Haviah Mighty is an enthusiastic, pulsing, and energetic force. Even as the day is waning and we’re cooped up in a meeting room in downtown Toronto, Haviah Mighty (her real name, by the way) is speaking with rapid fire. The 26-year-old, Brampton-based, Toronto-born rapper is readying the release of her debut LP, 13th Floor (on May 10, 2019), and can feel the anticipation from her audience. She admits this is a little confusing, since she’s been working away on rapping, production, and releasing work since she was a teenager. “[13th Floor] very much feels like a debut album, even though it’s technically my sixth body of work. To many people it’s my first or second,” says Mighty.

Her story, perhaps to a few of us, begins with The Sorority, and a now infamous cypher that garnered the collective acclaim more than three years ago. Released on International Women’s Day in 2016, the cypher was a rousing feminist-centric proclamation, touching on key issues and news events at the time (Sandra Bland, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s then-feminist leanings in his cabinet), while also playfully bigging up each woman who had a chance to get on the mic. From there, The Sorority was formed, and the album The Pledge was released in 2018.

But Haviah Mighty’s story doesn’t really begin or end with The Sorority. Nor does it start with winning the Slaight Music Prize in 2018, or having her song “Vamanos” featured on the HBO show Insecure. These are snapshots compiled in the full, definitive version that is the life of Haviah Mighty.

A Mighty Family Affair
Haviah Mighty often talks about the importance of her family. Not just how crucial they were to her development as a musician and person, but how they impact her work now. Omega Mighty, Haviah’s sister, is featured on the 13th Floor song “Wishy Washy.” “Getting my sister on the record was a no-brainer,” she says. “She definitely champions that Afrobeat, that Reggae vibe. So it just made sense to bring her on to that song.” Mighty’s little brother, at 18 years old, is becoming a formidable producer himself in the GTA. Named Mighty Prynce, he contributed to three songs on 13th Floor, including “Bag Up” and “Blame,” but Mighty admits that his output was so much stronger, providing several beats when Mighty could only take about two or three. “He’s one of the best young producers,” she says. “I don’t think people are ready for what he’s doing. I’m not ready… I think he’s perfect… I think he’s way ahead of his time. [And] I’m not saying this [just] because he’s my fam.”

Mighty’s story does begin in Toronto, in Gerrard Square, where – as a child living in an impoverished, largely white neighbourhood – she felt the sting of casual and direct racism. “Police were called because the piano was being played too loud,” says Mighty. “All of my sisters – I have three older sisters – played piano. At the time, my little brother was not yet born. But there were four little girls, very musical, always doing competitions and stuff. The area was not inviting.”

Mighty remembers feeling restricted as a child, in more ways than one. Her parents sought to protect their kids from racist neighbours, and Haviah specifically, from a school system that had decided she was a problematic child. “I was learning stuff and reading, but it wasn’t translating in the school system. I went to a school that had no doors for the classrooms, and it was this big open floor panel,” says Mighty. “On top of the racial aspect, on top of my weird seclusion, I was deemed [a case of anger management]. ‘She had attention deficit issues and she should be put on this pill and that pill.’ Luckily, I have parents who were, like, ‘Just read this book!’”

When she was eight years old, Mighty and her family – in a course of action she recognizes now as a need for them to survive and thrive – moved to Brampton. She then felt a kind of freedom she hadn’t before: “When I moved to Brampton, the difference to me as a young child, the borders that were created, the restrictions I felt, kind of loosened a bit. I was allowed to ride my bike, I could cross the street, I was allowed to go the park with my sister.” Mighty succeeded in school, getting excellent grades, and moving on to an enhanced, gifted class.

Yet, these experiences – only a handful of the many Mighty described in detail during our almost hour-long conversation – form the basis of her work, especially the work she accomplished on 13th Floor. “Those initial years where you kind of develop your social skills, knowing what it’s like to have friends and stuff, my sisters, my foundation, you see that in the music today in the representation, the people I work with and have around me,” she says. This individualism, and a scrappy DIY sensibility, really helped to form Mighty as a hip-hop force.

“Those initial years where you kind of develop your social skills… you see that in the music today.”

She continues, saying, “I think these little experiences – I say little, I don’t know. I know people have these experiences in their own lives that are much more direct, a lot more traumatic. But because I can make positive out of the negative, I can have this positive viewpoint of what those negative things have done for me. It’s created strength that I don’t think I would have if I didn’t have to navigate those things.”

