Kardinal Offishall's Quest for Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1 wins Canada Listens 2021

Championed by writer/podcaster Kathleen Newman-Bremang, Kardinal Offishal’s second studio album takes the inaugural edition of Canada Listens.

The rapper's second studio album takes the inaugural edition of Canada Listens.

(CBC Music)

The first-ever edition of Canada Listens ended on a thrilling note, with writer and editor Kathleen Newman-Bremang winning a close vote with her album pick Quest for Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1 by Kardinal Offishall. 

After four days of lively debates, Newman-Bremang managed to convince the majority of her fellow panellists that Kardinal Offishall's sophomore album was the one album that all Canadians need to hear.

"I am overwhelmed and honoured! Did that really happen?" said Newman-Bremang after winning. "I believed in Kardinal Offishall and this album but I honestly didn't know if I could beat out this group of hilarious and smart competitors and their incredible albums. I feel grateful to have been included and to have had the chance to give Quest for Fire: Firestarter Vol 1 its much-deserved flowers on this platform specifically, since it didn't get its due from Canadian media or the country's music industry 20 years ago when it was released."

Quest for Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1 is hip-hop artist Kardinal Offishall's second album and was released in 2001. It was Offishall's major label debut and featured many collaborators with the Circle, an artist collective he co-founded. 

"It's an honour to have an album that is so special to me win the first ever Canada Listens," said Kardinal Offishall. "This album was created during a time when Black artists from Canada had a difficult time being taken seriously internationally ... never mind rap artists!" 

"To put it into perspective, my brother the Weeknd was 11 years old and Drake was 14 when the project first came out," he added. "It was one of the first opportunities we got to put our diversity, culture, language, swag and stories onto the world stage. This is our story and marks an incredibly pivotal time in Canadian rap music history."

Canada Listens is based on the format of Canada Reads, CBC Books' annual "battle of the books" competition, and featured five celebrity panellists engaging in four days of debates in a quest to find "the one album that Canada needs to hear." Hosted by CBC Music's Saroja Coelho, one album was voted off each day of the debate.

The runner-up album was Buffy Sainte-Marie's 1969 album, Illuminations, championed by actor and comedian Carolyn Taylor of Baroness Von Sketch Show.

Newman-Bremang won over her fellow panellists on the final day of debate with a 3-2 vote. She said that Kardinal Offishall's Quest for Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1 was an album she grew up listening to, and that it was not only influential in Canada, but also around the globe.

"Hip hop was my first love," she explained. "This album is a love letter to Toronto hip hop and it meant the world to me when I was listening to it every day with my big brothers growing up just outside of the city. We are the kids of a Jamaican immigrant and hearing our culture on this album means just as much to me today. I'm so proud that this album is Canadian and that it laid the groundwork for the current global music landscape in spite of fighting the uphill battle that was navigating anti-Blackness in the industry in the early 2000s."

"As I said on the show," she added, "Kardi lit a match with this collection of songs and the fire is still burning decades later." 

The other Canada Listens albums voted off this week in order of elimination are:

All four days of the debate series are available on demand via CBC Listen and you can find daily recaps of the show here

Listen to Day 1.
Listen to Day 2.
Listen to Day 3.
Listen to Day 4.

Which Canadian album would you suggest for Canada Listens 2022? Tweet us @CBCMusic with #CanadaListens and let us know!

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

Being Back in Canada highlights stories about Black Canadians. (CBC)