According to Toronto rapper Haviah Mighty, the title of her latest album refers (in part) to the idea of the number 13 connoting bad luck in North America, while in other cultures, the number 13 signifies luck, femininity and rebirth. It also refers to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. With this in mind, the 13 songs on this brilliant record explore these variable energies through the framework of black female artistry, acknowledging institutional and political disenfranchisement while also celebrating growth, imagination and self-affirmation.
Haviah is no newcomer to the black hip-hop scene in Canada. She's been self-releasing music for years and has been part of the all-female rap group The Sorority since 2016. Her years of experience unfold vividly throughout 13th Floor's narrative, which she co-executive produced with A Tribe Called Red's Tim "2oolman" Hill.
Album opener "In Women Colour" is a thoughtful exploration of the ebb and flow of colourism and acceptance over a skittering, pugilistic beat: "Love my skin/ always been proud/ guess that's 'in' now," she says with a sardonic lilt. Another early highlight is "Waves," where she trades verses with fellow indie MC Sean Leon, who just barely holds his own against Haviah's breathless lyrical assault.
The album contains multitudes. "Thirteen" is a slow-burning and soulful indictment of the North American fallacy of "equality" laid against a backdrop of slavery and ancestral trauma, and it's one of the most powerful songs on the record. Songs like "Wishy Washy" allow Haviah to flex her singing chops against a bouncing dancehall beat--a savvy song-writing choice that feels single-worthy.
13th Floor marks a thrilling high point in an artistic career that has been growing in excellence for years.
RAP 'TIL I'M RICH
It's an extremely Toronto move to model one of your music videos after the cable access TV commercials for Oliver "Oh yeah!" Jewelers. Twenty-four-year-old rapper Dijah SB's appreciation of the North York business' legendarily cheesy TV spots reveals a wry sense of humour that invigorates her latest EP, Rap 'til I'm Rich.
Working with a series of producers, each track on this slim, 17-minute release feels as effortless as air, due in no small part to the rapper's bouncy, unaffected flow. But don't be fooled by Dijah SB's laid-back delivery: there are some heavy emotions and desires being processed here, and it makes for compelling listening. From the opening title track, where Dijah muses on getting money and living quietly "after years of being suicidal" to "No Smoke," where she spits: "I feel like Serena fuckin' Williams/ they all got a problem with me winnin'/ and I'm also chasing that green like I play tennis," the rapper shows both a sharp sense of wordplay and a nuanced awareness of how valuable her voice is and how easily young women are underestimated. With this impressively assured and thoughtful EP, it won't be long until this self-described "rap game Scottie Pippen" is on everyone's radar.
SCATTER THE RATS
I started listening to the new L7 album in mid-May, as the near-total ban on abortions was signed into law in Alabama. As my Twitter timeline flooded with people sharing stories of their own abortions, sharing their grief and their rage in solidarity, I turned to my favourite all-woman four-piece to process my own anger. While L7 didn't quite fall under the hyper-politicized riot grrrl banner of their contemporaries, their very existence--as a four-woman hard rock band in the dude-heavy grunge era--felt like an intensely radical act. Also, they ripped.
Following the release of the scathing anti-Trump single, "Dispatch from Mar-a-lago," after the 2016 U.S. election, it would be reasonable to expect Scatter the Rats, the first L7 album in 20 years, to be a furious barn burner. Instead, it feels decidedly milquetoast. In the album opener, "Burn Baby," lead singer/guitarist Donita Sparks rails listlessly at an unnamed enemy and launches into a sing-songy chorus, "Burn at the stake." In their heyday, Sparks would have turned this into a scornful warning, but here it just sounds like she's kinda cranky.
Other songs, like "Proto Prototype" have more of the band's trademark snarl, and the song is buoyed by an invitingly heavy metal riff, but there's no propulsion taking the song to the places where it should explode. Overall, the record lacks the kind of energy that inspired women at their 2015 Toronto concert to compile a "shit list" of toxic music-industry men in the venue's washroom. Skip this one.
REVIEWS BY ALISON LANG
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|Title Annotation:||arts culture; '13th Floor' 'Rap 'Til I'm Rich' 'Scatter the Rats'|
|Article Type:||Sound recording review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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