13th Floor moves through Mighty’s declarations of self, including fun on the dancefloor, and a multi-generational heaviness, that weaves in drum-heavy beats, and Caribbean and Afrobeat influences. Mighty had a hand in production, songwriting, and the overall tone and feel of the album. She heavily produced on seven songs, while enlisting trusted producers like 2oolman from A Tribe Called Red, Taabu, Obuxum, and Clairmont The Second, to name a brief few.

The record opens with “In Women Colour,” a defiant, palpitating track proclaiming her place as a Black woman, while also tackling the division between men and women. It’s a misunderstanding of boring and great proportion to believe it’s an anti-male song. It’s not. Rather, “In Women Colour” is an amplification of her own lived experience. “At no point am I attacking all dudes,” she says. “I don’t feel like, when men listen to that song, they’re like, ‘This is a song for women!’ Do you know what I mean? It’s a song about a woman talking about her divide, being a woman with men, growing up.”

The number 13 takes on a few meanings on the album, largely orbiting the notion that ideologies or thoughts can be so readily accepted without consideration. Take, for example, how unlucky 13 appears in culture, where apartment buildings omit a 13th floor. That the Death card in tarot is the 13th in the Major Arcana, and it’s widely feared as a premonition of true death. Mighty also grapples with her own history, and the history of Black people in North America, on the powerful, observant song “Thirteen” – a reference to the United States’ 13th Amendment, the abolishment of slavery. “It’s interesting how much work has to be done to learn about yourself in this country when you’re Black,” says Mighty. “I’m only trying to learn them because they’re my experiences. They aren’t even shared with you in a true sense. It wasn’t shared with me, even when I was in school.”

So much of 13th Floor is storytelling, and Haviah Mighty is a compelling storyteller, mixing sharp verses with interesting, uncluttered, and deft production. Her approach is compassionate and conversational, sturdy and welcoming. If someone has no interest in the point of the stories she tells, or her perspective, there’s only so much Mighty says she can do. “To me, if the other side is unable to take the message, it’s probably because they have no interest in the message,” she says. “If I’m told – and I have been told – that is not my experience, then you’re not trying to hear the experience.”

Growing up in Kitamaat Village – Haisla Nation, childhood friends Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce and Darren “Young D” Metz, aka Snotty Nose Rez Kids, were budding writers and athletes. Their chemistry started on the high-school basketball court, years before the stage – Metz was a starting point guard, and Nyce was the small forward.

The duo also shared a connection to hip-hop culture. Nyce and Metz were unwittingly exposed to offensive caricatures and stereotypes of First Nations people via everything from Walt Disney and Looney Tunes cartoons to the evening news. Because of that, hip-hop culture resonated powerfully – particularly rappers Dr. Dre, Lil Wayne, Eminem, and Jay Z, who, like them, resisted society’s denigration of who they were. But living in a distant enclave, a 1,400-kilometer drive from Vancouver, meant that hip-hop tours never made it to their town.  It was through VHS tour tapes that they were able to access a world to which they’d eventually contribute, however unlikely it appeared at the time.

The duo has come a long way since then. They made the Polaris Top 10 in 2018, and toured Canada, the U.S., and Australia, while their single “Savages” spent more than 20 weeks on the Indigenous Music Countdown. They were nominated for Best Hip Hop Album at the 2018 Indigenous Music Awards, won Best Hip Hop Artist at the 2018 Western Canadian Music Awards, and earned a 2019 JUNO nomination for Indigenous Music Album of the Year, for The Average Savage.

It was a grassroots community of local change-makers, encountered during their college years in Vancouver, that inspired them to bring their personal identities to their sound. “It was just empowering people,” says Metz. “So many Indigenous people. Not just Indigenous, but our allies, too. Everyone we were hanging out with was either finishing their undergraduate or masters [degree]. We knew people that were leading those marches that you see in the streets here in Vancouver, and that influenced us heavy.”

Nyce, who was still dealing with the loss of his older brother in 2013, felt transformed personally and creatively. “The people we were surrounded by changed the direction of our music,” he says. The open mic nights that the duo began casually playing in 2012 began attracting large crowds, and this led Nyce and Metz to a revelation. “We realized how important it was for us to write and put out music that meant something to us,” says Nyce.  “How important our voices were for other people as well. Music came first. The message came once we figured out who we actually are.”

