XMPL Cover Story: Kardinal Offishall – The Don Is Back Again

Toronto’s Hip-Hop Legend Makes His Return With His New Forthcoming Album ‘Pick Your Poison’

Canadians have had much reason to celebrate lately with the Toronto Raptor’s historic NBA championship win and Canada Day recently gifting us with the long-weekend – but, Canadians have even more reason to celebrate with Canadian artists set to drop new music over the summer – including Canadian Hip-Hop legend Kardinal Offishall – who was recently honored with a Bachelor Degree in Applied Studies from Humber College for his contribution to the music industry and evolving Canadian Hip-Hop on a global scale.

It was Kardinal that first paved the way for Canadian rappers to emerge onto the music scene by being the first artist from Canada to rise high on the Billboard Hot 100 with his certified triple-platinum hit track ‘Dangerous.’ Now, the Toronto Don gets the summer hype started with the release of his highly energetic, self-produced single ‘Run’ – which dropped on June 10th. The bass heavy, hard-hitting track is the first listen to Kardinal’s forthcoming album ‘Pick Your Poison,’ which is expected to have more singles released over the summer.

Kardinal, who has always shown nothing but love for his home team, the Toronto Raptors, recently released a remixed version of his own 2010 track ‘The Anthem’ through ESPN in support of the Canadian team, shortly after the official drop of ‘Run.’ Reflecting the tapestry that is the city of Toronto, the BabyBounce rapper fuses different sounds and energies on his latest release and will also be reflected on ‘Pick Your Poison.’

Photo via Kardinal Offishall

The Toronto-native makes his humble return with ‘Pick Your Poison,’ which will also include a powerful roster of industry legends such as T-Pain, Pitbull, Akon and more. This fused together with Kardinal’s dynamic energy creates much anticipation for its drop, which currently does not have a release date – but we’re pumped to hear what’s to come. The blood-flowing single, ‘Run,’ serves as a preview of the upcoming album – and with its infectious hooks and bumpin’ beats – are you ready to pick our poison?

Kardinal Offishall is the cover star for XMPL’s third digital issue for summer 2019 – a Canadian-filled issue, showcasing some of Canada’s current and rising talent. In our interview, Kardinal talks about his latest single ‘Run,’ his upcoming album ‘Pick Your Poison,’ the Toronto Raptors and much more.

Read the full exclusive interview with Kardinal Offishall below and be sure to look out for ‘Pick Your Poison’ coming soon.

XMPL: Being recognized as Canada’s Hip-Hop Ambassador, how would you describe the growth in today’s Canadian hip-hop scene?

Kardinal Offishall: You know what’s funny is that I don’t know who gave me that title back in the day. It was years ago now, probably like, I don’t know, at least 10 years I’ve been dealing with that title. I don’t know who made me the unofficial official Canadian hip-hop ambassador, but I think it’s because people thought I was crazy for so long because I was waving the Canadian flag at a time when people were like “Canada? Are you kidding? Who’s in Canada?” You know what I’m saying? The growth that I’ve seen is funny enough; there hasn’t been enough growth in the infrastructure. I think where the growth has been is in the acceptance of people from outside of our country. I think across America, Asia, Europe, Australia and the rest of the world, people now understand that Canada is not just Jim Carrey and The Barenaked Ladies, you know what I’m saying? And no disrespect for them, cause I love those guys but now people have grown to understand the level of creativity and the caliber of creatives that come out of Canada – I think that’s where the real growth has been. Here, we still, in terms of the infrastructure, we still need to develop a lot more of it in my opinion. I think that we have a while to go, at least for black music, in this country, we still have a while to go where to we are self-sufficient but I think there has definitely been some stride, at least in the perception of what it’s like to be an artist that’s doing either hip-hop, R&B, dancehall or otherwise.

“Just because people do good shit doesn’t mean that these people are soft or can be taken advantaged of. And I think that’s also important cause they always say, ‘Nice guys finish last’ or whatever but I don’t think so. I just think that we finish best and we sleep the best.”

So you just released your self-produced single ‘Run.’ What can your listeners take away after hearing to this track?

