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.

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.”

Like many other songwriters before (and after) him, Tyler Shaw unashamedly declares that the first song he ever wrote was, in a word, “awful.” But at the time? “Oh my goodness, I thought was great. I wrote it about a girl I had a crush on. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl is mine! If she hears this song, I’m gonna get the girl.’” Whether it would have worked or not we’ll never know – she never heard the song, “But I got the girl anyway. One of my best friends still has the recording and, I think it was a couple of years ago, he bumped into me and said, ‘Remember this?’ And I said, ‘I wish I didn’t.’”

Shaw, now a two-time SOCAN Award winner and two-time JUNO Award nominee, with two albums (Yesterday in 2015, Intuition in September of 2018) and a handful of certified hit singles to his name, has clearly evolved as a songwriter. It’s a bit ironic that a singer, who first captured the industry’s attention when he won the MuchMusic Coca-Cola Covers Contest in  2012, had already put a good five years of songwriting behind him by then.

“At 13 years old, I started writing songs every single day, about everything,” Tyler says from his home in Toronto, 10 days after his 26th birthday. “Break-ups, falling in love, school stuff, everything and anything. As you practice songwriting, that increases your skills – just like anything, if you practice [like piano or guitar]. I was literally writing a song a day, maybe two a day, when I was 13. When I got signed as an artist in the industry, signed under a label [Sony Music Canada], that’s when things started to develop even more.”

By the time he moved from his hometown of Vancouver to attend university on Prince Edward Island, he’d firmly established his musical ambition, and played at local and campus bars. Once the song contest led to a label signing, everything went into high gear. His debut single, “Kiss Goodnight” (in 2012) was certified platinum, and his latest release “With You”, from the album Intuition, has been certified gold, and viewed on YouTube more than 13 million times. On April 12, 2019, a new, French version of the single, featuring Sara Diamond, was released.

The learning process was daunting. When Shaw started working on his first album, he had to figure out how to collaborate with others, almost all strangers, except by reputation.  “If you can walk into a room with someone,” he recalls, “not meeting them, not knowing anything about them except what they’ve done musically, and immediately connect with them within the first 30 seconds, the first minute or so, you think you can come up with something special. But I’ve walked into a room, before this last album, and it’s… it’s not shady, but it’s just not the vibe that I would want to have in a room with a songwriter. It’s not welcoming, it’s not warm, it’s just cold and uninviting. When that happens, I push through because, well, you never know, but it generally doesn’t go well. I like to keep a positive frame of mind and just say, ‘OK, maybe he’s having an off day… And maybe something can come of that feeling, you never know. But, generally, it doesn’t work out that way.”

Writing fast for film
In 2017, Shaw took some time away from his recording career to try acting. He didn’t see it as a major detour. “That was a lot of fun,” he says. “In a film called The Meaning of Life, I was playing the character of a therapeutic clown for kids who was aspiring to be the next big musician. In a way, the role itself, I could definitely relate to… Not the clown part!” he adds, laughing. “During the movie there are five songs that I’ve got to sing, and I didn’t actually know that I was supposed to create these songs until the first day I got on set. They asked me, ‘Hey, do you have that song written for this scene?’ And I was, ‘What song?’ So I ran back to my green room, and in five minutes I wrote a song for the scene. I was already in the emotion of the scene, so it made it a lot easier, I believe, to write that song while I was in that moment. That happened five times, where I need to go write songs right now for this scene. It happened so naturally. It worked for me. ‘Give me a half an hour, max, and I’ll write the song.’”

Not to say he thought the songwriting came easily. “Songwriting is always a challenge. Every single day is a challenge. Some days you don’t even write a song because there’s nothing there. Some days you write two to three songs. It’s not like it’s harder now to write songs, it’s always been a difficult challenge.” And Shaw sometimes sets the challenge himself.

Recognizing that most of his songs are the romantic sort, on Intuition he set out to broaden his spectrum. “I love ‘love,’ I think everyone is a sucker for ‘love’… It’s very relatable, but at the same time, so is life in general,” he says. “The majority of the songs I write are love songs, but I love the angle of not writing [another one] and talking more about things that aren’t about love.” He’s gotten e-mails from fans saying that songs like “Help Me” and “Anybody Out There” have helped them through some hard times.

Shaw’s experience, smartly deployed at the SOCAN Songwriters Circle at the 2019 JUNOs, has taught him what attitude works best when starting out on a new collaboration. “I’m an open book,” he says. “I have experience coming at me from the songwriters, from the producers, so I wasn’t offended when someone said, ‘Oh, this lyric in this verse could be better.’ I just took it as a challenge. It wasn’t hard to hear that stuff. Everyone has their opinion, and I write the best I can, so if someone comes back and says, ‘This doesn’t make sense,’ that’s cool. I’ll challenge myself to make it better, and make more sense.” What else is there to do? That’s what evolution is all about.