The pair began drilling down creatively. They spent long nights writing tracks like “Clash of the Clans” and “Northern Lights” until the wee hours of the morning. Weeks of swapping demos and beats, bouncing ideas off each other, followed. And the pair, who most often write their verses separately, would come back together to form concepts track by track. When a track didn’t work, they’d scrap it, but more times than not they were on the same page. “We’re very like-minded in terms of beat selection, content, and rhyme schemes, “says Nyce.

“We’re really coming into ourselves… nothing can hold us back.” — Quinton “Yung Trybez” Nyce of Snotty Nose Rez Kids

In 2017, they landed on their band name, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, a reference to children that “are just running around the rez freely,” says Nyce. It reflected their story and gave affectionate acknowledgement to the people they wanted to empower.  Their 2017 self-titled debut balanced both stark realities and humour. “We wrote about the beautiful things that we experienced on the rez, [as well as] inter-generational trauma,” says Nyce. That same year they dropped The Average Savage.

“On Average Savage we really exposed the kinds of things that we grew up around, like racial stereotypes drilled into our minds,” continues Nyce. “They wanted us to hate ourselves, and wanted the rest of the country, in this colonial society, to hate us. We called it out for what it was.”

Honouring Women’s Wisdom
Trapline also stems from the wisdom endowed to them by powerful women in their lives – Nyce’s mother eloquently opens the album, in her own words, on “Wa’wais (Skit).” Metz’s grandmother tenderly recalls his grandfather’s oft-spoken advice, “don’t act crazy,” on “Granny Kay (Skit).” “They are the women that shaped us into who we are,” say both. “Without them we wouldn’t be the men we are today.” This tribute to the strength of women is also clear via dynamic female MCs featured throughout the album, like Kimmortal (“Lost Tribe”), Cartel Madras (“Aliens Vs Indians”), and The Sorority (“Son of a Matriarch,” itself a proud celebration of the matriarchy experienced in SNRK’s daily lives). “These [artists] are all people we met along the way that share the same struggle. We all have the same message; we’re just saying them in different ways,” says Metz.

The Average Savage grabbed ears and garnered media coverage way beyond their city. Its unabashed honesty and razor-sharp rhymes were hard to ignore, and its empowering content reverberated. Historically derogatory terms like “red man,” “savage” and “rez kid,” used to malign and demean, were stripped of their vitriol, re-stated and reclaimed with power, purpose, and pride. The album made the Polaris Music Prize 2018 short list, and earned a JUNO nomination for Indigenous Music Album of the Year. .  The duo say that the major recognition silenced many non-Indigenous members of their home community who initially spurned the album.

“Before the Polaris happened, there were a lot of people from our community that felt like we weren’t being fair with our message – about what we were saying. That didn’t matter to us, because we knew that [they] often didn’t share our values anyway. And it was really overshadowed by all the positives,” says Metz.

On Trapline (out May 10, 2019) the pair return even more assured, frank, and unapologetically celebratory. It’s a hard-earned, collective sense of pride that SNRK wanted to recognize this time. “[On Trapline] we’re really coming into ourselves and showing the world that we’re proud of who we are and where we come from, and nothing can hold us back. [It’s] an album full of anthems for this generation on the rise,” says Nyce.

From “Rebirth” featuring Tanya Tagaq, to “Boujee Natives,” Trapline reveals, and revels in, the rich diversity of their Indigenous roots.  “When people think of ‘boujee’ they think of rich, fancy things,” explains Metz. “And for us, ‘boujee’ is rich in culture. Educated – you know your traditions.” (Both Metz and Nyce are learning their native tongue.)

The message is unity. “Trapline is a reminder for people across Turtle Island [North America], and people of colour, that we all come from the same struggles, and that we’re going to come out of it through unity and the knowledge that we hold,” says Nyce. “We tried to put this album together so that we could talk to more than just our own community, and at the same time show our community that these people are just like us.”

They also recognize that they are now the voices influencing a generation. “As kids, we never had artists like us to relate to, so that’s why we listened to all the West and East Coasts rappers from back in the da,” says Metz. “But now with the internet, kids can hear music from different communities, different parts of Canada. These kids are listening to our music and they’re able to relate.”