I hope what they hear is an instant connection to a certain type of vibration and energy. What’s interesting is since we dropped it a few days ago – anywhere that it’s played or if I do an impromptu performance of it, what I like is – for instance, I DJ’ed and hosted this event for Warner Brothers Films the other day and it was for Shaft the movie that was coming out. It was a regular industry thing, you know, bunch of different people there, it was a good time but at the end I was like Yo F it and I’m gonna show them my new song and I’m gonna perform it. And what was amazing after that was that the people that were coming up to me were not what I initially expected. It was Jesse T, Usher’s agent from Hollywood. It was the security. It was the industry people that were there. The record connected with everybody just because the energy just felt so alive and infectious and I think when you think of the hook, I know the one thing that hooks people in, no pun intended, is really when the chorus starts off and says “I ain’t never run from a fight and I never will” I just think that everybody can relate to that. And I think the best music is the music that is the most relatable. Music, that when people hear it, they’re like “Yeah, hell yeah! That’s how I feel” or “hell yeah, that’s what I wanna do” so hopefully they’ll walk away with a feeling of empowerment because also, at the end of the chorus it also says “don’t take my kindness for weakness” – meaning that there’s a lot of people that equate positivity with being weak for some reason, or being a pushover. And I think that, that is also another message I’m trying to get across in this song. Just because people do good shit doesn’t mean that these people are soft or can be taken advantaged of. And I think that’s also important cause they always say, “Nice guys finish last” or whatever but I don’t think so. I just think that we finish best and we sleep the best.


‘Run’ is also the first single to your upcoming album ‘Pick Your Poison.’ What can we look forward to on this new project?

Well if you’re a Kardinal fan, you can look forward to me being free and that’s why it’s called ‘Pick Your Poison’ cause I’m just like, over the years, always just never felt restricted to a specific box or a straight on regular old boring genre. I’ve always been someone who tries to have fun with it and explore different genres, different feelings, different social values, whatever is it – I’ve been somebody that has always just kind of did whatever I felt at the time. And I think with this it’s the same thing cause I’m like “Alright, I guess I gotta do a hip-hop album or I guess I gotta do a whatever album” and my boy was like “Yo! The amount of songs that you have, yo bro. You really should put all these vibes on one album and then just let people pick their poison.” Whether they want a joint that’s more Afro-influenced or more like ‘Run,’ where I bridge it to where there’s the boom bap element but there’s also the element of the 808’s and stuff. I think on this album, you’re gonna be able to have just a bunch of different feelings, different sounds, content but it depends what mood you’re in for that day. So, if you’re in the mood for a joint like ‘Run’ then you bang that. But if you are kind of in a, you know it’s summer time, if you got a convertible or even if don’t have a convertible – windows down, cause it’s hot out and you have your hand out of the car – you might want to listen to the song with me, T-Pain and Conscience, a song called ‘All Nighter.’ Or if you’re in a hard core going to the club, celebratory mood, then you might listen to a joint called ‘Cheers’ with myself, Ricky Blaze and Pitbull, like you know what I’m saying? There’s so many different vibes on this project, but I think that’s why I love it so much is that I really, I think for the first time, I’ve had freedom before but this is the first time I really understand the importance of being able to do music that you’re strictly passionate about and nothing else matters, you know?

Yeah, I definitely feel that. It’s very exciting. So with today’s boundless mix of music genres, will you be fusing any new sounds in this new album?

I mean, yeah, as a producer, I’m always seeking out new sounds. It’s fun not just exploring different ways of expressing myself lyrically but also just new production techniques as well as like new sounds and I’m always influenced by travel. So, I’m somebody that in one given year can be in Africa, India, Europe, the Caribbean and I’d be disingenuous by not having those things find themselves into my music somehow, so yeah there’s definitely different vibes. On this album there’s kind of like a Baltimore-house vibe, there is R&B, there’s Hip-Hop, there’s Afro. Definitely Reggae, Soca, you know what I’m saying? Pretty much everything is on this new joint.

Your self-produced track ‘Run’ – can you tell us a bit about the process that went behind working on that song?

