“BaKardi Slang”

“BaKardi Slang: Negotiating a ‘Janadian’ Identity in the Music of Kardinal Offishall.”

(Presented at Race & Place in Hip-Hop Beyond the US – African Studies Association UK’s Biennial Conference. September 9-11, 2014 at the University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.)


The notion of “an authentic identity” has long been central to hip-hop culture – DJing, MCing (rapping), b-boying/b-girling (dancing), or graffiti – since its inception in the early 1970s. Authenticity is a central tenet in all popular music, but it is especially paramount in hip-hop culture, determined as it is to protect against commercialization, dilution, and whitewashing. For most industry hip-hop artists, accusations of selling out can end a career. So how do successful rappers create music that reaches a wide audience and still remain authentic? And for our purposes, how do Canadian rappers, who are not African-American, stave off these accusations of “inauthenticity”?

A case in point is Kardinal Offishall, a Toronto-born rapper of Jamaican descent, known for using Jamaican slang in his lyrics and Jamaican flags and dancehall-reggae style dancing in his music videos. Interestingly, these distinct features have solidified Kardinal’s image as a proud Jamaican, and a proud Canadian, but they have also affirmed, rather than jeopardized, his authenticity as a hip-hop artist. This paper explores how Kardinal Offishall negotiates his identity as both Canadian and Jamaican, or “Janadian” within his recordings and videos, so as to affirm both his cultural heritage and his industry credibility. An analysis of Kardinal Offishall’s hybrid identity, as articulated in his art, suggests the cultural, socio-economic, gender, and geographical factors that influence an already complex expression of hip-hop cultural identity. This dual identity, particularly for second- and third-generation artists, is ideally suited to hip-hop’s remix culture.