Kardinal Offishall Interview
|Label:||Black Stone Colleagues/GFMGG|
|Next Project:||Not 4 Sale (June '08)|
|Twitter:||Kardinal Offishall on Twitter|
|Website:||Kardinal Offishall's Website|
If he isn’t already, rapper Kardinal Offishall is about to become the most successful Canadian-born hip-hop artist in America. Having rocked a mic on a mainstream level the past eight plus years in his native Toronto, Canada, Offishall will release his first domestically distributed project, “Not 4 Sale,” this summer.
After dropping several albums under several different labels since 2000, the six-foot-four Offishall hooked up with Akon in ’05. Following the release of Akon’s debut project, “Trouble,” the rapper was offered a recording contract with KonLive and distribution through Interscope. Knowing the two artists had an undeniable chemistry, Kardinal accepted Kon’s offer, thus paving the way for his forthcoming LP.
In an exclusive interview with DJBooth‘s DJ “Z,” Kardinal steps inside the booth to talk about growing up as a gifted child, working with Akon on his new project, why Toronto has the most “Dangerous” women, and how a career with DJBooth.net could have been his future.
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Kardinal Offishall Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on y’all? It’s your boy “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is a veteran of the rap game who, for the past twenty-plus years, has been performing, recording, and ruling the underground scene. But underground no more, a native of Toronto, Canada, please welcome another member of the Konvict Music family, Kardinal Offishall – how you doin’, my friend?
Kardinal Offishall: Hoo, yeah! Everything is good to go over here. I wouldn’t quite say twenty years – that’s a long ass time – but I’ve definitely been rockin’ for a minute, so big ups to everybody who’s been rockin’ for me. Can we curse on this program?
DJ Booth: Yes, you can.
Kardinal Offishall: All right, good.
DJ Booth: Would you say, though, that when you were born, you knew right away – I’m talkin’ straight out the womb – that you were gonna be musically involved?
Kardinal Offishall: Nah… but according to what Moms and the fam’ told me, I was always somewhat of a serious kid. Like, they used to call me “Little Man,” because I was a lot more advanced than my age. My mom, she used to work for the Board of Education, before I started school I used to get homeschooling, and apparently from the time I was in the first grade I had a grade-five reading level, and stuff like that. So my family always knew that I was meant to be more than your average kid.
DJ Booth: When we featured your new single with Akon, Dangerous, readers and members of our site commented on how much they loved this quote unquote “new artist,” but little did they know, you’ve been in the game for quite some time. I said twenty years, you said less than that – we’ll meet halfway. Start off, give everybody a brief history lesson on your hip hop past.
Kardinal Offishall: I started when I was really a little kid, so maybe that’s why. It’s fair to say that I’ve been doin’ it for a minute, but not like heavy, heavy, heavy, heavy in the public. I’d say that’s maybe like ten to twelve years. The first foot that I got in the game was signing to MCA back in 2000. That was really my first taste of the big leagues. But we came up when that whole independent movement was going on – if you want to call it the Fat Beats Era, you know what I’m sayin’, when people used to ship their 12-inches all around the world. And we literally had to carry our 12-inch everywhere with us, as young kids. That’s when I really first started doin’ it. But, yeah, I was signed to MCA in 2000, and then from that the ride has just been amazing. I got to work with some of the best artists in the world, everybody from Akon to Pharrell, to Timbaland, and not just artists that are in North America, but to work with artists all over the world. Pretty much since 2000, I’ve been doin’ my thing with my team.
DJ Booth: All right, so, eight-plus years. At this point, you have hooked up with Akon, he got you a deal – how did that take place?
Kardinal Offishall: Back in I think ‘05. I had done a deal with EMI/Virgin Music Canada. Just a little one-off deal – I wanted to definitely satisfy the hunger that the home team, Canada had. At the time, I hadn’t put out an album in a little bit. And we started doing, just a bunch of different things like we always do around the world. My philosophy has always been, “Independent hustle with major-label muscle,” you see what I’m sayin’? We had interest from a few people at the time – you know, Jay-Z and the whole Roc La Familia had shown some interest, and at the exact same time is when Akon also had shown some interest. At that time, we did a joint together called Kill The Dance, that was on the re-release for his first album, and we had sold a bunch of units internationally, and formed a good chemistry. Really just on a man-to-man level, we definitely vibed. I think our work ethic is the same, we both are capable of producing, capable of writing, him moreso than me singing when he needs to, but we definitely have a lot of different things that we connected on, and we definitely saw eye-to-eye in how we wanted the project to progress. So it was a perfect time for the whole thing to go down.
