TORONTO – Kardinal Offishall has a message for his fellow Canadian celebrities: you’ve got to step it up at home.
That is coming from a Toronto hip-hop star who has been a seemingly inescapable presence within the domestic arts and entertainment scene for many years.
On the 2021 Juno Awards, he took viewers on a comprehensive journey through Canada’s rap music history and more recently voiced introductions for a program of influential Nineties Black American cinema earlier this yr at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox.
He’s also appeared as himself on an episode of the CBC sitcom “Run the Burbs” and next month he’ll slide into one among the judges’ chairs on the brand new season of Citytv’s “Canada’s Got Talent.”
When asked why he’s chosen to make his personality a central a part of the local cultural scene, he raises a unique query. Why aren’t other famous Canadians doing the identical?
“I don’t wish to call out anyone,” he prefaced in a recent interview on the headquarters of GhostLabel, a Toronto fashion brand he often wears at appearances.
“But a number of the biggest artists that we now have — how incredible would it not be in the event that they actually showed up?”
Major events in other world-class cities appear to don’t have any trouble drawing star power. He points out Recent York Fashion Week as one example. Why shouldn’t Canadian cities see the identical support for his or her creators?
The potential is actually there. Arguably, there are more famous Canadians within the entertainment world than ever – the Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Ryan Gosling, Shawn Mendes and Avril Lavigne to call just a couple of.
And while Drake is commonly courtside for the Toronto Raptors and Ryan Reynolds is waving the flag in his own ways, most of the most important Canadian celebrities live outside the country and barely turn up at homegrown events unless they’re being honoured by an establishment.
Kardi – as his fans affectionately call him – is different in that sense.
Rising to fame within the early aughts, he helped construct a sturdy, mainstream Canadian hip-hop empire together with his friends years before Drake was even fascinated about the blueprints for his Toronto mansion.
The rapper’s 2008 dance floor filler “Dangerous” with Akon made him the primary Canadian rapper to crack the Billboard Top 100 charts, where it topped out at No. 5.
Search Kardinal Offishall on Google and also you’ll find his frequent presence on red carpets for Toronto Fashion Week, local charity fundraisers and Canadian music gatherings. He’s known to MC events he believes in and proudly notes he was a vocal supporter of the fledgling Toronto Raptors long before the bandwagon rolled into town.
All of this activity earned him the unofficial title of “Canada’s Hip-Hop Ambassador,” a reputation that causes him to retch at its mention.
“Sorry, I threw up in my mouth somewhat bit,” he jokes.
OK then, how about “Canada’s Arts Ambassador”?
“Hmm, probably not, but I get it. Thanks.”
The longer you talk over with the 46-year-old performer, born Jason Harrow, the more apparent it’s that he dislikes most titles given to him. Except there’s one he’s particularly pleased with these days.
Earlier this yr, it was announced he joined the manager ranks at Def Jam Recordings, the legendary hip-hop label co-founded by Rick Rubin.
Because the record label’s first global A&R representative, Harrow is chargeable for discovering the subsequent generation of talent and fostering relationships for lasting careers.
It’s a step up from his former gig as senior vice chairman of A&R at Universal Music Canada where under his tenure the label saw the rise of assorted newcomers, including Juno-winning R&B singer Savannah Ré, who was championed by Canadians Boi-1da, Jessie Reyez and Wondagurl.
When Def Jam got here calling, in a stretch of roughly two years within the job, Harrow decided it was definitely worth the leap.
“Universal Canada is super dope, but if you happen to compare it to sports it might be like going to prep school,” he explains, of moving to the label that is understood for elevating the careers of Jay-Z, DMX, Ludacris, Rihanna and Kanye West.
His experience on the Canadian label “really sharpened the blades” for the massive leagues, he says. Now he has “more resources and more opportunities” at his disposal to succeed in the masses.
In his latest role, Harrow answers to CEO Tunji Balogun and executive vice chairman LaTrice Burnette as he scours the globe for untapped talent. The overarching goal is to encourage a “resurgence of the Def Jam culture,” from music to its lifestyle and branding extensions.
He’s already signed not less than one act, an R&B singer from Texas named Susan Carol, who previously appeared on his 2021 collaborative track “Freedom Heights” alongside Jully Black and R&B newcomer Emanuel.
Beyond that, he’s scoped out South Africa, the UK, Ghana and Jamaica to search out other Black music, he says. His experience at Def Jam has already proven to be much different than his past executive roles.
“You get on these calls where you don’t should blackspain yourself to anybody. Everybody gets it,” he says.
“That’s why, for me, it looks like a dream job. Everybody speaks your language, they’re on the identical page, and so they have the identical goals.”
Pairing that private connection together with his knowledge of the music industry, Harrow says he’s confident his Def Jam era will probably be fruitful, especially at a time when many record labels can’t see beyond TikTok and social media to find latest talent.
“To me, these are all reactive tools, meaning by the point it’s gone viral, you’re reacting to something that’s already happened,” he says.
“I are inclined to give you the option to see the magic before lots of the tools that folks use in 2023.”
Somewhere in his flurry of plans, Harrow hopes to release latest music. He’s cagey on when which may take shape or if Def Jam will probably be involved.
His focus, for now, is on the various projects he’s juggling outside of his own hip-hop profession. And he’s nice with that, he insists.
“I’ve done all the opposite stuff … got a bunch of plaques at home, toured the world, done this, done that,” he says, adding that he’s focused on ways to “diversify” his profession.
“All of the pressure is gone with every little thing I do and I can just concentrate on the fervour,” he adds.
“Perhaps not for everyone, but for me, that is really success.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 21, 2023.
Note to readers: This can be a corrected story. A previous version said Kardinal Offishall signed Savannah Ré. The truth is, he was an A&R at Universal Music Canada during her rise to fame but didn’t sign her.