TORONTO — Haviah Mighty has won the 2019 Polaris Music Prize for her album “13th Floor.”
The project, the first awarded to a female rap artist, was selected by an 11-member jury as the Canadian album of the year based on its artistic merit.
At the ceremony in Toronto on Monday night, Mighty’s album won over nine others by artists that included Jessie Reyez, Snotty Nose Rez Kids, and Quebecois artists FET.NAT, Les Louanges and Marie Davidson.
Mighty, who receives a $50,000 cash prize, accepted the Polaris saying that it’s one of the few accolades she’s received from years of making music, but she was grateful that it resonated with the jury.
“I’ve had the same thoughts and the same sentiments since high school, and every time it was ‘not the time,’ and it ‘wasn’t the place,’ and here at the Polaris 2019, it is the time and the place,” the Brampton, Ont.-raised artist said as she accepted the award.
The Polaris prize is considered one of the country’s most prestigious music awards and, beyond its cash value, it puts the winner’s music in the global spotlight. Former winners include Jeremy Dutcher, Arcade Fire, Feist, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Kaytranada.
“13th Floor” reflects on Mighty’s experience as a woman of colour growing up in Canada, addressing the hurdles it presented, but also the positive inspiration her family provided. It features guest appearances by other rising Canadian rap artists, including Clairmont the Second, Sean Leon and her older sister Omega.
Mighty said the title was inspired by the concept of the 13th floor being a space North American culture pretends doesn’t exist. The album draws a parallel between the 13th floor and marginalized people and communities, whose experiences she says often go unacknowledged.
“I’m a female rapper who’s dark skinned with dreads and I’ve often felt marginalized for it,” she told The Canadian Press after the winning the Polaris.
“So many different experiences of living in Canada and the realities that I faced growing up literally being dismissed by my peers, and just never being a time or a place to discuss those things, and not being acknowledged as a hardship. A complete dismissal of a reality that exists.”
She says “13th Floor” as a project exists as that space, or “the discussion floor,” for putting those experiences on record.
Mighty has been releasing music for a decade as an independent artist, and is also a member of all-female Toronto hip-hop act The Sorority.
The Polaris awards featured performances by nine of the 10 nominees this year, with Reyez attending the event, but unable to take the stage because of a herniated disc in her lower spine that has forced her to take some downtime.
Toronto punk act Pup kicked off the night before rapper Shad, a four-time Polaris nominee, invited 2017 Polaris winner Lido Pimienta on the stage to perform their song “Magic.”
Soul singer Dominique Fils-Aime and Inuk artist Elisapie both delivered simmering vocal performances punctuated by dramatic flair.
Each Polaris runner-up receives $3,000.