For a while, Kardinal Offishall was Toronto hip-hop’s best shot at infiltrating the American pop charts, and he did it with the top-five hit Dangerous. Seven years later, he’s playing the part of another kind of pop infiltrator on his fifth studio album.
On one hand, Kardi Gras is as big and brazen as pop gets. It’s cleanly produced but eschews the current minimalism with massive choruses, soaring flows, string sections, dancehall riddims and an anthemic collaboration with Stephen Marley.
This vibe contrasts with heavy lyrics about police violence against black communities and institutionalized slavery. The latter comes up in No Reason, a scathing takedown of Young Thugesque club rap, replete with generic trap beat and vacuous chorus (“Throwing money in the air for noooo reason”).
It’s so dead-on that less attentive listeners could fall for it, but it also suggests an artist who exists somewhere between celebration and cynicism, between radio pop and street rap.
At 16 tracks, the album sometimes feels overstuffed with production flourishes, and a few songs sound as generic as the music he critiques thanks to over-sung choruses and bland club beats.
Top track: The Naked Truth
Don’t miss our interview with Kardinal here.