Kardinal was signed to a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell Music Canada at the age of 20. In 1996, he released his first single "Naughty Dread", which was featured on the Rap Essentials Volume One compilation and earned him a Juno Award nomination for Best Rap Recording. In 1997, Kardinal released his debut album Eye & I on Capitol Hill Music. The only single from the album, "On wit da Show", had considerable video play on MuchMusic. The album received rave reviews from music critics. Allmusic stated that Kardinal "blended soul, dancehall, reggae, hip-hop, and a wholly inventive approach to beats on his 20-track debut album, Eye & I. " Unfortunately, the album was poorly distributed in Canada, and a lack of radio support resulted in the album receiving limited commercial attention. Over 4,000 copies of the album were sold in its first three months of release. In 1998, he was featured on the Juno-winning single "Northern Touch" with the Rascalz, Choclair, Checkmate and Thrust.