Kardinal Offishall: Ambassador Imperial


Nobody is promised tomorrow, and if the upcoming album Not 4 Sale were to be Kardinal Offishall’s last living representation, he’d be content with what he’s delivering the Hip Hop nation. Under Akon’s now established Konvict Muzik and with the hit singer/songwriter executive producing the project, there’s no doubt Jason Harrow has come a long way from his entirely self-produced independent debut Eye & I.

Kardinal knows he could sensationalize his new affiliations or brag about any of his other recent career accomplishments. Instead, the well-spoken Canadian just wants to appeal to those who still believe that good music is the foundation of the culture he’s proud to represent. If falling back in love with Hip-Hop is possible, consider Kardinal the charismatic matchmaker you’ve been waiting for.

AllHipHop.com: What up Kardinal? What’s good with you today?

Kardinal Offishall: Man, everything is great. It’s sunny, 74 degrees in T-Dot and we’re just on our way to go finish the photo shoot for the album right now. It’s a very good time in my life and I can’t complain.

AllHipHop.com: After being one of the most prominent Canadian Hip-Hop artists all this time, is 2008 the year for you to let the world know about Canada’s “Hip-Hop Ambassador?”

Kardinal: You know, it’s like everything for a reason, and to me God is never late. This is the perfect time because it seems like musically everything that I ever wanted to express for the most part, we managed to embody on this album Not 4 Sale. Definitely making the good family connection with my man Akon gave me insight on how to do what I do and still remain true to myself, but at the same time take it to the next level and be able to appeal to a bigger mass of fans and a broader spectrum across the world. So for me, I just feel blessed to be in the position that I’m in and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

AllHipHop.com: Is there a story about the way you guys first linked up? Was it instant chemistry laying down music or was it more mutual respect as artists that brought you together ?

Kardinal: Honestly the first time I even heard about dude was from a mutual friend of ours named Kirk Harding who works for Universal Music. Many moons ago before Akon came out he was trying to get him up here [to Toronto] for Caribana. The only thing is, at the time, with his record they wouldn’t let him cross the border. So I remember two years in a row Kirk was trying to get him to Caribana so he could wild out with me and have me take him around and get him involved in stuff, but he couldn’t cross the border and always got sent back.

Shortly after that we did the track “Kill The Dance” which came out on the re-release of his first album, and chemistry wise that was the first time we ever did a combo.

Then after I actually met dude personally at the Mix Show Power Summit years ago we definitely connected.

Anybody that knows Akon knows that he’s just a cool-ass dude, and he has that spirit about him and I definitely liked the way he got down.

You know he’s Mr. International next to me so he’s always traveling, and anywhere in the world he would go he would always hear about me. And in ’05 after we’d seen each other in different places, he had this vision for doing his Konvict label and so forth, and he really just stepped to me as a man and somebody that had respect for my work ethic and how I got down.

At that time he had just started busting real heavy with the “Soul Survivor” with Jeezy and was starting to try and get T-Pain popped off at that time, so everything was pretty brand new. I’m not gonna lie, I wasn’t necessarily sure about it at the time. Not that he hadn’t proven himself, because he had gone platinum so I knew he was having some success for himself. It wasn’t one of those things where both feet was in the water and everything was proven and tried and secure, but I just prayed about it, left it alone, and it just seemed that was the place God wanted me to be. It’s just great the way that it worked out, cause it’s a great team and they’re great cats over there at Konvict, the whole family.

AllHipHop.com: You had to defend him a while when his criminal past came into question or whatever. Do you feel it’s played out that people seem more concerned about that than the music?

Kardinal: To me, it’s a shame when this is the stuff we are looking to sensationalize. Anybody with sense in their brain knows that you cannot have a sick criminal record and travel. Akon had to get his record expunged so he could travel. Like I said, when I first met him he couldn’t come to Canada. But you think that just magically since then he’s been able to come to Canada? No, he had to go through the proper avenues to clear up how his stuff looked on record so that he could travel and bring his music to the masses. He’s never been a dude stuck on, “It’s about 20 kilos that we push in a week.” If you check his music, it describes where he comes from, his surroundings, and how he deals with it. A lot of times he deals with some positivity. I just wish that instead of them doing an expose on how his record is cleaned up, and I don’t have to defend him because he’s a grown man, but why don’t they do an expose on all the work that he’s doing in Senegal for the African people?

Why don’t they do an expose on how African people in Canada, America and around the world are now proud to say that they’re African because of somebody like Akon. We spend a lot of time focusing on bulls**t, and I don’t really have time to get into all of that stuff.

And of course I’m going to defend Akon, because he’s allowing me and my family and people that are near to me eat our food and do better things in life.

