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Haviah Mighty wins 2019 Polaris Prize

By Troy Hasselman, September 20 2019 —

Toronto rapper Haviah Mighty has won this years’ Polaris Prize, an annual music award selected by a jury made up of various media figures from across the country for the best Canadian album, regardless of sales or notoriety for the artist. Haviah Mighty took home the grand prize of $50,000 for her album 13th Floor. Past winners of the award include Arcade Fire, Feist, Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Owen Pallett.

Haviah Mighty is both the first black woman and the first Canadian hip-hop artist to win the award since the first Polaris Prize was awarded in 2006, winning the honour before heavyweights like Drake, Shad, K’naan and Cadence Weapon. This year’s crop of nominees included up and coming stars like Jesse Reyez and PUP, experimentalists like FET.NAT and dance floor fillers like Snotty Nose Rez Kids. 

Haviah Mighty takes a revivalist turn on hip-hop, relying on nocturnal instrumentals and lyrical rhyme schemes that recall the work of golden-age hip-hop acts like A Tribe Called Quest, Souls of Mischief and Digable Planets. The dense rhymes and virtuosic flow of her work is compounded by the politically motivated lyricism that asks hard questions about the divisions in Canadian society on racial, ethnic, gender and class lines and our collective unwillingness to address these divisions. The album takes a look at history on tracks like centrepiece, Thirteen, which traces the history of racism in North America from the Atlantic slave trade to present day forms of racism such as the prison industrial complex, showing the ways racism has adapted to changing cirumcstances. 

13th Floor is a worthy recipient of the Polaris prize, and a long-overdue victory for Canadian hip-hop which has fermented talent from coast-to-coast since the dawn of the genre and is still trying to fight out of its fledgling status, even in the wake of the world conquering popularity of stars like Drake. Canadian hip-hop is in capable hands with the current group of artists that make up the genre and will undoubtedly be the recipient of more accolades and adulation in the coming years.

Artists that didn’t make this year’s shortlist include Orville Peck, Yves Jarvis, Operators and Lee Harvey Osmond, all of which have released excellent bodies of work in the past year and are indicative of the deep well of music we have to choose from in Canada. Can-Con laws are getting to be less and less of a hindrance on our nation’s airwaves in light of this wellspring of creativity.

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