You’ve never had a perfect label situation, as you were signed to MCA before they folded and then you were unsigned for a couple years. Now that you’re signed to Akon’s Konvict Music and are coming out on Interscope, do you f eel like you finally like you have a good situation?
Well, you know what? You know what the dope thing is about my career? As a young kid, I came in independently. I literally came in carrying my 12”’s and giving them to DJs. I know what it’s like to have that independent mindset and to have that independent hustle. Right about now it’s dope to have a major label big brother like Interscope to be able to carry out all the craziness I have that I want to get out to the people. I really do feel really, really blessed right now and I see that everything is where I want it to be, for the most part, at this point in my career.
Did you have to go through what you did with MCA and getting shelved with Firestarter Vol. 2 to get to where you are today?
I’ll tell you first off, I really have become a firm believer that you go through everything in life for a reason and things change in a particular season. Where I am now and what I’ve been through in my career, sometimes artists might go through something and it throws them off and they don’t know what to do with themselves because they haven’t been there before. I truly can say that I’ve seen the ups and downs with MCA folding. Luckily for me I have one of the best lawyers in the game and I was able to get out of that situation with all my music and all that good stuff, but it also helped me be stronger as an individual and it definitely helped me cement my feeling as far as this record industry is concerned.
Are you completely prepared to come out on a major label today?
You can dream as a young kid about getting that record deal and what you’re going to do, but you’re not used to people throwing bottles of champagne at you and throwing you mad gifts and doing everything in their power to pull the wool over your eyes. You can get used to that and you can kind of lose focus and get trapped in the game.
What’s dope is now I have a full understanding of how everything works. When you’re up, everybody is your best friend. But when you’re perceived as being down and you no longer have the major label associated with your name, you also get to see who’s still riding with you. What’s dope now is it just feels like that tunnel vision has been expanded to almost a 360 degree vision. I know the tricks of the game and how the game works and that’s definitely working to my advantage because not only do I have my experiences in the industry but also what Akon has been through. He’s been able to school me as far as what he’s been through. It’s an amazing combination and I think there are a lot of MCs that would love to be where I am right now. I come from straight murdering people in freestyle contests as a little kid to dealing with one of the most successful entertainers in the world in Akon. I really have an understanding with where things are and where I need to go with myself.
What’s it been like working with Akon and Konvict Music so far?
It’s been amazing on a lot of different levels. When I made the decision to be a part of the Konvict Music family, I got to see T-Pain go from being an unknown to being one of the most sought-out artists on the planet. I saw how Akon was able to nurture his career in the beginning but was also able to let go of the reins and let T-Pain do him.
What’s dope about the Konvict Music family is that it’s not a situation where we have to depend on Akon to get us everywhere that we need to go. It’s definitely a thing where he offers his guidance and his wisdom and obviously his creative input as well, but he also falls back when necessary and lets us be who we are as artists.
So getting down with the Konvict Music family, first off there are a lot of artists and there’s a large pool of creative people from writers, producers and engineers, et cetera. Definitely being with the movement has opened my eyes to having a better balance of the game. You can have that appeal to typically mainstream people who only know about the top 40 hits but at the same time you can stay true to who you are as an artist so you don’t sacrifice your integrity with who you are as a person.
You went the club route with your first single “Dangerous”, which features Akon. What made you go with “Dangerous” as your first single?
Honestly and truly, it’s one of those things where I always liked to outdo people. Not just directly, but anything that I like to do, if it’s going to be a club joint, it has to be the illest club joint. If I’m going to do a joint where I’m just spitting and going in, it’s gotta be like that. With “Dangerous”, we wanted to come out and have a summer anthem.
First of all, I hate touring in the winter. Winter is savage to tour in. So we always had the idea that we would come out in the summer time and I think that “Dangerous” is the perfect joint for spring leading into summertime. And for those who are really into my career and have been following it, my first 12” was called “On With the Show” and it had that same feel to it. It’s kind of like a rebirth for me on a new level. I picked the music for it. A friend of mine, Kimo, produced it out of Vancouver. I told ‘Kon that he needed to smash it and he knew we had a hit. Within 10 minutes he had written and delivered the hook and it was over. We had actually done that last year when we were on the tour bus on the Gwen Stefani tour.
Anytime that we played “Dangerous” for anybody, they say the beat’s crazy and then they hear ‘Kon do his thing. He’s always consistent with what he’s done with the hooks. I’m rapping about a dangerous chick but we had to keep the flows magnificent and keep it fabulous. I think the combination of this is just how we wanted to open this up. People have always said they were a fan of Kardinal, but could I take it there coming from the underground world with the Stretch and Bobbito’s? Could I take it to the level and smash everybody who’s been holding him back before? We definitely took it there with “Dangerous” and let everybody know that I am the international star that people always felt that I could be.
