Feature Interview: Tkay Maidza Is Here To Stay

Feature Interview: Tkay Maidza Is Here To Stay

As her EP tour wraps up and ahead of Falls Festival, we flex with the Aussie rap queen.

All photos by Aaron Webber.

“Big things come and they run away,” breezes the voice of Tkay Maidza through the opening line of her latest EP. It’s easy to wonder whether the ‘big things’ Maidza sings about are the biggest public moments of her stellar career to date: from her debut single Brontosaurus to debut album Tkay, working with the likes of Martin Solveig and Killer Mike, or the slate of festivals she’s performed at in between. Big Things, however, feels personal, both in the process and the product. Maidza’s father features on bass, an impromptu collaboration. “I just needed some help with trying to bring it to life before I gave it to a producer to work on,” she tells us. “I asked him to write a bassline and add any guitar rhythms, stuff that he felt would sound cool… everything was amazing, so that ended up really shaping the track.” Her Zimbabwean heritage is woven through, too, with the palpable influence of reggae. “It’s just something I’ve grown up listening to and I guess it’s a part of my heritage, so it just felt really natural to do that.”

The track has already been dubbed “a perfect snapshot of where Tkay is at this very moment,” and currently in the midst of a national tour, Maidza is making sure audiences see it too. In the days following the release of 2016’s Tkay, critics were quick to draw comparisons between Maidza and MIA, or Maidza and Azaelia Banks. While Last Year Was Weird Vol. 1 gives us plenty of Tkay as we know her – fast-paced, energetic rap that pulls no punches – we also see a softer side, with melodic lyricism floating above layers of electro-pop, rich interludes and outros, hazier beats. As her sound becomes more diverse, it also becomes more distinctive. Are the press taking note? “I hope so,” she says. “I think there are a lot of people starting to be like ‘That’s who she is.’”

From end to end, Last Year Was Weird Vol. 1 is a record about growth. Conceptually, each song draws from Maidza’s own experiences over the past few years. “I write from experiences … When I’m writing, I don’t really listen to a lot of stuff, it’s more just a collection of thoughts and how I feel that inspires whatever I do.”

Big Things is about capturing the moment, Flexin’ is just a track that’s for fun and, you know, flexing,” she says of her most recent single. Flexin’, which was written by Maidza at the tail-end of an all-nighter following a rave in New York, exudes the type of power and confidence that makes her work impossible to ignore. The final element was a verse from Californian rapper DUCKWRTH, recorded in Sydney after the two met at Groovin’ the Moo earlier this year. Maidza previously described Flexin’ as “an ode to yourself and being unapologetic for it,” an energy which translates flawlessly to the video accompaniment directed by Keenan MacWilliam. “For me, when I listen to the song, I just saw something athletic,” Maidza explains. “Originally we wanted to shoot a tennis thing, but we felt a lot of people shoot tennis stuff, so rugby was another option. I played rugby when I was younger for a short period of time and we had to shoot in London as well, and there’s a lot of rugby pictures when you go out in the city.”

“I just wanted to make something that sets the vibe and resets, like, my whole energy, so people who don’t know me can be like ‘Okay, cool, that’s Tkay. I get it.” … And it’s more just making sure it’s exactly how I wanted it to be. I just wanted it to look and feel how I envisioned it, and I think we did it well.”

While Flexin’ is characterised by its overt power in both sound and verse, the remainder of the EP feels beautifully tempered, a slower burn evoking a journey through intangibles. “White Rose is more… it doesn’t have to be a love song or anything, but feeling that you appreciate someone more than they appreciate you, really. The rest is more growth… Lullabies is, I guess, fighting within yourself and trying to find a way out. Say It is almost a letter to growing up.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the theme of Growing Up is true to its title. “I feel like I’m just talking about myself growing as a person,” Maidza elaborates. “When you’re growing up, everything changes… It’s not just you, it’s how you approach everything. You get better at some things, and understand things differently.” And while Maidza articulates this in song through her lyrics, the work itself is also a reflection of her growth. On her songwriting process, she says “I think I just had to develop, I had to just really set an intention and be like ‘This is exactly what I want to say,’ and if I didn’t feel it was good enough, I just reworked it again and again ’til I thought it was correct… I feel like I’ve always been like that, but I think this time I was just more meticulous about it.”

“I think I’m just older and I’ve just developed… I’ve just written enough songs that, you know when you’re learning something and eventually you get to the point where you’re like, ‘Okay, cool, I know what me not trying sounds like’ or ‘I know how to push that harder,’ if you know what I mean? You have a basis and then just build up on it. You know if you write something and it can be better, you know how to fix it.”

“Everything really had a vision, but a lot of the songs were reworked a lot because I just really didn’t feel like they were right. I think where they are now, they’re exactly how I want them to sound – in the beginning, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted them to sound like, but we definitely got there in the end. A lot of the songs, they ended up being a lot better than I thought they would.”

