In the 90s and early 2000s, long before Drake a.k.a. Champagne Papi’s rise to international fame and success, Jamaica’s Kardinal Offishall was the king of Toronto’s rap scene.
The 41-year-old rapper, producer, DJ and philanthropist, was the first Canadian hip-hop artist to achieve U.S. mainstream success with big hits like Dangerous Ft. Akon, which landed him on Billboards Hot 100.
Kardinal caught up with Press Pass’s Jackie Diaz and dished about his new single Winner featuring the Celebrity Marauders, Panamanian Reggeaton superstar Joey Montana and Toronto’s EMP crew member, Pree, how he came up with the lyrics, and what being a winner truly means.
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I don’t want to say welcome back, because you never really left the music industry, so I’ll start by asking you what a lot of your fans want to know most: What took you so long?!
Kardinal: [Chuckles] “It’s a complicated question but I’ll simplify it. Sometimes our favorite artists are successful and their family life sucks. I had to make an adult decision. Mark Pitts and Wayne Barrow from Bystorm Entertainment used to manage me back then and they’re still really great friends and mentors of mine. I remember them asking me to list five things I wanted to achieve out of life. Of course, I listed a bigger house, a car, etc. And they looked and said to me ‘I don’t see anything here about family.’ I remember really having to reflect and look at my life and make a decision. Family is something that is super important to me. I was still touring and doing a lot of different collabs and I was still doing it but I’ve been doing it, I think, in a way to where I was able to dictate how much I could do, so, that I can still maintain and have a family life. In-between that time, I got married and I also have three very little kids.”
That must have been a challenging decision but we’re sure that now you feel like it was the winning choice. What inspired your new song, Winner?
Kardinal: “It’s so amazing where music has taken me and the people that I’ve met. A very good friend of mine, Dave Chapelle, said to me one late night while we were drinking and hanging out and he’s like ‘Yo Kardi, we’re friends, but I also like to consider myself a fan. People want to hear your music, bro. You gotta drop some new stuff’.’ I had to ask myself where we were at with music. How do I drop music but stay true to myself? What is my energy going to be like? Am I going to come out all trapped out or am I going to come out and be super poppy? I just want good energy. When I was rocking with Akon doing Beautiful and Dangerous, or doing songs with Keri Hilson and Rihanna, I think with those big songs I was involved with and trendy hooks as well, it was always a good energy that I was able to translate to the people. I think thats why people rocked out. People have always loved my energy. The type of songs that I create, I think, are ones that people can play all day, everyday. It doesn’t matter if the song is 5 years old or 10 years old. People still have the same passion for it like it just came out yesterday. That’s what I wanted to do with Winner. I wrote that song in the shower.
Wait! So, you wrote Winner in the shower?
Kardinal: “You’re actually the first person I’m even telling this to. I was in the studio with a friend and we produced the music for it. The beat for it, to me, was super dope and I was excited. I was in the studio working with this other up and coming artist from Toronto, and I was playing the beat and all of a sudden just this random melody came into my head and I came up with the hook for Winner. I started humming the song [:::mumbles and hums ::: he made me a winner] and I was like ‘Oh, wait a minute, this might be something.’ So anyways, that’s all I had, just a little mumble. A little idea. When I came home the next day, I was in the shower, I literally… one time, it came to me all at once. I wrote the English version song, just once.”
Winner is a different sound from what we’re used to hearing from you. You have some major fusion in this song. How did the collaboration between Reggaeton artist Joey Montana and Sri Lanka’s Pree happen?
Kardinal: “When I wrote the song, literally that day, I called up Pree and I said ‘Yo. I wrote this song and I think you’ll be able to kill it.’ Pree is someone I’ve been working with for years. She’s somebody from the younger generation that I love working with because she inspires me. But I also love being able to be a mentor. I love being a bridge that way, in terms of my generation and her generation, coming together to make dope music. And Joey had done a joint with Akon and I’ve heard some of his music. And I thought he would be really dope on this. And he killed it. I used to think Winner was an A+ just on its own but when he got on the joint, he just took it somewhere completely different.”
What, in your opinion, makes a person a Winner?
Kardinal: “If you listen to the hook, I wanted it to be something that is individual but I also wanted it to be inclusive of people in our lives that make us winners. Any winner that I know is never able to win by themselves. If you’re successful in business, it’s because you’ve assembled an amazing team around you that made you a winner. The song is about a winner, yes, but it’s also paying homage to that person that helped make you feel that great. It’s a celebration of yourself and it’s also celebrating those other people in your life that are winners as well, that help make you the best person that you are.”