Basically, when I get into the zone, I don’t usually say like “Oh you know what I’m gonna do today? I’m gonna fuse hip-hop and Afro-beats” like it’s not usually that corny for me, I don’t think it is at all. What happens is, I get into the zone and when I produce, I produce on the dock as much as I use Logic. So when I get onto Logic, most of the time I try and start with, about 70% of the time I try to start with the beat. The beat meaning the drums, so when I did the beat for, you know, the drums for ‘Run,’ they were super hard and then I was like “Yo let me flip some 808’s in there” and what ended up happening when you like really break down the track, it was kind of a fusion of eras – it was a bridge between classic boom bap sound of the 90’s and the 2000’s but then also fusing it with some of the subsonics that’s happening right now by using a version of the 808’s then also fusing in different synth lines in there during the hook as well cause what I also did was I scaled down the verses and then had everything kind of come to an amazing musical marriage in the hook when the singing came in. So I think that the vibes that I ended up getting is “Alright cool, this is the hardness of the track that reminds me why I feel in love with hip-hop” but at the same time I was like some of the synth sounds and other things that I used, remind me of the future really. So with that combination, I also for whatever reason, felt like I wanted to start it off more in a dancehall style within the first verse but then kind of slip back into, I guess, “traditional” kind of spitting in the second verse and, you know, then just have fun with the rest of it.


So did you have the same creative process making the whole album?

No no no, every joint is a different story, you know what I’m saying? The joint with T-Pain – I was at a Spotify secret Genius writing camp, I think, and what happened was myself and the music director for when I perform, when I have my live band, and me my MD were there and to be honest, we just pulled up to a random table and we plugged in our headphones and we created the music for the song, it’s called “All Nighter.” So, I remember I took a trip to Atlanta, and me and T-Pain were in the studio and we were talking and I was like “Yo let’s do something.” He’s like cool like pull up some joints. So when I pulled up that piece of music in particular, he just went into the booth and literally freestyled these melodies that were just intergalactic, just out of this world and he started the process. He was like “Yo let me take this home and put some words behind it” and I was like alright cool. So he sent it back to me and I was “Yo this shit is ridiculous!” So then I’m like Huh. Interesting. At the time, Sharon Burke who’s a legendary dancehall manager, promoter, she’s just an all-around hustler. She’s like “Right now I’m working with Chaching, with Conscience” and I’m like “Yo I need to do something with Conscience! I think I got a record.” So I sent her the record with myself and T-Pain and then Conscience went in, knocked it out. And we built up that record piece by piece, and it’s one of my favourites joints. But when you listen to it sonically, it’s so interesting, cause it’s got big drums but then it also has a little bit of like, almost Parliament-funk type of sonic in there. A little bit of gospel with some of the piano riffs – so it’s just an interesting mélange because it’s hip-hop, it’s R&B, it’s dancehall, it’s funk and it’s all those things mixed up into one joint. And that’s just the once song, so that’s why I’m saying every single song that we have has a different story. I don’t think, on this album, that there were two songs made in succession, in the same week or at the same time.

You mentioned that you’re going to be working with Pitbull, Conscience, T-Pain on this album – are we going to be expecting any surprise collaborations as well?

Sounds like you want me to ruin the surprise! Haha well, here’s the thing. I’ll just tell you the people I worked with on this album and because we haven’t like 100% narrowed down the final track listing, we’ll see which ones make the actual album; you know what I’m saying? But I worked with Ricky Blaze, I worked with Pit, I worked with Akon, I worked with Blackway, I worked with R. City, I worked with Chaching, T-Pain, Conscience. I worked with ASSASIN aka AGENT SASCO, worked with Bunji Garlin. I worked with a new artist by the name of Emmanuel. Production-wise, I worked with Dready from the UK, who’s a legendary producer. I did some co-production with my guy Midnight as well as another legendary guy from the city, from Toronto, named Agile. I think off the top, that seem likely, that batch that I just mentioned, that those will probably be the people on the album. There might be a few other surprises, but yeah I think that those people right now are the people that are on the album, for the most part.

Photo via Kardinal Offishall

Do you know when we should expect the album to come out?

