Platinum selling artist Kardinal Offishall loves music. He doesn’t do it for the girls, money, and fame. He creates because music drives him, and with his new album, Kardi Gras Vol. 1: The Clash, it captures a fun and uplifting spirit, while also speaking truth on pressing issues like race.
“Music is the passion for everything and with everything I do,” Offishall says. “Anything I go through in life somehow stems back to music.”
“So [making music] is the type of thing that I definitely just have to do. It’s not really a ‘want’. And a lot of time it’s not really formulaic. I have to release music no matter what.”
Which he did. He left Akon’s label, even after the release of Billboard and commercial hits, “Dangerous” and “Body Bounce”. Without a label he put out mixtape, Allow Me to Re-Introduce Myself independently in 2012 with producer, Nottz.
With the international success of Canadian artists like The Weeknd, and Justin Bieber, Offishall says that artists need to have more pride for Canada’s global artistic reach. “Everybody is on [Canadian Artists] right now but what’s happening [with them now], and I don’t mean to sound vain, but it happened to me in 2008.”
“As Canadians we need to stop just going based on the hype,” he continues. “If we look at what Canadians have done, we’ve been doing a lot of big things for years.”
“Whether it’s Barenaked Ladies, Nelly Furtado or Glenn Lewis, there are so many examples of artists that have done exceedingly well for many moons. I mean, it’s cool now that again we have artists this year [who] have cracked Billboard and are doing great things. But I would love for Canadians to be way more proud of our legacy than we are. ‘Cause we’ve been doing a lot of cool things for a lot of years. We don’t just have to wait for Americans to acknowledge it to all of a sudden we say, ‘Oh look at what we’re doing.’ We’ve been doing it for a long time.”
At 12, Offishall had already booked high profile performances like Nelson Mandela’s first Toronto appearance. We asked the musician formerly known as, ‘Kool Aid’ to reflect back to his young self. “I think a 13-year-old me would be super stoked and just crazy-hyped to be able to be a musician, and provide and pay my bills and live very comfortably, it’s an amazing job,” Offishall reflects. “And to be honest even though I’m in my 30s I’m still super excited about it. It’s still incredible to me that I can do what I love and be able to provide for my family and my friends and myself.”
Offishall frequently fuses influences of Soca, Reggae, and Hip-Hop into his sound. He attributes the surprising blend to his upbringing in Toronto’s East York area.
“A regular part of growing up in Toronto is being exposed to all of these different cultures; different foods and different ways of life,” he says.
“So to me, how can I be a real, true artist and neglect everything that raised me? Because all of those different cultures raised me. Even though my family is Jamaican, I’ve been exposed to so many different and amazing people that originate from other parts of the world. That’s just something I have to put in my music because it really reflects who I am.”
The first of three volumes, Kardi Gras Vol. 1: The Clash is darker than most of Offishall’s previous work.
“[Race] is a difficult discussion especially coming out of Canada. Because I feel that a lot of times here we tend to sweep those subjects under the carpet. And we are not confrontational when it comes to a lot of issues concerning race and social equality in our country.”
“So as a Torontonian and as a Canadian I feel…well even before that I just feel that as a young black male that it was something that I wanted to get out because it was something that I felt. A lot of those cold desolate, lonely conflicting feelings that happen in [the song, “Insert Here”] are feelings that I have from time to time and I know that a lot of people who don’t have a voice that they feel too.
“I wanted to be able to write a song that properly got out what I felt but also could speak to a lot of different people across the country and across the world.”
“I love to do songs that are light hearted and create escapism for people. People may be going through a rough day or rough time in life may turn on my music and love it because of the vibe and the energy; it’s so much fun and so uplifting.”
“But at the same time I feel it is important to have songs like “Insert Here” [on the album] because we can only escape but for so long and I think songs like that create balance not just for the album but within society as well.”
Offishall mentions that the second volume in the series would be darker and that, ‘The Clash’ is a primer for his audience.
“Anyone listening to volume one and go into volume two will kind of see the transition between the two,” he explains. He also mentioned that this project was separated into three volumes to create an experience of anticipation for his audience similar to movies released in three parts. “We are inundated with so much music so you’ve got to try and figure, ‘What is something cool that I can do that is gonna be intriguing?’ I think the fans will look forward to see which volume speaks to them [most].”
“There was no casting,” he answers when asked about the fun and tropical music video for, “Baby It’s U!”, the first single from the album. “Those are my friends. Initially I went to Jamaica with Helping Hands for the Poor and Sunwing [Vacations] on a charitable trip to build a school in an underdeveloped community. Through that I developed a great relationship with Sunwing and we came up with this concept of shooting the video down at the Chic mansion in Punta Cana. So we shot for four days and had an amazing time with me and twenty of my friends.”
“When you see the video and think ‘Yo this looks like the most fun ever had within four and a half minutes’ you have to think this was only 20 percent of it.” Offishall elaborates that they actually ran a contest and flew down a few winners and their friends to the same mansion for a vacation and private concert with the artist. “What I didn’t want to do [for the music video] was just have it be another random video about girls. That’s so obvious. I had a storyline that actually had very little to do with the subject matter of the song.”
The 16-song album features several producers. He names three who he enjoyed collaborating with most. Dready, a Brit known for remixing the Duran Duran song, “Nice” and producing for Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent and Pusha T. The second was Supa Dups whose credits include Bruno Mars, John Legend and Eminem. Finally his favourite to collaborate with was Nottz, who was set to be the sole producer of ‘Kardi Gras: Volume 2’. “Out of every producer that I’ve worked with Nottz is just…he’s crazy. First of all he’s a comedian. And second of all in terms of quantity he has the most amount of absolute fire. Shout out to the various amazing people I’ve worked with but Nottz is guaranteed my favourite hands down.”