By Keith Sharp
In his quest to promote hip-hop music in Canada, Kardinal Offishall has a new toy to play with. Commencing this month, Offishall will host a two-hour Kardi’s Party on Virgin Radio each weekend on stations in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, London, Kitchener, Montreal and Halifax with availability on the full iHeart Radio Network to follow shortly.
“It’s a new journey, its new territory for me, but it’s exciting to see how it will grow,” says the current Universal Music artist and the label’s current Creative Executive Director for their A&R division. “It’s another first for me and another first this industry. To have a nationally syndicated radio show in every key market in this country is quite the coup.”
Noting the show will feature “today’s hottest hits, recent chart-toppers and established performers, Offishall is aiming to create a `party atmosphere’ each weekend, but he also warns that the show will feature only top-name performers and will not necessarily provide a sounding board for new artists.
“Being on my show should be your destination, should be your ultimate target, if you are a developing artist. Mainstream radio is where you end up after you’ve put in the work,” Offishall explained.
Lauded as one of the pioneers of Canadian rap, this Toronto native launched his career in 1997 when achieving mainstream radio exposure was almost an unobtainable goal. “I’ve been working with a band from Halifax called Neon Dreams, I appear on a track (“Marching Bands”) from their new EP, `To You’ and I’ve been encouraging them to get in their van, drive across the country and promote their new record to radio. But I know that when I tried to promote my records, no amount of driving would have gotten me anywhere because radio just wasn’t playing hip hop music in Canada back then.”
Offishall did become the first Canadian hip-hop artist to score a Top 5 hit on the Billboard charts with his 2007 “Dangerous” collaboration with U.S rapper Akon and the combined efforts of the likes of Maestro Fresh Wes, The Dream Warriors, Choclair, Saukrates, Classified, Michie Mee and K’aan have all laid the foundations for the likes of Drake and The Weeknd, who, along with a certain Justin Bieber, dominated the Billboard charts last December
Now in charge of his own syndicated radio show, and head of Universal’s A&R creative department, Offishall is in a unique position to build on the momentum that the mainstream success of Drake, The Weeknd and Bieber has already sparked.
“It’s all a matter of perception,” noted Offishall of hip hop’s mainstream attraction. “Stereotypically, there was an image in people’s minds of what the average rap fan looked like, the kid with his pants sagging down his backside with the gold chain around his neck, but that’s all changed. Now everybody is being exposed to Hip Hop, it’s reached a mass audience who not only like Drake and The Weeknd, but also like Beyonce, Jay Z, Kanye, it’s not just a niche genre anymore.”
From his travels as both an artist and a record executive, Offishall reports that American ears are turning northwards (especially Toronto) to see who else follows the footsteps of The Weeknd and Drake but complains that Toronto is still lacking its own definitive music scene. “I can go to a place like Atlanta, go to certain clubs and hear what is happening in that particular scene, but I can’t do that in Toronto”, Offishall laments. “That is something this city definitely has to work on.”
Still, working with Bell Media’s, Randy Lennox, President of Broadcasting and Content, who originally recruited Offishall for his Universal Music creative position (while serving as the company president), the artist who originally coined the term T.Dot (from his “BaKardi Slang” released back in 2002), is uniquely posed to strongly influence the growth of Hip Hop in Canada.
He still runs his own Celebrity Marauders deejay crew, recorded a new album, `Kardi Gras Vol 1 The Clash’ in 2015, now boasts his own radio syndication and in his creative capacity at Universal, and has just signed his first band for the label, a young trio called EMP. “I’ve been at Universal for three years and I’ve only signed one group because I’m only interested in signing people I think can be superstars. I am really passionate about them and the cultural makeup of the group. There’s an 18 year old Siri Lankan female a 21-year old Dutch guy and a 21-year-old guy who is Jamaican/Canadian. The two oldest guys are only 21. What excites me is that I can feed my music through them, meaning that I see what they are doing and it’s brand new and it’s new to the world.”
By his own admission, Kardinal Offishall is currently in a very happy place. “Success to me is the ability to dictate how you want to live your life,” he enthused. “I am involved in several different things that are absolutely brand new and I find the challenge invigorating. To know I can drop a record today and have it released to the whole planet tomorrow is such a great feeling and to know I am involved with the iHeart organization and to know first-hand some of the great things they are planning makes me feel very fortunate.”