Meet the First Black Woman *and* the First Hip Hop Artist to Win the Polaris Music Prize

Haviah Mighty on how she made it happen

Ishani Nath
Haviah Mighty
(Photo: Yung Yemi)

Name: Haviah Mighty

Job title: Singer, rapper, producer, DJ

Age: 26

From: Toronto

Currently lives in: Brampton, Ont.

Education: Diploma in music industry arts, Fanshawe College

First job out of school: Sales representative at Rogers

Earlier this year, musician Haviah Mighty made history. Twice.

The artist, who started singing at four, rapping at 11 and producing at 15, won the 2019 Polaris Music Prize for her album 13th Floor. Along with $50,000, Mighty also received the unofficial titles of first Black woman and first hip hop artist to win the award in its 14-year history.

“I’ve been working on being a musician for a really long time, and I put out a lot of music with very few accolades and very little reward,” Mighty said in her acceptance speech. “This is the first time I’ve been able to speak my truth, my narrative, and have an album that’s based on that theme. My truth and how important it is and how dismissed it often is—I don’t care about that. This needs to come out.”

Her latest album, 13th Floor, is named after the idea that the 13th floor of buildings is often considered unlucky and therefore omitted. On the 13-track album, which was released in May, Mighty uses this concept as a metaphor for how certain people and issues are overlooked because they’re misunderstood. “They used to say I’m too loud, but that’s cool now. Love my skin, always been proud, guess that’s in now,” she raps on the album’s first track, “In Women Colour.”

Tackling topics that can be uncomfortable, such as racism, sexism and slavery, while still being perceived as entertaining is a challenge—especially, Mighty says, for women. There is a lot of room for women to talk about dancing or sexuality, she says, but not much else. “It’s more difficult for a woman to get chances when she’s talking about serious topics, and we therefore see a lot of women doing that underground,” says Mighty, pointing to lesser known artists like Rhapsody, Tierra Wack and Rico Nasty.

Mighty has been releasing music independently since 2009. She’s opened for Nelly, A Tribe Called Red and Snoop Dogg, had a song appear on HBO’s Insecure and recently won the prestigious 2018/2019 Allan Slaight Juno Master Class, which provides emerging artists with intensive mentorship. She’s been in the game for a long time, but it seems like the Canadian music scene is finally waking up to her talent—and her message.

In February, Mighty will be performing her first headline show in the U.S. “I don’t know that I was fully able to fathom that this dream could come true, but it definitely was the dream for a long time.”

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