Interview: Kardinal Offishall

Hailed as Toronto’s hip hop ambassador, Kardinal Offishall made it down to our hometown recently to perform at Hennessy Artistry Halo. After the release of his track with Akon ‘Dangerous’, Kardinal instantaneously became a household name. Now 2 years later, he’s coming out with his 5th album Mr International, due to drop next year, following the successful Not 4 Sale (2008). Counting Akon, Estelle, Busta Rhymes and Rick Ross as his homies and fellow collaborators, this rapper is no stranger to fame, yet remained incredibly humble when we met him. JUICE got to know the strapping rap star in a little sit down interview..

Hi Kardinal, did you just get into Malaysia?
Yesterday, in the afternoon. I like it, it’s my first time here. It doesn’t feel that far away from home, some places you go things just feel totally alien to you, like here I don’t know what it is, whether it’s the vibe or the people or I guess traveling so much, it’s really comfortable. We really had a good time, yesterday we went to the World Trade Centre, just taking in the sights, did a little bit of shopping, eating different stuff so we’ve been having fun. The only thing I haven’t had so far is sleep but besides that I’ve been having a ball.

How did it all begin for you?
I don’t even know, to tell you the honest truth. The weird thing is, I would’ve tried to make some stuff up for you and give you some random story about how it all came together but to tell you the honest truth, I don’t know but I think that’s part of the beauty of it. Music has just always been around me and it wasn’t until I guess a few years ago that I actually understood the importance and the power that music actually plays in my life. It’s something that I grew up in, it was culturally a very strong thing in my family, plenty of my uncles were DJs. Put it like this, there’s songs that sometimes trigger a certain time in your life. Say you broke up with a boyfriend and you don’t even realize it until 2 years later when you hear the song and you’re like “Oh! I can’t stand that song!” because every time you listen to that song it reminds you of when you broke up with your boyfriend. Or one of the most amazing times, when you’ve gone out with a bunch of your friends and just had the most amazing time at New Year’s Eve or something and later on in life there’s a certain song that just reminds you of that experience. And I think for me, that was kind of like what music was on a whole, everything in life went along with music so I didn’t really understand the power and the importance that it played until just a while ago, you know what I mean? And it’s cool to be able harness it and try to create that experience for your fans.

What are you inspired by musically?
Now, I’m really just inspired by a lot of different things, a lot of different sounds, wherein before I was really like hip hop, hip hop all the way. Travelling has opened me up to so many different types of music, like dubstep, electro, pop… depending on where you go there’s so many different sounds and I think right about now that’s really what’s driving my love for music. The ability now to be able to hear so many different types of music and see how it relates back to me and what my sound is.

You changed your name a while back from Kool Aid to Kardinal Offishall. Why is that?
Oh gosh. That Kool Aid thing was even before I was really out there, you know what I’m saying? That was a neighborhood nickname, more than anything. Kardinal is just always something like I wanted to have a name that you would always remember and anytime say you’re doing something and somebody starts talking about Kardinal you don’t have to say “Is that Kardinal from Canada? Or Kardinal from over there?” I just wanted to have a name that people would always remember.

You acclaimed as Toronto’s hip hop ambassador, it’s not typically known as a place for hip hop. Did you find it hard to break out in that scene?
Initially it was, but I think what’s been really dope over the last couple of years is that there’s been other people that’s been able to breakthrough. So, a few years ago when I started doing really huge things with my own music and collaborating with Lady Gaga and Akon, really breaking down barriers around the world. Then Drake came and K’naan came, so there’s a lot of different rappers now. Not a lot, but there’s a bunch of us that are representing Toronto in the same breath. Initially it was kind of tough, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be, with each new person it’s easier, you make the door wider for people to come through.

You’ve had loads of collaborations, which one have you had the best chemistry with?
I would say Akon, when we make music, when we get in the studio, it comes really easily. That’s probably the most fun, like 9 times out of 10 when we get into the studio we make a hit song. So I think for me, musically speaking we’re so similar, I think collaborations with Akon, for us it really works. I think one day, we’re just going to have to do just an album of collaborations. That’s probably the easiest one. Me and my DJ were talking last night, we were trying to put together our setlist for the H-Artistry show, we went through it and we were like yo, it seems like every single song we do together is just like a crazy hit so yeah I think Akon is probably the best collaboration.

When is Mr International going to drop?
2011, for absolute sure. The first song is going to be launched in January. As long as nothing changes between now and January, it’s going to be a triple threat Canadian song, it’s produced by T Minus, who’s a Canadian producer. He’s doing well for himself, he actually produced Ludacris’ ‘Get Low’, the first single off the last album. And our song features a Phillipino artist by the name of August that is actually from Toronto, it features us 3 Canadians on the joint. It’s called ‘Peace of Mind’. The only reason why the album didn’t come out this year was because of all the traveling, I didn’t finish the album. We were just all over the place, but yeah 2011 is the year.

Do you think that you can recreate the same hype as when ‘Dangerous’ came out?
I wouldn’t want to create the same hype, it’s going to be different because the one thing about it is that you’re only given the first time to do something one time. Meaning like, you can only have your first big hit one time. So now, you kind of have to change the way you approach things. If you always try and recreate the thing you did last time, you’re going to end up disappointing yourself. I think the difference between then and now is traveling the world, I really got to hear what my fans loved and speaking to them and seeing them and what they react to in the shows, I really get to understand the vibe now. This album is an album full of ‘Dangerouses’. The last album I loved all of them, all the songs, but there was a few really standout tracks that took off around the world now we have a whole album filled with that so I think that’s what’s going to be amazing. It’s going to be one after the other after the other so just when you’re like, “Oh man, there’s this one Kardinal song that I like,” and then I put out another one and that’s what I want to do. I know it’s big shoes to fill but if you think about an album like Thriller I think every artist no matter what genre tries to, in some capacity, be able to do what Michael Jackson did to where really, every single song on that album could’ve been #1 hit single. To me, at the end of the day that’s what Mr International is going to be. Each song that we do, there’s no fillers on this album, every one could be a smash song around the world. It’s exciting man, it’s dope.