DJ Booth: Well, this has all led up, of course, to your Kon Live/Interscope debut, which is going to be released this summer. It’s entitled Not 4 Sale. So Kardinal, who or what is Not 4 Sale?
Kardinal Offishall: Not 4 Sale is, to me, all the best things that I love about hip hop music, interpreted by myself. There’s music with myself and The Clipse. I don’t know, for all y’all who are not familiar with J Davey, they’re an amazing band that kind of combines hip hop with R&B with punk, they’re out of Cali. Also, a part of my Black Jays family, Ms. Estelle, she’s on John Legend’s Home School label through Atlantic, she’s on the joint, and me and her did a song that was produced by Akon on the album. Obviously Akon, T-Pain, but we even stretched as far as doin’ a joint with the Pussycat Dolls. This album is, I think, filling a void, or filling a gap in creativity that we need in hip hop. And people always say, “Instead of just complaining or talking about what you think hip hop is lacking, why don’t you aggressively go and try and rectify the situation?” and that’s what I’m doing.
DJ Booth: Well, as we both know, actions do speak louder than words, so I hope everything you’re telling me really does come to fruition this year. Let’s move back for a second and talk about the new single. I love it, everyone loves it, it’s called Dangerous. On the hook, Akon sings, “I’ve seen this type before/ She’s so dangerous/ She’s a bad girl.” I’m sure all your lady fans want to know, do you like your women dangerous, or does this type of lady throw up that bright neon symbol that says, “Stay away from me?”
Kardinal Offishall: [laughter] The thing about it is, bein’ in this music game, there’s a few different ways you can look at it: you can look at it where you see that chick and you’re like, “Yow! That chick is dangerous!” just by how she looks. But by the same token, that same chick with all them dangerous looks can definitely spell out danger if you’re not on your game. And I’m not talkin’ that player, pimp game type stuff; I’ve seen a lot of cats get taken for money, unwanted pregnancies – all kind of crazy stuff, all kind of extortion situations. You really gotta be mindful of some of those chicks. And that’s the dope thing about the video we just shot in Miami the other day – big ups to Gil Green. It looks crazy, and it should be out within the next week or two.
DJ Booth: Being that you are in the limelight as a recording artist, not just nationally but internationally, do you feel that you more than just your average Joe has to be careful for these quote unquote “dangerous women,” because they know you do have the fame, and they know you do have the bank account?
Kardinal Offishall: It’s just like being in the mix for a minute, you kinda know what’s up. And I don’t let myself all into danger, no pun intended. I kinda carry myself a different way, and I got a good woman. So if you ask a lot of artists that have traveled the world, Toronto has the most dangerous women on Earth. And that’s what brings a lot of artists here. Don’t get it twisted – you ask a lot of artists, they love to come to Toronto, because of the women that we have here. So we know all about dangerous women in T-Dot – trust me.
DJ Booth: Okay, well then I definitely need to schedule a vacation north of the border very soon.
Kardinal Offishall: You definitely do. Caribana is the best time – the first weekend in August, over a million people come to the city every year, it’s the biggest parade in North America. You need to come through to Caribana and see what we got to offer – it’s not just talk.
DJ Booth: No, I believe it. We’ve already established that you’re going to stray away from the dangerous girls, but I wanna know who you did not stray away from when you were working on this album. Talk about some of the producers, other than Akon, who you worked with on, Not 4 Sale.
Kardinal Offishall: Some of the producers we dealt with, obviously myself, ‘cause I produced a few joints on there, Nottz, from Norfolk, Virginia – to me, the most underrated hip hop producer in the game right now – my friend Jake One from the Bay area, he produced a crazy joint called Digital Motown with myself and J Davey. Also Exile, from L.A., he’s the one that produced the joint Graveyard Shift, and Exile, he’s produced for Mobb Deep and G-Unit. And we also have quote unquote “international producers,” we got Supa Dups from Black Chiney. We even went all the way to London; we got a dude by the name of Alex the Kid, and he produced a joint called, I’m Going In. So there is an array of producers on here, but everybody that I worked with definitely added their own element, their own piece to the puzzle.
DJ Booth: It sounds like what you have is really going to be an international flair. When people listen to music and they know that it’s coming from a Canadian artist, do you think that they stereotypically believe that it has a traditional East Coast sound only?
Kardinal Offishall: Well, except for those heads that’s really out there diggin’ to find out what artists from my neck of the woods are all about, I don’t think that we have, internationally, a reputation for a tight sound. I think, if it was to lean towards one genre, it would probably tend to be East Coast, but again, that’s probably just because of proximity, how close we are to New York and Boston and all the rest of that stuff – that’s just an hour flight.
