It’s been a minute since we’ve had live music—or, you know, general fun—in Toronto. But not to worry: Kardinal Offishall has been husslin’ behind the scenes to resuscitate our cold dead hearts. 

The Canadian hip-hop icon and Universal Canada record exec is launching a new concert series called FREE THE CITY, with the first one taking place June 30 at the CityView Drive-In. Produced and curated by Kardi, the show promises “participation” from a long list of entertainers, DJs, and celebs. Among the biggest names billed are Dave Chappelle, SNL’s Michael Che, and Donell Rawlings (he of Ashy Larry fame).

The concert, which you can take in safely from your car, will also include CanCon greats like Glenn Lewis, Karl Wolf, Shantel May, Michie Mee, Jamar McNeil (Chum FM), the Raptors’ DJ 4 Korners, Swagger Rite, Dr. Jay de Soca Prince, Jester, Blessed, Agile, Asun Eastwood, Golde London, and more. Hosting duties will be handled by Raptors’ in-arena emcee Mark Strong and Mr. Kardi himself. 

A release described the event as a blend of “philanthropy and entertainment.” Though the show is free, Kardi has set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds that will be split equally amongst all the performers, many of whom haven’t had the opportunity to work in over a year.

We caught up with Kardi over email to learn more about the concert series, how he’s been doing during the pandemic, and his bromance with Dave Chappelle.

What made you want to throw this event together?
I didn’t just throw it together, I dreamt about it for months. After the last lockdown, friends, family, and fans alike were in a very bad space mentally. People’s mental health needed healing, as much as we were concerned about our physical health. I wanted to lift the spirits of the city and give us something to look forward to. 

How have you been holding up during the pandemic?
It’s been challenging over the past year and change. I’ve seen great times, but some really horrific times as well. Between the personal and professional ping-pong of emotions, there’s also my community that has been disproportionately suffering as well. It’s not easy for us, and I can’t truly ever be OK, when the majority of us still need equality on several fronts. 

What do you miss most about “normal life”?
I miss the human interaction the most. There’s a lot to be said about a hug, a handshake, or a high-five. Seeing loved ones and being able to safely physically express yourself in some way is the dream. 

Talk about the process of putting this lineup of performers together. It’s stacked!!
That part was easy. I told people I respected and admired that I wanted to give back to the city of Toronto and very few hesitated. 

I know you recently performed at Dave Chappelle’s summer camp. What your relationship with him like? And how did you get him to participate in this event?
Dave is my brother. He is also a genius, and I don’t toss that word around. I asked him to participate for the city and he didn’t hesitate to big us up. 

Talk about the philanthropy angle of the event. Who will it be supporting?
People look at philanthropy in super traditional ways sometimes. We are giving back to the city, by providing free entertainment and helping with people’s mental health as the safely enjoy a DJ/concert event. After expenses, the money raised from sponsors is going back to the deejays and performers. It’s not a massive amount at all, but as a creative, it home because many from our artist/DJ community haven’t seen a dime from shows or had a real opportunity to do what we love LIVE and in front of people. This is going to help them as well. Even if just a little bit. 

It’s the 20th anniversary of your legendary album, Quest For Fire: Firestarter, Vol. 1!!! Can we expect you to perform some tracks from it?
I MAY perform a song or two from Firestarter… It’s about the others on the 30th, though. Not me 🙏🏿.

The FREE THE CITY concert takes place June 30 at CityView Drive-In (20 Polson Street). It’s currently sold out, but keep checking CityView’s site in case more tickets become available. Kardi also promises to give away tickets over the next week.