!” while radio chews up your hot single and spits you out. In fact, Kanye might be the only rapper to simultaneously dominate the underground and mainstream, and that’s because he has the balls to acknowledge his own hypocrisy (“the only rapper with a Benz and a backpack”).

On the musical difficulty scale, pulling off the socially conscience MC/radio killer combination is harder than making Trina blush. Luckily, Kardinal Offishall doesn’t care, he’s used to taking the hard road. Hailing from our frozen northern neighbor, Toronto (a.k.a. T-Dot), Kardinal has spit his intellectually intimidating blend of boom-bap and Jamaican dancehall in relative anonymity for years - until Akon stepped in. Now Kardinal has a new album, the declaratory titled Not 4 Sale, backed by the considerable weight of the Konvict label. Is this unexpected alliance a hip-hop dream come true, or another sad tale of a dope rapper turned traveshamockery (that’s “travesty+sham+mockery”)?

Put the backpack down and relax; Kardinal makes some concessions to the mainstream on Not 4 Sale, but he certainly hasn’t compromised, and he definitely hasn’t stopped microphone murdering. Need proof? Turn Set It Off up until your speakers blow out. With a head pounding beat that sounds like something straight out of a Missy video, Set It Off is a testament to Kardinal’s vocal strength. He can go blow-for-blow with the Clipse without resorting to lyrics about blow. Instead, he drops flows as complex as “you’re small time, I net what you make gross” without getting drowned-out by the beat. (Go back to Economics 101 if you didn’t get that line.) Speaking of textbooks, Kardinal takes rappers to school on Burnt, a reggae-infused track featuring Kardinal’s trademark rudeboy flow, a fiercely energetic style that’s the musical manifestation of Toronto’s diversity. Have no fear lyrical heads, Not 4 Sale is here.

I hate to break it to you Kardinal, but your album is very much for sale. Not only is it currently sitting on store shelves, but you’ve managed to land the unprecedented trifecta of Akon, Dream and T-Pain, three of the biggest hook-singers alive. The chart-topping starts off with his boss Akon, who provides a typically catchy chorus on the pop-tinged Dangerous. Long time fans were undoubtedly surprised the first time they flipped on MTV and saw Kardinal flirtin' with models on Dangerous’ video, but the truth is that Kardinal brings his own unmistakable style to the track, creating a well-crafted, tight pop song that’s by far his biggest hit to date. However, that doesn’t mean that all of Not 4 Sale’s radio-ready material is so enjoyable. Go Home With Me brings on the requisite T-Pain hook, though at his point so many people are rocking the auto-tune effect the chorus could be sung by anyone. Give Me Some is Not 4 Sale’s version of a club banger, and in all honesty it’s damn good, but hearing Kardinal on a track whose chorus is an R. Kelly-esque “I just wanna feel it, then I wanna touch it, then I wanna rub it” is like hearing Mary J. Blige on a Ying Yang Twins song; something just doesn’t fit. Is it unfair to hold Kardinal to such lofty standards? Maybe, but for years Kardinal demanded more from his fans, and now we demand more from him in return.

That doesn’t mean Not 4 Sale never strikes the perfect balance between commercial appeal and musical quality. It can’t be a coincidence that the album’s at its best when Kardinal gets the ladies involved. Numba 1 is slamming track where Rihanna plays the girl on the side trying to become Kardinal’s main squeeze, and Due Me A Favour features English sensation Estelle for a slowly winding track built around Kardinal’s poetically real lyrics. Unlike the T-Pain and Dream tracks where Kardi gets lost amongst the booming beats, on Numba and Favor he sounds comfortable, relaxed and compelling. Every album has a mission, and though there may be a few stumbles along the way, Kardinal accomplishes Not 4 Sale’s mission without hesitation: proving that maybe we can have it both ways.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted September 12, 2008
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