[Interview] Kardinal Offishall talks with The Come Up Show about A.M.T.R.I.M, Toronto and the music industry

On Thursday June 14th 2012, Kardinal Offishall held a private listening session at the Hazelton Hotel in downtown Toronto in support of his latest project, the ‘Allow Me To Re-Introduce Myself’ mixtape. The venue was comprised mostly of press, media outlets and industry types; the lucky few in attendance were given a limited edition Toronto snap back cap and a t-shirt and treated to popcorn as well as an exclusive tasting of the Rated Z cocktail mixer, of which Kardinal is a partner in the company.

Inside the plush theatre, eager fans awaited and chatted amongst themselves, anxious to hear what Kardinal has come up with for his latest project. For many, the chatter in the room focused on whether Kardinal was still capable of making quality hip hop music that is different from the glossy pop sound that gave him a number one single with Dangerous.

Approaching the crowd with his easygoing, comedic personality, Kardinal went right into discussing the making of the album and what this project meant to him as an artist. Mentioning that this project was the most personal he has ever been, Kardinal dimmed the lights and let the album play in its entirety with no interruptions, giving the audience the opportunity to absorb every song for themselves.

With the opening blaring horns on the track ‘Invention of Truth’,you get the feeling from the first drop that this project is about to be something special. Produced entirely by Nottz Raw, this album shows Kardinal rapping as if he has something to prove. A renewed energy and passion shine through. The tracks ‘Over 4 (Love Is Gone)’, ‘Motivation’, and the hypnotic ‘Mr Parker’, which features Shi Wisdom, standout and give the project a weighted cohesive feeling of what happens when one producer and one MC make an entire project together. Guaranteeing that he will cement his place in history, Kardinal shows he can grow as an MC by touching on topics outside of the typical party records people are accustomed to hearing from him. Discussing issues of gun violence, peer pressure, beef, hate, and love, Kardinal shows a side of him that is refreshing and honest and makes the title, ‘Allow Me To Re-Introduce Myself, seem completely fitting.

As the night went on, ‘The Come Up Show’ had the opportunity to sit down with Kardinal to discuss a variety of topics and hear his thoughts on everything from producing, the music industry, Toronto as a movement, and even who he thought had the best verse on a classic Canadian single.

Bigeske: So, the mixtape ‘A.M.T.R.I.M’, is this a warm up to ‘Mr. International’?

Kardinal: It’s meant to stand on its own. ‘Mr International’ has some elements from the album [A.M.T.R.I.M ] on it. I’m hoping a joint that makes it on to ‘Mr. International’ is a track produced by Nottz with me, The Kid Daytona, and Faith Evans. ‘Mr International’ has some of this sound to it, but this is a departure in a good way. It’s just more refined and polished. This is kinda like when you go into confession and you want to get everything out. That’s what ‘A.M.T.R.I.M’ is. It’s a cleansing for me, lyrically, to be able to weave and touch on a lot of different subjects.

BigSke: The sound, musically, is a departure from the typical party sound your fans have been accustomed to hearing from you. What was it about Nottz as a producer that made you decide to do a full length project with him?

Kardinal: I mean, Nottz is one of my all-time favourite producers. A lot of people don’t know he is super consistent. I’ve been to his studio many times. At the end of the year he usually has about 600 beats made for the year. That pretty much averages to about two beats a day and the quality is all [consistent] like that. And never like some are wack. He is just bananas!

BigSke: Being that you are producer yourself, what is it you look for when selecting music from other producers? What makes you say this one’s for me!

Kardinal: Pretty much I have to have the feeling off the top. When I hear something, it’s gotta make me feel something. I remember one time, I was in the studio with Akon and Busta Rhymes and they were talking about what Quincy [Jones] said about the making of the Thriller album. He said the way they picked songs to be on the album, they had to feel goosebumps. If the song didn’t give them goosebumps, then it’s not rocking. The thing for me, it’s not always necessarily a situation where I need to have literal goosebumps on me, but it’s a feeling I need to feel on a song, otherwise I’ll just pass.

Bigske: The subject matter on this is very different from what people would expect you to talk about. The song ‘Kill Shot’ touches on violence, peer pressure, and the loss of life. What made you decide to speak up on the violence and guns? I’m also interested to get your thoughts on the recent events that have happened in Toronto.

Kardinal: You know what it is, and I’ll speak from a street level, it’s about codes. It’s codes that we’re not respecting. These are not codes that are restricted to just the black community or to communities that deal with guns. Just in general, if you look at any real life situation. There’s codes that you abide by at home. There’s codes you abide by on the street. What we’re kinda steering away from right now is really staying within those codes. If you take it to a higher level, there’s laws that were implemented by the government, but those were more to serve, I guess, in a way the prosperity of the government. Codes aren’t really meant for the prosperity of anybody else. Its kinda made for the self-preservation for you to be able to live a safe life. When you follow those codes you are supposed to able to stay within certain parameters and stay safe. However, because people are not respecting the codes anymore it’s kinda of a free for all. That’s where the danger lies. Where you’re like yo b an example where like, you don’t sell crack to a twelve year old or… just any random things like that, you just don’t do. Now it’s like, whatever. That’s where the problem lies; we have to get back to on a real level, kind of reinforcing those codes for the kids coming up.

