Published Apr 25, 2018Rap groups in hip-hop culture are few and far between, mostly consisting of two, sometimes three, but rarely four rappers — especially four women. After meeting in 2016 to perform for a cypher in celebration of International Women's Day, Toronto-based artists Keysha Freshh, Lex Leosis, Phoenix Pagliacci and Haviah Mighty instantly clicked.
What the four artists didn't know then was that they'd end up creating a sisterhood that would become the Sorority, and release their debut album, Pledge, two years later. "I think there's this void in the industry and in the culture that I think we've been filling, and we don't really know how big it can get," Leosis tells Exclaim! "It's kind of this niche market, but the response we've been getting from it has been crazy."
Prior to creating the group, all four artists were grappling with their solo careers, each with a different vision — and more importantly, each of whom have found the love for rap in different avenues.
"Ask Keysha anything about hip-hop in general, and she'll know the day it was recorded, the day it was a release," Leosis says of the Golden Era-infused MC. "She is the youngest oldest hip-hop head I know."
"Lex pulls from real world experiences and makes some of these concepts feel very authentic, because they are," Haviah says about the bar-for-bar spitter. "You wouldn't know because of the aggressive bars, but the positivity is always there — she just says nice things about her sisters, like us."
Contrary to Lex, whose tall stature leaves her towering over her "sisters," Pagliacci describes Haviah Mighty as the little firecracker, because "even [those] make a big impact."
"People might look at [Haviah] and think, 'Oh she's trying to make up for her size,' but the fact is, it wouldn't matter if it was coming from her at 6 foot 2 or 2 foot 6," she continues. "She stands out in a way that she refuses to let bother anybody else."
As for Phoenix Pagliacci, the group admittedly calls her "the mom" — but not because she's the oldest, but rather because she "makes you feel like you're at home."
"The way she flows between singing and rapping is [something] not a lot of people are good at to be honest," Leosis says. "She touches other people's lives. I could cry listening to some of her verses on our album.
While every member of the Sorority brings a different style element and personality to the group, the glue that ties them together comes in the form of veteran Toronto DJ Mel Boogie, who everyone agrees is a "legend."
"When I found out that she was not only a female DJ, but also a recognized vet in the city, I clung to her — and was almost like a groupie for a minute," Pagliacci laughs. "It's funny, because I did say to her, 'Yo if you need help, let me carry your crates!' and she was like, 'Nah, I'm good, I got Serato,' and then she made me go Google what Serato was. She taught me even without intending to teach me. She is more than a mom with a 9 to 5, she has a passion and she has moulded her craft to take her places and give her opportunities. She's motivated me to be that boss, and get my dreams out there, and make sure my family eats."
With the mission to empower women, the Sorority's new album Pledge serves as a testament to their initial vision, but also explores where they can go. It's also the first project they've worked on that includes their male allies, whether as producers or engineers.
"We've all worked with men as solo artists, so it's not weird to work with men, but I think what we wanted to ensure that what we represented was support of women," Haviah explains. "We launched with that mantra. We didn't want to just go to our male counterparts to support us, and put all our resources into just men, which is what we're used to doing — but with the 'clout' that we have, we wanted to ensure that we working with women to say this is a women's movement."
"If we're talking about female empowerment, and we're including males in that narrative, we want them as allies and supporters and they have to understand that, while we're working with them, we don't owe them anything," Pagliacci adds. "It's a collaborative effort [where] we both believe in the vision."
Though having to consistently educating society about gender equality has being a mundane, and often fruitless task, for Keysha, it's a part of the job.
"I never get tired of educating — especially when it's genuine ignorance, actually not knowing. There are a lot of songwriters who are women, like Gizzle, a queer MC and songwriter under Diddy, who people just don't know about because, they [either] don't read album credits or they just aren't hip to that."
Despite their local success, the group still struggles to find their footing in the male-dominated Toronto rap scene.
"There's this elitist mentality here where it's like, 'I see you working, but I can't openly congratulate you.' I've gone to certain events where I ran into people that we have opened for, and they're silent," Haviah says. "That screwface capital mentality, which I think is dissipating to a degree, is still there, it's still thick."
Although still caught in "artist purgatory," as Pagliacci refers to the time spent between committing to music full-time and sacrificing it to pay the bills, the Sorority have a purpose.
"We want the people to know that we are not a gimmick, we are not a fad, we're not a time-stamped hashtag, [but that] the Sorority is forever because the Sorority exists in every sister, every female-identifying person in the world," Pagliacci concludes. "When we look back, we want to say, 'We did everything that we could.'"
The independently released Pledge is out now.