So of course I’m going to defend the dude, because he’s a good dude. But people are always trying to bring other people down and turn things into some tabloid mess.

But Akon is an icon, and I don’t feel you’re allowed to just say whatever the f**k you want to say. Have some respect.

AllHipHop.com: So you’re signed to his label, you’ve got an Interscope A&R repping you. What kind of difference has it been with having that machine and support behind you for this album compared with MCA?

Kardinal: When I signed with MCA, they didn’t really know what they had. And you have to remember this is before the Akons, the Sean Pauls, all that crazy success. When they had me at the time, they knew that they had this dude from Toronto that was into Hip-Hop that had the influence of his culture in his music. But they didn’t really know what to do with me. Big up to Shaggy at that point in time, but they put me on the road touring with him, which was dope but that wasn’t necessarily my core audience. They had to learn.

The difference now is I know what it’s like to be an A-list artist and to be treated as such. You can definitely see the difference. Now they’re like “Kardinal, you’ve gotta do A, B and C.” And I’m like “S**t, when I was on the other label I never did that one time.” (Laughs) It’s interesting. Now you can literally just see what it feels like to be prioritized, whether it’s the different showcases you have to do, the different interviews you have to do, even the way people like from Jimmy Iovine all the way down deal with you.

"Obviously I owe a great deal of that to my association with Akon, cause they know Akon doesn’t deal with just anybody or try to sign anybody"

Obviously I owe a great deal of that to my association with Akon, cause they know Akon doesn’t deal with just anybody or try to sign anybody. If you listen to the caliber of music, it has definitely changed the way they deal with me. So right about now, the ride at the label is different. But you have to understand it’s a different time in music too. The label’s function is significantly different from when I was there before, and s**t doesn’t operate the same way it used to. Big up to the label, but it has to work a lot harder now than it did to stay relevant.

AllHipHop.com: It was an historic moment for Canadians when you were in that BET Awards (2007) cipher, and then a lot of people were saying afterwards that you came out on top.

Kardinal: It’s interesting because yesterday I was a little bit frazzled by the way some people view people from a certain region. But what’s dope is that in doing different interviews, sometimes you are not only schooling people to certain stuff but you’re also learning. When I was reflecting and really thinking about it, people used to look at St. Louis funny when Nelly came out. I’m sure people looked at Tallahassee funny before T-Pain came out. Whenever people are put on to something that’s different and something they don’t know about, obviously their first reaction is probably “Who is this? I’ve never heard of that place before,” or “What kind of people they got over there?” But it’s going to be that much doper at the end of the day when people see how much talent and how ill it is in Toronto, and I’m proud to be able to represent that.

I love my city, and everything about me is a direct result of how I was raised in Toronto. Everything about it comes out in me. But at the same time it’s like I only represent myself and how I see it and how I see the world. Everybody in Toronto is not like Kardinal, but it’s dope that everybody has some sort of representation. And as time goes on and I bring more light to my city, people will realize what we’ve always had going on here in T-Dot.

AllHipHop.com: The singles “Dangerous” and “Graveyard Shift” despite the mainstream appeal seem as natural as “On Wit Da Show” or “Husslin” did in their respective years. What can you say to the longtime fans about what direction you’re taking with Not 4 Sale?

Kardinal: First I just want to big up everybody that’s been with me along for the ride, from the independent days to signing with the majors, it’s been a long ride. But the thing about me, I’m always trying to break the mold or break down the barriers and raise the bar. So I don’t want it to be a thing where you know what to expect from a Kardinal album, except to expect some fire and a different kind of vibe.

"It’s like in T-Dot, we have the most dangerous girls in the entire world, in every meaning and sense of the word, so I definitely had to represent"

With me, I’ve got to represent with songs like “Graveyard Shift” and stuff like that, because that was my reality. And if you listen to the whole song, you understand what I’m saying when I say that was my reality. I still lived in my old neighborhood up until a few months ago, so I had to write about the things around me, the things that I saw and the things that I go through. It’s like in T-Dot, we have the most dangerous girls in the entire world, in every meaning and sense of the word, so I definitely had to represent. It’s funny cause every time you do a hard track, people try and limit you and put you in this box.

But you have to think of some of the greats and the things I admire about people like Nas, Jay-Z, Biggie, or anybody successful. They were able to represent some of the harder s**t and at the same time they’re able to take the hood to the club, and that’s called versatility and creativity. I know it’s lacking in Hip-Hop right now, so it’s kind of taking people off guard cause they’re not used to thinking outside the box. But that’s my job, to help change the scope of what’s going on in Hip-Hop right now, because it’s so redundant and I’m tired of trying to walk around with my upside-down umbrella and try to catch all the money that people are making rain in the club.