Hip Hophistory

Kardinal Offishall Talks About Canada’s Hip Hop Impact WorldWide

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Kardinal Offishall will lead the celebration of the 50th anniversary of hip hop through a Canadian lens at this year’s Juno Awards on March 13.

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He gained recognition for his unique Caribbean-Torontonian sound in the mid-’90s when there was no blueprint for success for hip hop artists in Canada. Despite having some pioneers like Maestro and Michie Mee, it was difficult for artists to follow a clear path to success. Kardi describes it as being dropped off in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest and having to find the water supply by chopping his way through.

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Kardinal Offishall spoke with Entertainment Tonight Canada about the history of the genre. “Of course, we had Maestro and Michie [Mee], but it seemed like those were unicorn avenues, as opposed to like, if you follow these steps you would get to a certain place,” he says. “It was like being dropped off in the middle of the Brazilian rainforest and having to chop your way through, hoping that once you get to the other side, that’s where the water supply is. That’s what it felt like back in them days.”

These days, Kardi is in high demand, having been appointed Global A&R at Def Jam Recordings in January. He will be in the trenches with CEO Tunji Balogun and EVP LaTrice Burnette, searching the world for new talent. Def Jam’s current roster includes rap heavyweights like Pusha T, 2 Chainz, and Benny The Butcher, as well as Canadian stars like Justin Bieber and Alessia Cara. Kardi is excited about the new direction of the label, which is not trying to recreate something from back in the day but is focusing on new energy and new incredible artists.


As Def Jam’s first Global A&R rep, Kardi will be looking for new talent in South Africa, the U.K., and even Latvia. He believes that the face of Def Jam will be global as opposed to being hyper-focused on the United States. Kardi also thinks that Canada should focus less on the States and more on recognizing its own talent. He notes that many Canadian songs from the ’90s are considered classics in the rap canon by fans in other countries but not at home. Drake and The Weeknd are now celebrated in Canada, but it wasn’t until they broke out south of the border that they received recognition at home.

Kardinal reveals that many Canadian hip hop songs are classics according to people in different parts of the world. “When I met J. Cole, he said, ‘Yo, ‘Ol’ Time Killin” was my favorite song throughout college.’ So a lot of these songs are staples in many different countries around the world. The funny thing is, we don’t know that here because we’re so fixated on what’s happening south of the border that we don’t take the time to understand what we really have,” he says. “We’re literally just sitting on a pile of diamonds and gold that has a thin sheet of dirt over it, and people have no idea what’s under that.”


“It’s unfortunate because living in Canada, some people have almost gone their entire career without being able to receive the flowers that they should,” says Offishall. “You think about people like Tamia and Deborah Cox, who did such incredible things globally. There’s young kids coming up who don’t even know who Deborah Cox is, which is an absolute shame, because if you look at parallel countries — I just came back from London, and they on a regular basis acknowledge the amazing and incredible people that come from there. For God’s sake, they have the MOBO Awards every year, celebrating music of Black origin. So on a yearly basis, they’re giving each other the flowers that they deserve.”

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