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Kardinal Offishall talks Quest for Fire, MCA, Canadian hip-hop & more

Although a little off schedule with timing, I was well prepared and more then ready to squeeze the Kardinal Offishall for info about his album debut. The album is entitled Quest for Fire and it is the first release in the Firestarter series under MCA Records. Kardi summed it up pretty clearly:

For the series, each album will represent a different stage of my life. There will be different topics, different subject matters. Right now I’m on a quest for better things and that’s what a Quest for Fire is.

While sitting in a history class some years ago, Jason Harrow came up with trademark alias. The idea for the name Kardinal Offishall came from Cardinal Richelieu, a Cardinal under Louis XIII’s ruling. Although somewhat of a tyrant, the man was a political genius and military tactician.

Everything I do is official, so I put the two together and the name Kardinal Offishall was born.

Kardinal was surrounded by hip-hop culture more or less from the day he was born.

Hip-hop has been around me since infancy, I mean my whole family has always listened to reggae, hip-hop and Funk, shit like that, so it really solidifies the type of vibe and influence you get.

If anyone has heard any of Kardi’s tracks, then they will certainly have heard of Silver House and the Girl (S.H.A.G.) his own production company teamed up with fellow T-dot cats Solitair and Tara Chase. They kicked it off sometime in 1998 and have been doing production for various people around the industry.

Kardi is also member of The Circle, a large group of emcees from Toronto with differentiating styles. Other prominent members in the group include Choclair and Saukrates who are both signed to major US record labels.

One evident characteristic of each member of the Circle, especially Kardi, is the consistent representation of the Mega City throughout tracks. For example “BaKardi Slang,” Kardi’s hot single brings the listener through a world of Toronto slang.

I really feel coming from Toronto we have a unique vibe-unique scene when compared to the rest of the world. That’s what ‘BaKardi Slang’ is all about. That single for the states will be my icebreaker. It will lay the foundation for my album.

In fact looking at his debut lp, the exact same can be said.

I purposely didn’t want to put many collaborations on the album. If you notice, other then Sean Paul every cat on my album is from Toronto. I’m trying to let people hear what’s coming from Toronto. I really wanted to rep my crew and my city with the album. It really is time for us to rep where we are from. We give ourselves the ability to put our city on the map. Shit if it wasn’t for the Rascalz reppin Van City I wouldn’t know shit about the place.

Part 2

When Kardinal signed with MCA, he helped open doors (as well as the other emcees who’ve been signed) to the American industry for other Canadians. New artists will often see a lackluster promotional push from their label and they end up having mediocre success. But Kardi stated that he feels his relationship has been really productive:

I’ve been getting a lot of push from people especially down at MCA and I’m really liking the way things have been moving. The attention showed towards my product has been excellent and I am really pleased. Hopefully things will stay that way as we approach the album’s release.

The importance for a Canadian rapper to step up and get signed by an American major is extremely large.

The American resources are literally 10 times more then Canada when it comes to a label’s urban divisions. Those kind of resources really give you the ability to get out there in a big way.

Over the last few months Kardinal has come out on many “large” collabos including tracks with the Wu-Tang Clan on the Wu’s latest release and Rah Digga on Mastermind Volume 50.

Rza was just feeling my music and he just called me into drop a verse on the Careful remix and I just let it go. That single is being bootlegged all over the states right now so I am happy about that.

When asked what his favorite collabo ever was he replied with exactly what I assumed he would:

I got the best vibe off of ‘Northern Touch,’ as far as working with other people goes. I mean, that track was a thriving point in Canadian hip-hop and it had never been done before so it was really cool. On my album, ‘Powerful’ is one on my favorites because the beat is banging and Jully wrote a hot chorus.

Expect to possibly see Kardinal on an upcoming Golden State project including Ras Kass, Xzibit and Safir.

After the Quest for Fire release (April 10th in Canada, May 22nd in the States) Kardinal will be on the Much Loud tour and will be joining groups Econoline Crush and GodSmack. Irs has been rumored to be on the bill but I have yet to see it written up anywhere.

After the Much Loud tour there is a large possibility of a LL tour featuring The Beatnuts and The Alkoholiks (now known as the Liks).

What Kardi stressed the most to me, which came towards the end was the importance of Canadian labels really getting behind any artists they sign 110%.

Some people just don’t understand that it takes a lot of work to make it. Sometimes you have to put platinum money in for an artist to even break gold. A label who takes on the responsibility of creating a success for themselves and their artist, really needs to get behind that artist and put all their eggs in one basket.

With so much going on Kardi has had little time for serious production work with other artists. Other then working with Choclair and Shylove, he has had really no time for working on other peoples project because his work is obviously number one priority.

Since I’m working hard on my product I don’t have much time these days. Collaborations with others etc. are all really a matter of timing and scheduling between the parties involved. One person may have free time at one point but it might be inconvenient for the other cat. It’s all scheduling.

Scheduling also being the reason a Circle tour will not be happening anytime soon.

That’s always been dream. Getting all the guys together. It’s something that has never been done in Canada but unfortunately its not to realistic…again…due to scheduling.

Part 3

I decided I would end the interview with Kardi’s views on Napster:

My stance on Napster…, for a while I didn’t know what I felt… it’s good for finding stuff that can’t be found in stores and that’s what it should be kept as. If you can purchase the product you are downloading, then you should go out and buy it to support that artist.

Kardinal Offishall has definitely stepped up his game and is a key representation of opportunity and success for other Canadian emcees. While adapting a unique style of rasta influenced raps Kardi drops tight beats that will get any crowd going. Especially when’s reppin’ T-dot left, right and center. Hopefully the American masses will take this new album in without the Canadian prejudice that so immaturely exists.

When I’m out – I would have liked people to say that I used my music to help enlighten peoples lives and for the people living in struggle. I am making a new path. I don’t want to walk down one that has already been laid.

Make sure you cop the new Kardi release… don’t forget… April 10th, and make sure to play it loud.

Respect to Kardi for taking the time to do the interview.

Written by Jesse Plunkett for HipHopCanada

Jesse founded in 1999 and is currently the organization's Co-President & Editor-in-Chief.

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