Published Jan 01, 2006He may be most recognised for delivering the boisterously infectious hook on the Rascalz's "Northern Touch" single, but this appearance barely scratches the surface of Kardinal Offishall's resume. Along with other members of Toronto's influential Circle crew, like MCs Saukrates, Choclair and Tara Chase, Kardinal's live performances over the past few years were a significant catalyst in raising the quality of hip-hop shows of Toronto acts. Additionally, through his self-produced beats and lyrics he has seamlessly integrated his West Indian background into his music. This is a hardly new approach, but Kardinal's synthesis of soundclash-influenced riddims and his inflected lyrical delivery yields a particularly seamless and distinctive blend.
"Even if you're West Indian or not, it's just because in the city, it's in the culture that thrives in Toronto," says Kardinal, "and being of West Indian descent even in our crew it's going to have to come out. I wanted to make sure it had certain elements people can recognise. I want to promote the element that's going on in Toronto. I want to try to big up our vibe."
Other significant elements are Kardinal's belly-busting humour and charismatic presence that has been present since his "Naughty Dread" debut on the first Rap Essentials compilation. Now, with his first major-label offering Firestarter Volume 1: Quest For Fire, the follow-up to his impressive 1997 independent release Eye & I, Kardinal is notably confronting weightier issues. "Even when I'm doing songs that are a bit more high-spirited and everything is hunky-dory," he says, "I always slip in things people can learn from."
A recurring theme is the deconstruction and manifestation of systemic racism and how to maintain the assertion and articulation of the self in the face of this reality. "I dive into talking about how being black in itself is a struggle from birth. I'm a firm believer of whatever attitude you have that's what will come about. If you have a positive outlook and you look towards the bigger picture things can go on for you. So, I deal with people looking at materialism and self-appraisal and self-worship instead of the bigger picture."
It's clear this is where Kardinal's mind is at, even though he's still providing plenty of amusing moments. "I'm a person who likes to go out and have fun, but at the same time it's not all fun and games out there. I wanted to provoke some thought, I wanted to start those fires in people's minds, in their souls and get people talking, communicating and reasoning to see what goes on."