Classical Music, Online Rap Battles & Going For Gold—An Interview With Haviah Mighty

By Isaac Fox

Even in the hip-hop and R&B industries (both industries being awash in multi-talented musicians) it’s uncommon to find triple-threat artists—gifted at rapping, singing, and producing. If I were to walk up to a hundred people on the street and ask each person if they could name an artist who could rap, sing, and put it all together behind the boards, the name I’d expect to hear the most would be Kanye. Then Pharrell Williams a couple of times. Maybe even Timbaland, who despite having less visibility nowadays than the previous two names remains the undisputed king of beat-boxing in the back of Aaliyah songs. You wouldn’t hear too many names beyond those though; what I call triple-threat artists are few and far between.

Brampton’s Haviah Mighty is a quadruple-threat. She raps primarily, but also sings,
produces her own music, and DJs. And she does all of these things extremely well. In recent months, Haviah’s star has been rising rapidly, propelled by her spotlight-grabbing verse for Team Backpack’s International Women’s Day cypher as well as a steady stream of high-quality remixesMost recently, Team Backpack brought her down to Brooklyn to perform in the Toronto Cypher at Music Underground New York alongside other talents like John River and Keysha Freshh. Like many, I first came across Haviah’s work after
seeing her in the first Team Backpack cypher, and I was drawn in by her confidence, her stage presence, and, most importantly, her music. I was lucky enough to interview her in-depth over the summer, where she shared a wide range of experiences that shaped her music, from rap battling live online since age twelve to growing up in an environment enriched by classical (Western art) music.

Demo: In the past, you’ve described yourself as a “classical baby,” and on songs such as your “Uber Everywhere Remix,” I’ve found that the most grabbing aspect of the instrumental are often your lush string arrangements. Could you give us some insight into your classical background?

Haviah: Well, I’ve been extremely influenced by classical music all my life. My older sister is an extremely high-level piano player, perfect pitch, everything. Really, all of my sisters are up there with piano, we’re a very musical family. I myself took seven years of vocal training and singing lessons from ages four to eleven at the New Conservatory of Music in Scarborough, so I was always in and around a classical music environment. I had to do a few competitive performances every year at the Royal Conservatory, and I would always watch and pay attention to all of the different instrumentation that all the students were using. And I figure my lifetime of exposure to classical music and music theory really affects the type of production I’m drawn to. I’m a huge fan of minor chords, my sound is definitely dark—not necessarily because the content is dark, more so because of the chord progressions that resonate the most with me. I even had a project called Dominant 7eventh, based off of that chord, so I’ve always been invested in the theory and compositional side of my music, not just the rapping part.

Demo: What’s the dynamic between you and your sisters like when you work on music? Does one person take the lead or is it more of a group effort?

Haviah: It’s always a collaborative effort. If I’m working with my oldest sister Alicia, it’s more from a production side, so I’ll write a piano line, add a backbone to the song, keeping it simple. Because of her perfect pitch and her ability to improvise, I only have to give her the production and she’s going to create something amazing. Then I can take what she played and use the MIDI notes to make adjustments where I see fit. So I tell her to “just do what you do—freestyle—and I’ll take it from there.” My other sister, we vibe—we haven’t worked on music I’ve released as of yet, but she is my biggest criticizer and is very business oriented. And my sister Omega, she’s also really out there as a musician and as a makeup artist. With her, it’s a 50-50 collaborative effort. We come together, we pull our resources where we can, and we try to work whenever we can to keep our creative juices flowing. And all of us used to be in a group together called The Mightys (it’s our last name), we even had a CD back in the day! We were like the Jacksons, but just the four!

Demo: And I can imagine that you and your sisters can all relate to the struggles that come with being a woman in the music industry.

Haviah: Oh, for sure. As women, we definitely have to break down barriers in the industry, but for me, being a woman is almost an advantage. I don’t want to say it’s because of my skill level…. But it’s because of my skill level. I’m just being honest! I notice there’s an expectation before I show people my music that because I’m a female it’s not going to be all that great. And I use that to my advantage. Before I play a show, people usually look at me thinking “oh, what is she about to do?” And then I go in. I’ve been performing for so long, being on stage is just a part of me now. When you don’t have the expected look or the standard gender for a given field—rapping, for me—as soon as you do it at a high-skill level, people are almost more impressed. It gives me an extra element of surprise compared to male rappers. And that gender disadvantage evaporates as soon they hear my music. Obviously in a business sense, I am at a disadvantage, being a woman. I know I don’t get certain opportunities based on this fact, but I try to dive beyond and not let that discourage me from going for the gold.

Demo: We’ve talked about how you’ve been a lifelong performer for singing, but what was your first performance where you rapped like, and how did that transition feel? Did it feel different at first or….?

Haviah: There was 100% a difference when I started rapping, but I’ll go back a bit before that. Before I talk about those first performances. I took singing lessons at the music school in Scarborough from age four to eleven, and then we moved to a smaller city a bit further away, called Brampton. After that, I started thinking “okay, I’m no longer occupied on the weekends, what am I going to do with my time?” And I really do think I started rapping because of 50 Cent, which is weird, but it’s true. Don’t Push Me and honestly all of Get Rich or Die Tryin’ was just my shit – the production, the rapping, everything about them. I started going onto this website called, where you could text battle, or battle with the mic for a minute at a time, and I was one of the only girls on the site. And those are what I see as my first rap performances. I was 12, you know, and I was freestyle battling all these grown men, and even though it was online, it still had the same pressure as a live performance. They’d grade your writtens, your bars, or whatever you just freestyled over the camera.

I was on there for about two years, and then I got to high school, and eventually I had my first live performance at a talent show. I’d already been on stage dozens of times, but because I was rapping and it was so new to me, I definitely didn’t have the confidence that I have now. Still, I always had the ability to make it really clear what I was saying, so I remember at that performance just focusing on making my words really clear. At the time, my second oldest sister, the one who provides most criticism, felt I could rap but didn’t believe my delivery. Didn’t believe what I was saying. So I always worked on that! Even back when I was on Let’s Beef, I would try to focus on that clear delivery, so my words could have that impact on the listener, and the way I put my sentences together. Eventually, when I released my first project (hosted by DJ Ill Will), that same sister told me her favourite track was track 9, which was called Manufactured and she said “that song—that’s your delivery. Right there.” And I never forgot that.

Interview edited and condensed for publication.

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  1. […] Sorority, composed of rappers pHoenix Pagliacci, Lex Leosis, Keysha Freshh and Haviah Mighty, came together after meeting for the first time a year ago at Team Backpack’s International […]

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