What do you consider your best gig to date?
Based on numbers, I would say when we performed in the south of Spain in Malaga, that was over 250,000 people on the beach. At 3 in the morning, hearing a quarter of a million people singing word for word everything with ‘Dangerous’ that for me was an experience that I’ll never forget. There’s been different experiences that’ve been amazing for different reasons, I mean when we were in Beijing, that show was retarded. I don’t know how many people were in that club. Different places you go, you get different energies, you know what I mean? For obvious reasons, that was historical for me doing that show in Malaga. When we went on tour in India, to me being in a place like India where there’s not more than 10 artists from outside of India that they actually play in that country. To be able to go there and tour and everybody knowing your music because they play it on the radio and they’re fans, you know selling out shows – those experiences are absolutely insane. It’s hard to pick just one, but for me, that’s a blessing because we have so much fun going to so many different spots.

What are you listening to at the moment?
With the invention of this thing, the iPod, it makes these questions kind of difficult to answer. Because on any given day, I listen to so many different types of things, old school, new school.. there’s an electro artist by the name of Wolfgang Gartner, and like he is bananas. He could very easily be the new Deadmau5 or the new David Guetta. He’s sick. And with hip hop, there’s people like Big Crip, Yellow Wolf, there’s so many different new cats that are coming out in hip hop. What else? Reggae vibes, like you know any given day I listen to a lot of different things and that’s pretty much what I love about having something where you can have 60,000 songs on one thing that you can fit in your pocket. You never have to say that I’ve been listening to Jay-Z for the past 3 weeks in a row, you can listen to your Jay-Z, at the same time you can be listening to Da Mouth or whatever.

Do you get a lot of female attention?
I guess so, we get a lot of attention in general. But yeah, there’s a lot of female attention.

Any crazy fan stories?
(Laughs) I was in one place in America and we were doing a radio interview and well this woman called up to say that she had tattooed ‘Dangerous’ on a place that only a significant other could see. She was like, “Yeah, so this is your danger because I’m dangerous and I’m dangerous only for you.” She had it filmed, she sent us pictures and all that stuff, like the real deal, she got it tattooed on her stuff. There’s a lot of people I can’t call them crazy, there’s a lot of outgoing people around the world. It’s fun though man, just as long as you take it all in good fun and you try and be responsible with everything that you do and with the different people that you meet, you be good to people and they’ll be good back to you.

I have some Hennessy questions, what’s your favorite mixer with Hennessy?
Coke right off the bat. For me, when I indulge it has to taste good, it can’t be randomly to get a buzz. It has to go well. Coke is a good one.

What does the word Hennessy mean to you?
I don’t know if I can that it means anything to me. I can say that it signifies, if I could just be cheesy, like class, you know what I’m saying? It’s one of those brands, well first of all it ain’t cheap, anytime you take part in it, you know that it’s one of the more sought after drinks. It’s one of the more premium brands. That’s what it signifies to me, you think of a good quality product and a good quality brand. That’s part of the reason besides what the H-Artistry event signifies, for me it’s also good to be associated with something that’s recognized for quality around the world.

Speaking of which, what do you think about Hennessy Artistry bringing all these different genres in from around the world?
It’s dope. To tell you the honest truth, initially I didn’t even understand just how intense and how amazing the whole idea is. It’s without someone actually doing it for me, I don’t believe in accidents, but it’s like out there, doing what we do, touring, meeting different artists, going to different countries, we’re involved in this type of lifestyle all the time, linking with different people, bringing cultures together, trying to fuse different sounds, different ideas and different ways of life, so I think this whole event coming together and what they’re doing is amazing. It’s just a microcosm of what’s actually going out there already, and what artists are already getting involved in. I think that it’s dope of them to be one of the first in the game to do it in a concentrated event so that people can actually see it happening as opposed to reading this here, that there, it’s dope to see everything fall together and turn into an amazing show before your eyes.

Anything you’d like to say to your fans?
The most important thing I would say to my fans is to not let anybody else’s decisions affect the way that you live your life. Whether it’s the music that you love, the food that you eat, the way that you like to wear your clothes, the way you like to speak, the cologne or the perfume that you like to wear, make sure you’re doing it because you love to do it, that’s one. And also, enjoy your life the most, to the fullest every single day. Because you never know what life may bring, you know, not me, not you, we don’t know what’s going to happen. God willing that I’ll be able to keep living for a long time and I want to make sure by the time I’m old and it’s all said and done, I don’t want to look back and have any regrets for not trying something in life. I don’t want to have any regrets for not saying, “I went to Malaysia and I killed it over there.” I don’t want to be afraid of going to India and trying new foods or going to some place and going to a different type of club that I’d never thought I’d go to. I want to experience the most I can out of life. By the time I’m old and I’m talking to my grandkids I can tell them all the different things that I did and that’s what I would recommend and suggest for all my fans to do with their life, just try to live it to the fullest. You never know what’s going to happen, there’s this thing that I live by and I can’t remember it right which is absolutely retarded. You never know if a door’s going to close unless you walk through it. That experience you just tried, that could be the beginning to a whole new chapter in your life, really try to get there and live life as much as you can, and do as much as you can and just enjoy it while it’s still there.

Get down and dangerous with Kardinal Offishall at www.myspace.com/kardinaloffishall. For our report on the Hennessy Artistry Halo event, click here.