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The breadth of Last Year Was Weird Vol. 1 is striking. Darker tones laced throughout Lullabies build a vastly different aura to Maidza’s earlier work. White Rose and Say It, which samples gospel choirs and organ chords, are both gentler, softened by her vocals – a style we can expect more of in future releases? “For sure,” she says. “I’ve written a lot of songs that are similar to that so there’s definitely more … It’s just fun to affirm it and keep on making those kinds of songs.” Maidza’s central thread of growth, of all the learning and vulnerability and healing it encapsulates, ties all eight tracks together in a way that feels intuitive. In an interview with Broadsheet, she’d described perceiving her debut album Tkay as a disparate collection of songs that were individually strong. While there’s no linear narrative through Last Year Was Weird Vol. 1, no conceptual start-to-end, there’s a natural harmony, and this, perhaps, best reflects its subject matter – being young, growing up, is dynamic and messy. It’s a complex amalgam of experiences to navigate, but best done so with the quiet confidence that somehow, someday, it’ll just work. And for Maidza, it works. The result is a stunning EP Maidza herself feels is further toward who she’s “supposed to be.”

“I guess I just want people to like it and connect to it really, that’s more than enough for me, because this feels really personal.”

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Right now, Maidza is in the middle of a national headline tour; having already played shows in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane, Sydney is next on the list. “I’m really excited, I think Arno (Faraji) and Kwame are amazing, so I’m really lucky to have them on the tour as well,” she says. Recently, “It’s just been a whole lot of preparing and I guess, trying to get stuff done.”

“If I’m doing press, I might be home for a couple of days and then go to a different city, and then I come home straight away. If I’m just at home for a while I just go to F45, or I go for a run or go to the studio… if it’s touring then I don’t really know what i’m doing that day because I’m just in a random city, but I just try and make sure that I eat well, drink a lot of water, and that’s a strong base. It’s really good to have a good routine… it’s been really helpful,” she says. “I think if you go a long time without checking in with yourself, that’s where a lot of disasters can come, and you just get unbalanced.”

“I feel like it is really important to look after yourself, because if you don’t really feel like you’re 100% then you can’t really perform the best you can. If you’re gonna play shows, you know, knowing where your limits are… surrounding yourself with good people. I feel like when I first started writing, and I guess when you’re touring and stuff, you just meet a lot of new people, so learning to preserve that energy and just realising where you can be, just learning how to take care. I feel like when everyone’s happy and they feel their best, they feel like nothing can hold them back.”

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Set to round off her tour with The Falls Music and Arts Festival in January, there’s no doubt that 2018 will have been a significant year for Maidza. What’s next on the horizon? “I guess the goal is to finish this trilogy,” she says. “I want to make three of these, this is the first one, so it’s Volume 1, then 2 and 3… I want to do an album which will be sick, and then I hope all this takes me overseas and I can play bigger shows than I have before and just really expand all of this, then start a fashion brand… I’ve been really planning to grow everything a lot, to escalate everything and make it work on an international scale.”

Elaborating on her plans to start a fashion brand, Maidza talks about her love of clothes, her background in drawing, and her studies in architecture. “I’m a really visual person so I think clothing is another outlet for me because I can still be creative… and because it’s what I wear, I can really control it,” she says. “No one else can tell me what to do, it’s my own interpretation of what I should look like.”

“I feel like the goal is to have a brand, which I’m excited about because I think it’ll be a really good challenge. Most of the musicians I really like, they’re also really visually present… the ones that I’m drawn to a lot, they have a complete package. For me, to be able to express myself completely in everything that I have, and visually, will be amazing. That’s kind of the goal.” Of the artists Maidza admires, are there any she would be particularly keen to work with? “I feel like it’d be really sick to work with Pharrell, that’s like my ultimate, and Kaytranada’s probably someone I really want to work with as well… that’s the bucket list.”

For now, her focus is on the EP. “If anyone likes it, that’s a good thing,” she says. “I’m lucky if, like, three people like it, and then if a hundred people like it, that’s amazing.” With sell-out shows across the country, the response has been clear. Tkay Maidza isn’t just back, she’s well and truly here to stay.


Sat 22 Sep - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

Fri 28 Sep - Sound On Festival, Perth Arena (U-18's Event)

Sat 24 Nov - Grapevine Gathering @ Rochford Winery, Yarra Valley

Sat 1 Dec - Grapevine Gathering @ Roche Winery, Hunter Valley

Thu 13-Sat 15 Dec - Festival Of The Sun, Port MacQuarie

Falls Music @ Arts Festival:

Lorne VIC: 28 Dec, 29 Dec, 30 Dec, 31 Dec (18+ Event)

Marion Bay TAS: 29 Dec, 30 Dec, 31 Dec (All-Ages)

Byron Bay NSW: 31 Dec, 01 Jan, 02 Jan (18+ Event)

Fremantle WA: 05 Jan, 06 Jan (18+ Event)

Follow Tkay Maidza: FACEBOOK