Jipé Dalpé“Elle a été rough l’année dernière” (“Last year was rough”), Jipé Dalpé sings on “Lac Renaud.” The sentence isn’t a lie, but it doesn’t paint the whole picture. You see, he probably wishes the rough patch would’ve only lasted a year. “Had I told the whole truth, I would’ve sung that the last two-and-a-half years seemed incredibly long,” says the songwriter, marking each word and laughing softly.

We can hardly blame him for choosing to emphasize the rhyme. Despite this tiny factual twist, Dalpé has never been as autobiographical as on Après le crash, his third full-length album, and his first release since 2015’s L’homme allumette.

“C’est juste une peu d’espoir/Pas une toune pour s’en faire accroire” (“It’s just a bit of hope/Not a song to make believe”), he sings on “Lac Renaud,” two short sentences that perfectly express his bent toward transparency. It’s the naked truth that Dalpé espouses, or seems to.

In July of 2015, Dalpé exited from a bar where he drank merrily with his sister. Being the responsible person that he is, he left his car behind and called an Uber. At the intersection of Saint-Joseph Boulevard and Iberville Street (one of Montréal’s most notoriously dangerous intersections), his driver accidentally ran a red light and crashed into another vehicle.

Out of the smoke, the passenger literally had to crawl across the pavement so he could safely wait for the ambulance. He will figuratively crawl for several months: concussion, herniated discs, labyrinthitis, neurological issues in the arms, hearing impairment, fractured sternum.

“I read that the sternum is the only bone protecting the heart,” remembers the Sherbrooke native, while placing a hand on his chest. “When I read that, maybe I was trying to make sense of the accident, but that’s exactly what was happening: there was nothing left to protect my heart.”

It’s worth mentioning, at this point, that the young forty-something’s heart had already been strained a few months before his accident, when a very long relationship came to an end. The album is called Après le crash (After the Crash), but it could very well have been titled “after the crashes,” plural. Those crashes deprived him of everything inside of  him that sought to impress, or fit a certain idea of what a songwriter should be.

“I didn’t really know why I was writing when I started making tunes,” Dalpé says. “I wrote because I wanted to sing. Nowadays, I want everything to be as visceral as possible. I don’t want to sugar-coat, to show I can write. I just need to write and get rid of all the useless shit.”

The body is a duo

“Have you thought of doing something else, sir?” a SAAQ (Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec, which handles insurance claims after car accidents) employee one day asked Jipé Dalpé. Something else, as in, “have you thought of finding a new career now that you have a hard time singing, playing your guitar, and blowing in your trumpet?”

That was a brutal and angst-ridden question, for someone who’s been playing in bars since he was 15 years old. It kicked off a long, introspective process that allowed Dalpé to get over his fear that everything he’s built would collapse if he took even a moment of rest. It allowed him to realize that his deep-seated artistic identity didn’t depend on his usual hyperactivity.

Writing Tips: Useless shit?
“Useless shit is tripping over mannerisms around people to avoid ruffling their feathers, being polite because we’re afraid to hurt them. It’s also tripping over meaningless, cute imagery. I teach a writing workshop, and I always ask students this question: ‘Why are you saying that? Your sentence is well written, but what’s the story you want to tell?’ I apply that requirement to myself, too. I have a violent outlook on my lyrics, and I re-write a lot to get to what I’m really trying to say. The images are there to support what you are saying, not the opposite.”

“It’s very difficult in this trade to get your head above water and simply exist,” says this DIY champion of self-production. “Everything is a question of opportunity, being in the right place at the right time, of meeting this person who, the next day, will think of you when they’re looking for an arranger. There’s always an e-mail you should be sending. And since I was never signed to a label, I’ve always considered earning a living with my music a victory. For the longest time, I was convinced I would lose everything I had built if I slowed down.”

Après le crash was produced by legendary bass player Jean-François Lemieux. It’s both an ode to friendship, considering all the musicians, songwriters, and music composers who contributed to it – Ariane Moffatt, Marie-Pierre Arthur, Olivier Langevin, François Lafontaine, Pierre Fortin, David Goudreault – and an ode to the body. A body that’s getting better (“Du muscle”), a body that rejoices (“Avant tes yeux”), and a body that lets go of pride and finally accepts the help it’s offered (“Après le crash”).

“My head has always run 100 miles an hour, and everything else would follow without me paying any attention to it,” says Dalpé. “But I realized that it’s actually a duo. There’s my head, yeah, but there’s everything else.” After the crash, taking care of oneself.