DJ Booth: Besides yourself, there are a lot of other Canadian rappers who have been doin’ the damn thing for a long time. Two in particular that I’m familiar with: k-os and K’naan. Why do you think it’s been so hard for Canadian rappers to see major success in the United States when you’re directly above us?
Kardinal Offishall: You know what it is? Honestly, it doesn’t really matter if you’re from Canada, if you’re from London, if you’re from Germany, or wherever; if you’re tryin’ to break into the U.S. market a lot of times you have to have a respect for how things operate. And some Canadian artists see great success in Canada, but they’re not able to translate that to down south where they may not be able to relate off the top to our experiences that we go through here in Toronto. I think a lot of the time it’s something that you have to have, whether it’s me coming from Toronto, trying to break in the States, or if I’m tryin’ to go over to Germany or tryin’ to go to London, really, the place in which you go to you have to have a respect for how people get down over there. And in the States, we definitely have to work a lot harder, in a different way. Sometimes people don’t know just quite how to adjust and how to fit in. But my whole thing actually has always been not to fit in but to blend out. For me that’s actually how a lot of eyes open up for me, ‘cause they’re like, “Yo, who’s that crazy six-foot-four guy jumpin’ and sweatin’ his ass off on stage and gettin’ crazy?” “Who’s this guy that’s rockin’ with Busta, who’s rockin’ with 50 – who is that guy?” That’s how I’ve been able to do it; I’ve just been able to be myself. At the same time, I see how colleagues get down in the States.
DJ Booth: Well, your refusal to be a carbon copy of the typical rapper definitely is important, especially moving forward in this new pursuit. We discussed in the pre-interview, like myself, you actually studied communications. Let’s say you were to walk away from music at any point, for whatever reason. Would you be happy pursuing a job either in the media world, or just a job, period, outside of music?
Kardinal Offishall: Well, I definitely have to have a job where I’m able to express myself. Radio, you know, unless you work yourself up to I guess a certain level, whether you’re a Felli Fel or a G-Spin from Boston or a Funkmaster Flex, it’s not as lucrative as some other jobs, but the thing is, I would definitely love to be able to express myself, and offer opinions. Anything is possible as long as you keep God first, and you really, really try and do the damn thing.
DJ Booth: Well, you were clearly put on this Earth to broadcast your insight and your knowledge, and I know that while I cannot rap at all – you can – but as you just said, if you could put your mind to it you could do radio or anything else. So, let’s switch roles here and have some fun. You’re now going to be the interviewer, I am now the interviewee. Your turn to ask me a question, Kardinal. I’m ready – let’s go.
Kardinal Offishall: Wow, okay, all right. My man, Z, I know that you’ve been in this for a minute, and you’ve come across a lot of different artists. If there was something that an artist always talks about that you hate, what would be the number one thing that you would not allow for another rapper to say in an interview?
DJ Booth: I never want another rapper ever in an interview to tell me about how big his bank account is, or how much money he flaunts, or what he’s driving, or how much his necklace cost, or what he paid for his girl’s birthday; I don’t wanna hear about any of that, because you should be doin’ music because you love it, and, because you love it, it’s gonna translate into dollars. The difference between those two is very clear, and I’m sure you would agree, my friend.
Kardinal Offishall: Mm-hm. What would you say, in a day where it just seems like not only the artistry but also the fans, are revolving around controversy, what would you say to those people that still believe that music should be the catalyst for everything?
DJ Booth: What I would do is, I would have them purchase a calender, and on that calender I would have them circle June 24th, and I would let them know that my man Kardinal’s got a brand new album, it’s called Not 4 Sale. If they’re thinking the music industry is one way, they really have no idea until they pick up a copy. Did I answer your question correctly?
Kardinal Offishall: You answered it precisely, and sometimes I wish I could be that clever when I answer questions.
DJ Booth: My pleasure. Why don’t you go ahead and give everybody – your fans, my listeners – a website or a MySpace page, so they can find out more about what you go going on.
Kardinal Offishall: Definitely go to kardinaloffishall.com. That will lead you anywhere you need to go, anything that you’re looking at, that is the page that kinda jumps off to everything. This album right here, Not 4 Sale, is definitely my attempt at tryin’ to make a classic album that can last over time.
DJ Booth: That is a promise I know you are going to keep my friend. I thank you so much for taking the time to join me inside the DJ Booth, and as always, I wish you nothing but the best of luck.
Kardinal Offishall: Any time you need me, you already know what it is.