“They used to say I’m too loud, but that’s cool now. Love my skin, always been proud, guess that’s in now,” raps Haviah Mighty in “In Women Colour.” This song is the opening track of her debut album, 13th Floor, which won the 27-year-old Toronto-born artist the Polaris Prize last year. This made Mighty not only the first black woman to win the prestigious Canadian music award but also the first hip-hop artist.
We caught up with Mighty just as she was preparing to head out on tour, with stops across Canada and her headlining show in the US. Here, we discuss the inspiration behind her lyrics, highlights from her career, and how her music is an extension of her advocacy.
Could you briefly walk us through your career path? Did you always want to be a musician?
I was in singing lessons very early, and rapping in my early teens, so I was always creating and invested in making art. I always wanted to make music and hoped it could maybe be a career but could never quite fathom that I’d be living the life I’m living now as a full-time musician.
You’re on tour right now, right? How’s that going so far?
I’m looking forward to hitting new regions and markets and seeing the response with new crowds! Also, it will be cool to experience the US a little bit more.
You’ve opened for some big names like Nelly and Snoop Dog. What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
Winning the Polaris Music Prize. Playing some big festivals in front of thousands of people. Having people sing along with me in different regions—fans knowing my lyrics. That always blows my mind!
Congratulations on winning the Polaris prize in 2019! How did it feel to be the first hip-hop artist and the first black woman to take home this prestigious award?
It’s still hard to process. I’m astounded by the recognition this award has given my album, and grateful for the many more ears that have given it a chance since winning. I feel validated in my thoughts and experiences.
How would you describe your music?
It’s hard to describe. I’d say my music is a fusion of production elements from different eras, strong, empowering bars and melodic additions, at times. It’s just a bundle of whatever’s going on in my head.
What inspires your music?
Everything around me. Family, friends, travel. Life through the eyes of a black woman in Canada. Living a unique experience to the majority sparks many stories.
What’s your creative process when creating music?
It varies. Sometimes I start with a production I’ve made, or production someone else made. Sometimes it’s a piano or guitar melody I’m messing with. I usually build the melodic elements of the song first, i.e. singing components. Once I’ve fleshed out a vibe and melody, I like to go in with my thoughts; this usually becomes the rap verse. But again, it varies and I’m welcoming new processes and practices daily.
You address important issues of race and racism in your music, often tackling difficult subjects. Do you see your music as a form of advocacy?
I think I’m a living advocate, and my music is an extension of that. I try to ensure that I’m expressing pride in self through my visual branding as much as the audio components I’m releasing. Feeling empowered as a young, black woman, and feeling safe to be myself, be unique, and be different—was no easy feat for me. So, I believe my energy advocates for those like me, simply by existing.
You’ve been referred to as a feminist rapper—what does this mean to you?
I don’t know if I am a feminist rapper. I may be to some, and not to others. I’d imagine that idea speaks to my push of inclusivity for women in my lyrics. I rap, sometimes pretty quickly, and have a ton of energy on stage. I find I fall into a weird box of “oh, she can do that?” and the more I continue to showcase my natural talents, the more I hope to change the idea of what ‘certain people’ are supposed to be good at.
What musicians inspire you?
Creative musicians. Early Kanye West was very inspirational for me. Lauryn Hill. Jay-Z—his unique approach to lyricism. 50 Cent. Tweet. A lot of producers inspire me as well. I really like London On Da Track. Timbo. It’s hard to really sum up which musicians inspire me because I’ve taken inspiration from so many people at different points in my life.
What’s next for you?
Touring. Writing new music. And hopefully embarking on new ventures and opportunities.