Talk turns to race, as it sometimes does – and yet during a recent interview with Toronto rapper Kardinal Offishall, only once is the issue specified by name.
We both know what we’re talking about here.
Kardi, who’s performing tonight at the Shaw Conference Centre in a sold-out show for the Bounce radio station’s first birthday that also features Shawn Desman and Massari, is discussing his new album, Fire and Glory. The track called Mr. Officer deals with racial profiling. It’s happened to him.
“Of course,” he says. “I still live in the quote unquote ’hood, so all the time.”
Said ’hood – Oakwood-Vaughan in Toronto – is a ’hood like any other ’hood, he goes on. Asked if it’s a bad ’hood or a good ’hood – measured by the visibility of drugs, guns and gangs, I suppose – Kardi takes slight umbrage.
“People don’t realize that it’s anywhere you go in Toronto,” he says. “There are no good or bad neighbourhoods. You could live in a middle-class neighbourhood, yeah, there’s no poor people around, but there’s murders and drugs. You’re in Edmonton? It’s kind of hard to explain to you.”
Of course Edmonton has murders and drugs, too, but most whitebread folk from these parts get much of their information about ’hoods from American rap records that sell very well due to their high content of murder and drugs.
That some people assume Toronto is immune to this sort of thing just because there aren’t a lot of famous Canadian gangsta rappers is incorrect, Kardi contends. It just doesn’t get conveyed through gangsta rap records as thoroughly as it does in the U.S.
But the problems are the same. One is addressed in the aforementioned Mr. Officer.
Kardi describes the vicious cycle. “The police want to get more money, and the only way to get more money is prove there’s more crime. The only way to prove there’s more crime is to make more arrests, and the only way to make more arrests is to go out there and actively harass people.”
So there you go: Racial profiling.
While Kardi adds that Canadians “aren’t ready” for the truth, I counter that maybe it’s a good thing there aren’t so many Canadian gangsta rappers. People like Kardi and K-Os – and that’s just the K’s – are expounding a socially conscious style of rap music that’s both kinder and gentler than many of their American counterparts.
The rapper has both good things and bad things to say about the 50 Cent school of musical thuggery.
On one hand, Kardi says, “I don’t feel the need to use my music to further add distress to people’s lives. I believe that music is a form of escapism.
“When I listen to certain types of music, it helps uplift me. I don’t want to go out there and say there’s all this garbage going on in my neighbourhood and the cops harass people and then that person got shot and all that kind of stuff. You can watch the news and hear that crap all the time.
“I try to make music to uplift people. If I’m going to discuss problems in there, I try to have some solution or some new way of thinking, as opposed to doing stupid regurgitations of what everybody knows already.”
On the other hand, he says the idea that any of the problems of urban ’hoods are caused by gangsta rap is pure bunk. Real gangstas have bigger things to worry about than what music they listen to. Talking about the 50 Cents of the world, Kardi gives respect where respect is due. Wise move.
“The lives that these people used to lead are nothing to joke about,” he says.
“They’re actually really tough, and I don’t think most of us, if we were in their shoes, could’ve lasted as long as they did. The only difference is that now they’ve figured out a way to make millions off of trivializing the crazy stuff they went through. I think that’s what it is. They’re desensitizing the public to what people actually go through out there, so when we hear of a rapper getting shot, it’s more of a gimmick than an tragedy. And this stuff happens to people every day. They just don’t happen to be rappers making $50 million a year. And that’s what disturbs me. It’s not as as easy as what you hear in the music.”
Kardinal recently had a bitter experience battling “commerce vs. art” in the U.S. Long story short, he got a new record deal and scrapped the good part of an album he’d already made and practically started over making Fire and Glory (perhaps the lost tracks can be heard in a future box set).
On the possibility of the unique brand of Canadian rap gaining attention in America, Kardi understandably seems a bit soured.
“Everything is the States is multiplied by 10, like population, and that goes down to ignorance as well,” he says.
“Seriously, they’re 10 times more ignorant. It’s not necessarily any fault of their own. Everything is so biased, everything is looked at one way. So as far as us getting over there, especially with the things we have to say … man,” he pauses, “I guess we’re going to have to work 10 times harder.”
That’s the spirit.