In the past, you’ve also dropped songs that are more hardcore, like “War” on Marco Polo’s album Port Authority or “BaKardi Slang” off Firestarter Vol. 1. What kind of vibe should we expect on your upcoming album Not 4 Sale?
The dope thing about me as an artist is that you’re never going to know what to expect and I’m going to hold the consumer up in a light where they are not as ignorant as people might make them seem. They will not just buy whatever they are served. If most people are like me, when they buy an album, they want to be surprised and they don’t know what I’m going to deliver and as long as it’s crazy, they’re going to respect it as such.
Obviously we have joints like “Dangerous”, but we also have tracks like “I’m Goin’ In” because that’s what I’m doing where I’m just delivering that venomous stuff. I start off with, “You can feel the adrenaline/Fire through your ventricles/Your body’s unsettled/Gold medal, tell the press I’m the first one through/These niggas running the last lap/I’m untying my shoe.” That’s who I am as a person and that’s who I am when you look at my career and my whole existence. I’m able to exist in a lot of different worlds. I’m able to hold it down with whoever you throw me into the arena with. That’s the dope thing and that’s actually what challenges me. Hip-hop, to me, sometimes it’s boring. It ain’t nothing to smash verses because niggas are just rhyming “ike” with “bike.” So me, I have to find ways to challenge myself creatively and that also went into the production of the album.
How much production did you and your team The Black Jays handle on the album?
We did three or four joints on the album. I don’t want it to sound morbid, but I just think that people are arrogant when they think that the next day is guaranteed. So me, on this album, I went into it saying that if I only get one chance to kick down the doors and show people who Kardinal is, let me go after and deal with people who I admire as well. And that’s why you got production not just from myself but from some of my favorites like Nottz, Jake One and Exile, who did “Da Graveyard Shift”, which is the only song in the world that has Akon spitting a 16.
I definitely went in and got some of my favorites to challenge me. The one thing about producing, how my brain works, the joint could be the craziest but I just exhausted myself mentally from making the beat and there’s no way I can spit lyrics to it. That’s why I have other dudes take over the beatmaking part and have them do something that I couldn’t do and that gets the lyrical juices flowing and that challenges me to make a crazy, complete song. And that’s why I got some producers to rock with me on this album.
Even though you haven’t had an album come out in a few years, you maintained a strong buzz and kept your name out there on both mixtapes and major remixes and albums. How did you do that?
Well, I’m not gonna front. I would love to take the credit and say that it’s all me, but one thing that’s important, I think no matter what business you get into, you have to make sure that you have a proper team that knows what they’re doing and you can just concentrate and focus on what you do and let the other people focus on what they do. My direct team is myself, Mr. Morgan, my manager, and May Day, who co-manages me. Mr. Morgan is based in New York and May Day is based out of Toronto, so we got both sides of the border covered. I just surround myself with good people.
Shameless plug, Estelle’s album is in stores today and I’m on that album. I’m on “Magnificent” and it’s produced by Mark Ronson. I surround myself with magnificent people. I always say to up-and-coming artists that one of the best ways to get ahead is networking. A lot of the people that I worked with in my career was through networking. I didn’t have the big checks to pay people to do this and do that. It was done of off respect.
I did the Clipse “Grindin’” remix and then I met Pharrell and then Missy plugged me with Timbaland. The song I did with Timbaland never came out, but my point is a lot of stuff got done with networking outside of your block and your city. You have to realize that the world is your station and that’s how I get down. I did a few mixtapes. I did one with Clinton Sparks and was spitting as well as producing on Caltroit, the album with Black Milk and Bishop Lamont. That’s just what I do. Whenever we get into a certain situation, my job is to seek and destroy and make sure that I tear up everything.
Do you feel a certain pressure to put Toronto on the hip-hop map?
Nah. Anybody that knows me knows that’s a self-inflicted pressure. It’s funny because in a genre where representing where you come from is sometimes as important as the lyrics that you speak, coming from an unknown place can be like trying to run a 100 meter sprint with a 100 pound weight on your back.
A question was asked to me the other day where me coming from Canada, some people might think I’m going to be corny and not know about a Canadian MC. My answer to that is that when Nelly was coming out, people didn’t know any rapper from St. Louis. Before T-Pain came out, people weren’t really checking for people from Tallahassee. The story goes on and on. Sometimes Americans look at people from small places and they question it the same way as they would question somebody that might come out of Idaho, but really what it comes down to is how dope the music is.