No – and I think that’s a good thing for me. What I love about this day and age is that it’s not like a time when we’d have to know 3-4 months in advanced. I think that for sure it’s going to come out fall or late fall. But I think just depending on the vibes and the energy of what’s going on in my life is when we’ll decide Alright cool, you know what? Let’s do September or alright let’s do October, so we’re going figure it out within the next few weeks cause right now we’re just mixing and mastering the whole thing and like I said, then we’re gonna chose the songs. But in terms of when the full body work drops – it’ll be after like maybe, I would say probably 2 or 3 more singles. So right now, I’m just more focused on having fun with these singles and then everybody can look forward to the full-length before the end of the year.

“People are now super super loud and super proud to rep where they come from and I think that is what I love about what’s happening within the culture in the GTA and hopefully that bleeds into the music”

Now with things heating up this summer with the Raptors championship win, and you know, with the drop of a lot Canadian music that’s coming out as well – what do you think this summer means for culture in the GTA?

It’s a good question cause we’re at an interesting place right now. In terms of the culture, I think it’s a super dope energy and it’s giving us a lot more pride. Some people would maybe not necessarily agree, but I think for me, the one interesting thing that we have learned, and learned in a big way over the last few years through music, through sports, and through all forms of entertainment is pride, because unfortunately, because we’re in such close proximity to America, we’ve kind of always, maybe not certain individuals, but as a country, we’ve always taken a back seat to what’s going on in the States just because of the sheer size of the place, the population. But I think what’s happening now is, more than ever we are beating our chest and being super proud of Toronto and what we represent. Like, I’ll tell you honestly – like I go to Raptors games all the time and I won’t take pictures with fans that are not in Raptors’ jerseys. Sometimes they’ll have the jersey on for the opposing team and I’m like “Yo I’m not taking a picture with you!” Like that’s whack, you know what I’m saying? And they get it, but unfortunately, this was the weird kind of the self-hate thing that we’ve had for a while but what I think that I love now, is when I go the mall or the movies, pretty much everywhere, people now are wearing their Raptors gear with pride and wearing things that have a Canadian base to it. People are now super super loud and super proud to rep where they come from and I think that is what I love about what’s happening within the culture in the GTA and hopefully that bleeds into the music – where we have a lot more artists that are doing things that are very Toronto-specific. Cause if there’s one thing that I understand about other places and what they do domestically, like if you think about the scene in London, like Stormzy’s not big because he’s talking about what’s happening in America. Stormy’s huge over there because he’s representing what happens in England and what happens where he comes from. The scene that happened in Houston, in Atlanta and anywhere else you can think of, these things became big because all they did was just put a spotlight on what’s happening where they come from. So hopefully what happens is that we have a spotlight that showcases what’s happening here a lot more and hopefully in a creative way as well, to where we’re not just only kind of shining a light on the street life that we have here but kind of everything deserves it’s own moment in the sun.


You mentioned that you’ve been known to be an avid supporter of the Raptors, and I think it’s great that you’re supporting by making sure that fans have the gear on – that’s real support right there. So, what does their win mean to you and what do you think it means to Canada as a whole?

What it means to me is that it feels like satisfaction. Because, I’ll tell you, and I’ve said this story and I always repeat it, especially now because it is so true – traveling the world – when people used to mention the Raptors, they used to try and clown us.  They used to try and clown me. They used to try and clown our jerseys back in the day when it was the original dinosaur and all the rest of that. People used to try and clown and disrespect the Raptors all the time. So for us being able to be the undisputed world-champions right now, it’s a definite sense of satisfaction, you know what I’m saying? It’s kind of like telling everybody “Yo, I’m telling you my little brother’s the fastest in the world!” and everybody’s like “Yeah, yeah, yeah whatever” and then one day, your little brother becomes an Olympic gold medalist. Like, that’s kind of what it feels like right now to have the Raptors be the champs of the world. I was talking to my good friend, comedian Donnell Rawlings last night and he’s hilarious, he’s like “I’m not answering the phone until the season starts next year” cause he’s like “Yo I don’t want to see y’all happy” you know what I’m saying? He’s like F that, you know what I mean? I don’t wanna see Toronto happy right now and y’all winning and doing all this good shit. That’s the satisfaction that I’m talking about, is all those people that’s always trying to punk us off, now they have no talk. They gotta bow down and it is what is it.

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