How Haviah Mighty has risen

The Polaris Prize-winning hip hop artist is playing Montreal this week.

This article first appeared in the Oct. 2019 edition of the Cult MTL magazine.

For the first time in its 14-year history, the Polaris Music Prize has been awarded to a hip hop album.

“You ready?” asks last year’s winner Jeremy Dutcher while carefully opening the winning envelope. Moments later, the room lights up and everyone on their feet belting big cheers upon hearing the five words: “For 13th Floor, Haviah Mighty!”

The prize, of course, is recognized as one of Canada’s most prestigious music honours. Each recipient is decided upon by a jury composed of many of the country’s top journalists and programmers, later scaled down to panel of eleven who select a winner during a gala event.

Just over 24 hours before the big day, Haviah is running around her house, ticking off errands before heading to one final rehearsal. “It’s quite exciting,” Mighty says of the then-forthcoming performance and prize recognition.  She hops on a call with me to discuss the album, life in Toronto and the pursuit of happiness.

Haviah Mighty on 13th Floor

“There’s definitely multiple layers to the number 13 and how it came to be a part of the title. There’s 13 tracks on the album, there’s a song called ‘13’ that is pretty prevalent in terms of the themes. It’s kind of like a foundation point for a lot of the themes that are on the record. More than anything, the 13th floor in North America. We know that the number 13 represents bad things, bad omens. We want to disassociate with anything that has to do with 13, so much so that we remove the 13th floor from our buildings. I feel like the narrative, whatever the 13th floor is, we’re told that it’s bad and therefore dismiss it.

“I think it’s very parallel to the narratives on 13th Floor that are my experiences that have been dismissed by the people that don’t understand the marginalization that I face. It’s definitely multi-layered, coming from the underdog experience, pushing for the understanding of something that there’s very little keenness to understand.”

On her Brampton-via-Toronto upbringing

“Because of the area I grew up in, Toronto and the way the energy was and the racism that surrounded it, there were a lot of restrictions and I wasn’t really allowed to go outside.

“When I came to Brampton, I feel like that’s when I started talking to other kids. I think it’s a big part of why my personality developed late. It’s a bit of that late development factor as well, which all factors into who I am, my passion. I don’t know if I would be as passionate about the things that I am if my beginning wasn’t the way that it was and had time in my early years to really reflect on things that I thought myself. Maybe if I was more focused on being social and getting along with other people, my ideas would have been more adaptable. I just feel like every part of my journey is definitely part of my experience and how my sound has ended up now.”

On the Toronto music scene

“There are a lot of people that are within the community just trying to represent being themselves. There’s a lot of mental health awareness events, I just attended one that [rapper] TOBi put on. He invited a lot of different community people in Toronto, people in the music industry, all in the same room to discuss mental health. As creatives, it impacts us. Having more events like that would be awesome. I think it’s really important for all people but definitely also for creatives to discuss mental health awareness.”

On the meaning of life

“The meaning of life is changing, but I think overall the thing that doesn’t change is the foundation is really trying to find a place of peace. We’re all trying to achieve that. Happiness, love and peace can look very different for all of us, I think that we do all achieve those things even if the vision at the end is a completely different visage. What I’m doing with my career is to help people find that place within themselves, the same way that I’m trying to find a place for myself. At certain points when I’m creating music, I’m feeling that, that passion of mine, that love of mine.” ■

Haviah Mighty performs in Montreal with openers Lou Phelps and CJ Flemings at le Belmont (4483 St-Laurent), 8 p.m., $18.50

For more about Haviah Mighty, look here.

See more Montreal music coverage here.