BigSke: You seem to get a lot of your chest on this album. Was there a statement you wanted to make when you released this project?

Kardinal: We just wanted to make music at the time. When we started it, we just wanted to see what we can do in seven days. We just totally rocked out during those seven days. There was a few joints that we added after the fact.

Bigske: Cool, I want to switch things up and talk about Toronto. It seems like we have a new energy around us. A lot of our artists are beginning to get global recognition for their music. Being that you’re one of the the most respected and visible people from the city, what do you think needs to happen to make Toronto have a long-lasting impact in music?

Kardinal: It’s not really a new energy, it’s just that the energy is finally being showcased to the rest of the world. It’s hard for me, I mean maybe it’s being perceived as a new energy just because people are hearing these artists for the first time, but these artists have been around and have been rocking. The thing is, people like me, I just don’t support anybody just because they’re from Toronto. I usually rock with people who I think are really dope. I don’t want to call myself an elitist or anything, but at the same time it’s like, just because you’re dope and from Toronto it doesn’t necessarily mean you have my support. A lot of the artists I work with, I make sure I get to see how they are as people before I actually do stuff with them. I don’t like to be associated with spirits that I have no control over. Just for me because it’s like… I wouldn’t want to say I have a song with whoever and then MC such and such is involved in… and then it looks a ways on me. I like to know what I’m doing and who I get involved with.

BigSke: What are your thoughts then on the discussion that, in order for Toronto to really make an statement musically, we need to create a sound like an LA or New York, something that says: “Toronto has a movement’ that the rest of the world buys into.

Kardinal: If were true to what Toronto is, then we can’t have a sound. The reason why LA can have a sound is because the people there are pretty much all the same. It’s not a wide variety of folks that live there. The same could be said for the South and any other place that has a quote on quote sound. But, when you have a place like Toronto that is so diverse… If everybody is true to who they are, there’s no way that you can have one sound that is indicative of the entire city. It wouldn’t be real, I don’t think. They say that all art is real. You can’t have one brush that paints an entire picture. You have to have all the different colours. For us, we’re made up of too many different colours to be one sound or thing.

BigSke: I agree with you to an extent. What, then, do you think Canada and Toronto needs to do to then to push our artists more. People say it’s our lack of an industry that makes things difficult for artists to get the proper shine, with the exception of a few artists that have had success in other places. Do you still believe that argument is relevant? Can an artist still be successful staying in Canada?

Kardinal: We have no industry here. We don’t have any infrastructure. The people before me have been saying that I have been saying that, we don’t have the proper infrastructure… Unfortunately, I don’t think, as a music business, [Canadians] we don’t have self esteem. We’re still looking at what comes from south of the border to fuel what we have going on here in Canada. That’s why you can’t have any artist just remain within in Canada and be super successful. We don’t have the necessary tools needed to back them up.

BigSke: Do you see any changes in the right direction, what would you like to see happen?

Kardinal: If it does change, I don’t know what’s gonna make it change. It’s been like that since I’ve been in the industry. I’ve seen things change in America for the better for artists. In this country, I haven’t seen that much change.

BigSke: I agree it’s gonna take a lot to move things in the right direction. Hopefully, it will happen sooner than later. For the people out there who may not know and are still curious, is it still Kardinal/Konvict music?

Kardinal: I’m still down with the family, you know what I’m sayin. Akon is still my brother. I still rock with a lot of the Konvict music folks. In terms of business, I’m just trying to brand myself now. Akon has done a lot for me. We had a conversation about a year and a half ago and I told him like, ‘yo, I want to break out from under your shadow now and do things for myself’. Those are still my people though, it’s just now I’m rocking with myself.

BigSke: Cool, thanks for clearing that up. You are such an ambassador for Toronto. You have travelled across the world and seen many places. What are three things about the city you love the most? What do you tell people outside of Toronto about our city?

Kardinal: First thing would be the food, I’ve been around the world and have tasted a lot of the best cuisines that they have to offer, but if you do your due diligence you can find that same cuisine within Toronto. No matter what type of food it is, there’s an amazing food spot that represents any culture, country, and nationality within Toronto. Food, hands down, we’re crazy.

The make-up of the city is another one, coming to a city where it’s so culturally rich, where you can go and experience and see so many different types of things. Toronto definitely has that on lock. There are other cities that are a little bit similar, like a London or Chicago. They may have a lot of different backgrounds, but Toronto hands down I mean, you can go to Chicago or London and not experience that, depending on where you are. You can’t go anywhere in Toronto and not experience the cultural mosaic that makes us who we are. The third thing Toronto has is [long pause] women in the summertime. I say the summertime because they can fool you in the winter, but in the summertime, it’s just unparallel.

BigSke: Well, Kardinal, thank you for being so open with ‘The Come Up Show’, we appreciate all that you have done for Canadian hip hop. Keep making the city and the country proud.

Ohh, one last thing I want to put to rest that’s been a never ending debate. Northern Touch, who had the hottest verse?

Kardinal: [Smiles, mumbling the lyrics from the song under his breath] Damn, [long pause] Rascalz, number one because it’s their joint. Choclair, number two and then um….Checkmate [runs out of the room].

Words by: BigSke
Photography: Vee