With cats like Drake, The Weeknd and Tory Lanez making up Toronto’s hip-hop Holy Grail, we feel its only right to dial it back a bit and show some love to one of the nation’s—never mind one of the city’s—rap music forefathers. Before ever hearing the terms “WE THE NORTH,” T.O or The Six, outsiders of the city were first put onto the term T-dot as a way to describe the cultural complexities of Toronto. Years before the self-proclaimed “6 God” burst out onto the scene as the city’s hip-hop savior, it was Kardinal Offishall who first sung the praises of his beloved hometown. As evidenced through the song “BaKardi Slang,” Kardinal proudly offered a crash course on the intricate nuances of Toronto-style lingo (need a reminder?, check out the video here). Although unclear of where the term first originated from, it was Kardinal who put life, meaning, energy and grit into the expression.
Other than the superstar trio noted up top, there has been a steady drumbeat of talent who are eager to inch up the city’s musical totem pole; all of them have Kardinal to thank for that. Back in the ‘90s when the likes of Snoop Dogg, Nas, The Fugees and Biggie were tearing up the international music charts, a similar movement began to take shape north of the border. As if out of nowhere, the city—but more importantly, the country—finally had the regional representation they felt could effectively move the game forward.
“What I’m trying to do is make sure people understand we come from greatness and celebrate our own—not dick ride other countries or other cities—and not because shit looks cute on the internet.” — Kardinal Offishall for KIND Magazine
“Northern Touch” carved out a moment in Canadian hip-hop history, with the Rascalz, Choclair, Checkmate, Thrust and Kardinal Offishal preaching all the niceties that is the “North.” Songs like the above did well to paint a picture of what the city could strive to become. “When we were first starting out, we were just kids from the city who believed in ourselves. We were just crazy enough to think we could do this on a worldwide level,” Kardinal explained to Metro Morning. Kardinal and crew continued down that path until things really began to open up for the Firestarter rapper in the early ‘00s. At that time, it became clear who out of the bunch would have the collective weight of the city rest squarely on his shoulders.
As great as Kardinal’s musical legacy is, his greatest contributions arguably come from his time positioned outside the booth. At the time of writing, news broke of him inking a new deal with Universal Music Canada that will name him Senior Vice President, A&R; further solidifying his role of curating the next wave of musical talent.
“Whether it was intentional or the by-product of hard work and excellence, I was able to stand on the shoulders of giants who came before me. I’ve seen the world several times over and am able to dream with my eyes wide open, because the bar kept being raised by those brave enough to lift it to unseen heights. This new Senior Vice President, A&R, position at Universal Music Canada is about me continuing to prepare my shoulders, so that many others can stand taller than I did and have the opportunity to showcase their gifts on a global stage. Where I’m from, the phrase ‘dare to dream’ is a real warning, because without endurance and an uncanny ability to navigate through many storms – you can end up eternally picking up the pieces of broken promises and regret. I am proud to be taking steps forward with Jeffrey Remedios, who as CEO, has placed great responsibility in my hands. Today, I walk so that the next generation can run. Forward movements forever, until we all fly,” shares Kardinal in a recent press release highlighting the promotion.
The man’s incessant work grind extends beyond the art of music, however. As vital as he has been in giving Canada’s rap scene a voice, Kardinal Offishall involves himself with philanthropic projects to round out his already diversified portfolio. Through such groundbreaking initiatives like 30 Elephants, the award-winning artist/producer helps impressionable youths expand upon their geographical footprints beyond the familiarity of North America. Every year, a group of children from Toronto venture out to Kenya where they help build schools, clinics, hospitals, and other local infrastructures.
Kardinal Offishall has proven to be someone the younger generations can aspire to follow, be it in the community striving for change, or in the booth through his unique brand of signature storytelling. Although his work touches on a variety of different disciplines, his contributions towards the hip-hop community will always be looked at as the driving force that got his foot in the door, and then out into the rest of the word. With that in mind, Quest for Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1—Kardi’s first album released on a major label—is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. The album was Kardinal’s intro into the global music scene, and consisted of tracks that had previously touched ground in the artist’s hometown. It was through the underground success of “Husslin” that pushed the label to license some of his older material in a way new and innovative way. The album made its mark in many respects, landing on the U.S. Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums list, while also being nominated for Best Rap Recording at the 2002 Juno Awards.
In celebration of Quest for Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1 and its lasting impact on the international music scene, Kardinal Officiall decided to align his creative expertise with urbancoolab’s artificial intelligence matrix. The artist’s team assembled a throng of familiar cues that passed through the platform’s AI mainframe. The resulting output is an assemblage of quirky visuals that playful subvert notable pop-culture references in a comical, tongue-in-cheek kind of way. How many references do you recognize?
The Kardinal Offishall x urbancoolab “Firestarter” collection is available for purchase now via store.urbancoolab.com