Heds and Dreds: Talking T-Dot Roots and Culture with Kardinal Offishall

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July 17, 2012



Photo: Jassa Campbell

LU: When you were coming up in Toronto, were there big sounds that you followed?

KO: Yuh dun no we had King Turbo, Red Flame, Black Reaction. Thereโ€™s others but those are the reggae sounds from here, when I was a youth. Anytime Red Flame was playing somewhere, when Red Flame was at Spectrum, thatโ€™s the dance that I used to go to, or King Turbo at whatever. But thereโ€™s so many sounds from up here like Rootsman, Super Fresh, and even when Rebel Tone won the World Clash, it was the first sound to ever win using CDJs as opposed to real acetate dubplates. We have an interesting legacy here.

LU: When you came out as an artist and established yourself as this rude-boy kinda MC, would the sounds in Toronto hit you up for dubplates? Was that something you were doing early in your career?

KO: Absolutely. A lot of those bastards still owe me money for dubs. It’s not just reggae sounds systems that used to hit me up for dubs. The dub culture here was big within hip hop, big with soca. Years ago, any big DJ, from Soca Prince to Skratch [Bastid], would have had a Kardinal dub. I used to cut dubs strictly for playing them in the middle of a dance so anytime there was a big tune out, I used to cut the maddest tune for my city so that when it was playing in a dance they would use it. Thatโ€™s really the vibe that always kept me living in Toronto. Just that raw energy. Even if you were a hip-hop DJ you still have to look at yourself kind of like a sound system. Hip-hop DJs definitely used to clash and see who was the wickedest. So many different DJs up here that inspired me to have a certain vibe in my music, anybody from Mr. Presto, Skimpy Boy, different cats who became my friends along the way. A big influence for me was a lot of my bredrens also were DJs so when I used to go to the clubs, I’d be the mic man, and I used to see what gets the crowd going. I had a first-hand view of what they would feel.

LU: Of the sounds that you mentioned, was there one in particular that you ran with?

KO: Nah man. I was neutral territory. Sometimes for fun, Iโ€™d have my little crew that we used to call Black Soul sound crew, so sometimes I would DJ at some of my big parties or whatever, but for the most part I would be mic man for different people. A lot of DJs in this city, the big legendary ones, know me for that ’cause a lot of times going to a dance, if a dance wasn’t popping, I would have to go the mic and work with the DJ. That was my usual M.O.

LU: You put out your first record in 1996. How long were you MCing before then?

KO: I basically grew up with it. When I was in elementary school, my mom actually, believe it or not, got me to write my first, original recording. She was the first one who got me to write my first raps cause before then, I was just emulating whoever my favorites were.

LU: Did you buy the Breakโ€™n Out compilation when that came out? The one with Toronto groups that KRS and Scott La Rock did? I think Michie Mee had her first song on it.

KO: No I know the tunes on it but I didnโ€™t actually have the compilation…. I mean thatโ€™s always why KRS-One is like my all time favorite MC. As a little kid I had no idea why I liked him so much. It wasnโ€™t until I realized I identified with how he rocked the microphone. Culturally, even though heโ€™s not Jamaican, he embraced that whole thing so much and just had it oozing out of his music so much… for us, coming up we used to put foil paper on the antenna just to be able to hear joints like “The Bridge Is Over.” We related to him for a whole different reason you know? People in America still to this day have no idea that that [sings piano part from “The Bridge is Over”] is Supercat, “Si Boops Deh.” You know what I mean so?

LU: Somebody had to point that out to me. I never realized that, and I loved both those records. I guess he did it differently enough. Did you know thatโ€™s KRS playing the piano on “Bridge Is Over”? He might have been savvy, and changed it up just enough. He probably knew Super Cat was rolling with some bad boys so maybe he didnโ€™t want to get on the wrong side of that.

KO: Sometimes we feel a vibe. Because music is not a tangible force, its just waves through the air. Thatโ€™s whats so ill about it. Sometimes youโ€™re drawn to something and you really have no idea why until somebody may point out something to you at a later date and youโ€™re like, “Word,” it just makes sense.

LU: Do you still voice dubplates?
KO: Not very often at all. I donโ€™t actually enjoy doing dubs anymore. I do dubs for the spirit sometimes. The other day on the radio in Trinidad on Red FM, they had 999 Clash, an all-day soundclash on the radio with all the top DJs from Trinidad. A sound called me at 3 in the morning, [saying] “we’re going on the radio at 4 o’clock and we need a dub.” I jumped in the studio and did a dub straight away. Sometimes the best stuff with soundclashing doesn’t happen in Jamaica. It was one of the most wickedest things Iโ€™ve ever experienced. I love the spirit of the clash, when it’s a real good, good clash. But if some sound wants me to pay me to cut a dub to go into the dance and play tunes, thatโ€™s not necessarily going to get me to do a dub. I don’t want some popdown sound to be playing anything with my name on it. For the most part, anybody that can play a Kardinal dub, they’re supposed to have it. That’s why I always cut dubs for Black Chiney, Federation Sound, Mixmaster J. There are people I will cut dubs for, but I don’t cut dubs for anybody because I don’t like people misusing the dubs, and pop down and bring my name down with it.