International Acclaim Hasn't Changed Haviah Mighty

The Toronto rapper talks her upcoming mixtape 'Stock Exchange,' new single "Protest," and why "Black people are revolutionary"
International Acclaim Hasn't Changed Haviah Mighty
It's been just over two years since Haviah Mighty dropped 13th Floor, the Polaris Music Prize-winning album that would solidify her presence as a Canadian hip-hop artist to watch. A lot has happened since then. The outbreak of a global pandemic has forced Mighty to navigate the challenging world of work as an artist entirely online, and the deep impact of racial tensions and anti-Blackness coming to a head have resulted in Mighty's newest track "Protest," out today, a powerful and urgent testament to Black resistance.

There's an element of professional credibility that comes with winning a major award like Polaris. "There's been a lot of growth and a lot of things to celebrate. The fact that I'm still able to create music and generate an income off of it and give back. Celebrating those things," says Mighty to Exclaim! over the phone from Brampton, ON.

But as a Black female rapper, Mighty is constantly aware of how she moves through the world, not only as an artist, but also as a human. "Also recognizing that we've had such a difficult year, and so much projection of Black trauma," she says. "I've attended my first protest, and speaking to those things. Recognizing even more so how I feel as a Black Canadian female rapper, individual, and what those setbacks are. What that underdog experience feels like now that I've achieved a little bit more success since that last project, as well." 

It is with this sense of duty to her community that Mighty penned "Protest," featuring U.K. rapper Yizzy. After organized protests erupted worldwide in the wake of George Floyd's death just over a year ago, anti-Black racism and the fight against it surged to the front of global conversations. Haviah Mighty is using her voice to explore themes she's well versed in from her work on 13th Floor with renewed urgency. "Protest" is her own form of resistance.

Beginning with a haunting piano melody, the song builds up to a hard-hitting drill beat. At the forefront is Mighty's expert lyrical delivery, ranging from Patois-infused sung melody to a stage-whispered hook— a message of warning. The unexpected ups and downs of the song's pacing and swells in tension are enough to make your heart rate rise and your palms sweat, deliberately mimicking the visceral reaction of fear, dread and anxiety Black people feel upon encounters with police.

The music video offers up a glimpse of Mighty's knack for visual storytelling. With a BLM-printed collar, a black leather beret and jacket alluding to the Black Panther movement, and imagery commemorating the destruction of Halifax's Africville neighbourhood in the 1960s, Mighty's meticulous visual details are an acknowledgement of Blackness worldwide and through history. 

"Black people are revolutionary," she says. "We've been kind of the spearheaders of so much of the culture that exists today, globally."

"Protest" is a composite image of shared Black experiences worldwide. Some Mighty's own, some inspired by the stories of her friends or family, some anonymous. 

"I think that it's extremely important to talk about the shared experience of the paranoia and fear that we have in the year where we've seen so many people be murdered for existing. We've even seen a lot of mental health calls, and law enforcement responding inappropriately and murdering people that are not well, or people that need assistance, people that need help."

This fall, Mighty will release a new mixtape, Stock Exchange. It's a collection of 12 songs, of which seven are already available as singles, including "Protest." Features will include a global array of artists, including U.S.-based rappers Jalen Santoy ("Way Too Fast") and Old Man Saxon ("Antisocial"), and Toronto's own TOBi ("Good on My Own Tonight"), who recently won the Juno Award for Rap Recording of the Year, and Grandtheft (on a forthcoming track). Mighty has been releasing Stock Exchange tracks on a monthly basis, starting with last November's "Atlantic."

Stock Exchange's title was inspired by restrictions musicians face due to the pandemic and a market based on streaming and social media metrics. Unable to tour, artists are now playing a numbers game, navigating the intricacies of an increasingly digital field.

"There was no real-world or touring experience that I could relate to or human connection or in-person social interaction that would allow me to understand how my music was being received," says Mighty. "It started to feel very much like a stock exchange, where the amount of shares, the amount of digital investments, the stats, how well it did, and all of these things started to determine the value of my work, the value of my art, the value of my creation, and the value of me as a creator." 

Mighty's artistic evolution is ongoing. She likes it that way. "I've gotten a lot more experience with the behind-the-scenes aspects of creating music, and even working with other companies on projects that they have going on. And not necessarily being the vocal artist, but sometimes the curator or the writer or the composer. That's definitely been a new thing since my last project.

"I think next is really trying to understand this transition period that I'm in now and what is going to come out of that. That's really what I'm thinking about for the next body of work."