What’s dope about me is that I guess I’ve been able to hold up a certain standard of music. Anytime that I do anything, my mission is to seek and destroy. Anybody that’s followed Kardinal, they know that’s been my mandate and first on the list. And big up to T Dot because where I come from, there’s only me and a handful of people who can get our message out. We represent a unique way of looking at life and I think my story has to get out more than just looking at my city. It’s a whole movement and a whole new way of looking at life. I definitely want people to experience that. People always say that T Dot sounds crazy after listening to my music. I want to kick in the door for everybody making quality music from where I’m from.
How involved do you stay in the Toronto scene?
The Toronto scene is an interesting scene. When you go to Brooklyn, you go to a Brooklyn club and a Brooklyn party and you expect a certain type of behavior and you know that their way of looking at shit is different than if you go to a party in Manhattan or if you go to a party that’s in the Village.
There’s a different scene in Toronto. There’s plenty of different niches in Toronto. There’s the hipster crowd and the mainstream crowd and all of that, but what’s ill is that we have people coming through here all the time and we definitely are a city that loves music, but because we don’t have as many outlets as a New York or as an L.A., whatever we do get, we go hard on it. The scene in Toronto is dope because you can experience a lot of different ways of life, but at the same time there’s a common thread that we all live by in T Dot.
You’ve also done a lot of mixtapes in your career. How important have DJs like Clinton Sparks been to your career?
The dope thing about Sparks is that Sparks is like family. It’s weird. I didn’t know him from Adam all those many moons ago. I think when I did the album in 2001 was the first time when I met Clinton Sparks and did a freestyle for him. But as much as we look different and we speak differently, we really have a lot of similar thoughts on the game and where it came from, where it is right now and where it needs to go.
And also, he’s a writer, he’s a producer and believe it or not, he’s a singer when he needs to be and it’s the same with me, so we relate on a lot of different levels. We started off, obviously, in the mixtape game, but since then, we’ve developed more of a brother relationship. He’s a good dude. The funny thing about Clinton is that he’s like a lot of my other friends.
For whatever reason, a lot of my close friends in Toronto are DJs and they’re able to give me a perspective that I’m not able to see if they hadn’t revealed it to me. DJs, at the end of the day, are the ones that play the music, control the crowds in the clubs and get it popping. They’re able to tell me what’s hot. They can tell me what happens when people like songs and why they request songs. He offers to me his perspective that I would never be able to see if I didn’t mess with somebody like him.
And especially now, he’s elevating his game and he’s on television and all of that the stuff, he definitely puts me on and he lets me kind of look at things from a different angle and for that I’m forever grateful. But that’s really where me and Clinton get down. We keep each other in check and definitely report on any new findings that we see along the way.
You used to always be on Mick Boogie’s mixtapes. Do you still work with him?
He’s definitely my dude and he always looks out for me, whether he’s doing a project for Little Brother and he wants me involved in it or if he’s doing something for Lebron. Mick Boogie is a great DJ and he’s also a fan and he’s also a good dude who likes and respects my music and looks out.
We don’t have anything planned, but some of these relationships are not artist-DJ relationships. We’re people who have mutual respect for each other and we share a lot of the same feelings and that’s how we maintain. I’m sure after he reads this Mick is going to want to do something and I have no problem with that. There’s a lot of ill DJs like J. Period that I mess with and they just help to elevate the game and those are the type of people that I really want to associate with.
I’ll tell you, I really hate mixtapes because once you hear it once, there’s really no point to hear it again. So those people who take the time to make mixtapes more like albums or even if it’s not more like an album, they make it so creative where you have to listen to it again and again because they made it so crazy that you have to listen to it again, that’s who I want to mess with, like the Green Lanterns. You’re not going to see me on all of the popular mixtapes because to me they’re not all dope.
What do you have to do from here on out to make sure your album Not 4 Sale is a success and does what it can do?
It’s funny because me and my managers, we just had a little conference call yesterday. What I gotta do is treat this project as if this is the first thing that I have ever done within the hip-hop game. As long as I keep that same drive and that same hunger and intensity and take the time to pump my project out there and let the people know what it is, I think I’ll be fine. It’s hard when you’re not in complete control, so I can make myself available for interviews and appearances, shows, verses, a radio show, a summer jam or whatever, we have to make sure that we put our stamp on it and shut it down and make sure that we are better than all the other artists.
Whether you’ve sold one album or 10 million albums, you have to make sure you seek and destroy everything out there. People say certain artists are dope and they’ve sold all crazy numbers, but that dude Kardinal, he was crazy! So by the time I’ve sold my millions of records, nobody for the next 20 years after me will be able to compare to the legacy that I put down.