Canadian rapper. Two words that when placed together often draw snickers and blank looks. Rap is supposed to be strictly an American anomaly, with the typical East Coast-West Coast rivalries. The thug image produced by many rappers turns off many people in Canada. That’s not us, we say.
Well Canada, it is you. The Canadian hip hop scene is filled not with the transplanted American image, but with its own unique style.
Kardinal Offishall (birth name Jason Harrow) released his first album, Quest for Fire: Firestarter Volume 1, this past April despite a strong history of recordings. The Kardinal won a Juno Award for his work on The Rascalz hit single “Northern Touch.” He was also Juno-nominated in 1997 for Best Rap Recording. He’s shared the stage or the studio with a plethora of hip hop stars including Wu Tang Clan, The Roots, Beastie Boys, and the old school legends Run DMC.
You can tell that Quest for Fire is a Canadian album. How? Because it is devoid of swearing and mentions of guns. Sure there are lyrics mentioning sex and drugs, but compared to current hot sellers D12 and Tha Eastsidaz, its surprisingly refreshing.
Kardinal has stated on several occasions that he will not submit to the American stereotype of a rapper, shooting off his mouth and his gun. He is proudly Canadian, and shows it in his songs, refusing to sell out. Mentions of T dot, Kardi’s slang for his hometown of Toronto, are rampant on the CD.
Aside from his cleaner approach to rap and Canadian nationalism, Kardinal Offishall’s album is still a gold mine for distinctive material. On “Man By Choice” he speaks out against closet racists, people who act nice but still hold their prejudices within. He throws in a touch of reggae beat to accent his Jamaican heritage in “Maxine.” And the majority of his songs are not filled with the usual synthesized beat, as The Kardinal uses horns, a piano, a xylophone, and various other instruments to pique the listener’s interest. And finally, there’s the invigorating “U R Ghetto 2002,” a witty and hilarious rap homage to Jeff Foxworthy’s “You might be a redneck…” routines.
In short, Kardinal Offishall is a breath of fresh air for people looking to see rap from a different perspective. Even if you aren’t a rap connoisseur, Quest for Fire: Firestarter Vol. 1 is a brilliant stepping-stone for people looking to get into the oft controversial genre.