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First Play: The Sorority, The Pledge

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Melody Lau

Editor's note: strong language warning.

Toronto has been a great source of hip-hop in recent years, stemming from its “6 God” Drake and extending to other successful exports like Tory Lanez, Jazz Cartier, Roy Wood$, Clairmont the Second and Killy. But notice the common thread in that list? It’s all men. So, two years ago during a cypher on International Women’s Day, MC Lex Leosis offered a counterpoint: “Who said the 6 God couldn’t be a woman in some high tops?

That cypher, which teamed Leosis up with three other local rappers, Keysha Freshh, pHoenix Pagliacci and Haviah Mighty, generated a lot of attention for its strong feminist messages and each performer’s incredible skills. Soon after, the Sorority was formed. “There was so much demand around having us collectively rock stages,” Mighty recalls. “We decided we would supply that demand.”

Since then, the Sorority has had one clear mission, according to Mighty: “Push some boundaries and make some people uncomfortable for change.”

Women in hip-hop have long existed as a subcategory in the male-dominated genre. Even with breakthrough artists over the years like Missy Elliott, Michie Mee, Nicki Minaj and most recently Cardi B, it’s been nearly impossible for people to discuss their art without their gender shaping, and often confining, the conversation.

“The notion that females who rap are separate and not equal is ridiculous,” Pagliacci notes. “But we’ve been fed that narrative for so long, it seems like we’re digging through a brick wall with a plastic spoon.”

For the Sorority though, gender is not a topic to avoid — it’s a source of pride and motivation. On their debut, The Pledge, the rappers take their narrative into their own hands, prioritizing the ideas of solidarity, sisterhood, body positivity and, overall, getting the respect that they deserve. “SRTY” serves as their anthem for all of this. In the music video for this album opener, the Sorority barge into a home, tie up all the men and throw a rager for their friends — a fantastically fun but direct way of conveying the importance of safe spaces.

Elsewhere on the album, the Sorority explores themes of love, lust and display a sense of city pride that can rival that of Drake’s any day. (Just refer to The Pledge’s dynamic two-song dedication to the city’s west and east sides.) And while each member brings a different cadence and vibe to each track, which can range from a '90s throwback-style bop like “Wildin’” to a more electronic-driven groove like “Vanity,” everything comes together cohesively thanks to curated beats and a seamless process of bouncing ideas off of each other in the studio.

“We agreed on the group sound and the overall sonar aesthetic, which made the process smooth,” Pagliacci explains. Mighty adds: “With four incredibly different brains coming together in the way that ours did, we were able to tackle a lot in a short period of time. For me, I either proactively brought ideas for the group or I followed the leader, learning and contributing as I saw fit.”

That supportive attitude extends to people working behind the scenes as well, from producers to video directors, and while the Sorority doesn’t have a hard rule of working with only women, Leosis says they try their best to “seek out talented women to collaborate with because if we don’t pay each other, who will?” Even though there's still lots of work to be done before women can bust through that brick wall that Pagliacci talks of, consider the Sorority's latest contribution to be a considerable move in that direction.

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Neko Case, Sorrey, Dusted and more: songs you need to hear this week

MILCK: a candid Q&A about trauma, silence, activism and the power of sisterhood

'It made me feel like I could do anything': artists reveal the women who inspired them to make music