When Australian singer and rapper Tkay Maidza dropped her 2018 EP, Last Year Was Weird Vol. 1, she had no idea just how weird the forthcoming years were going to get. Luckily, weirdness is what she thrives on. Valuing experimentation and discovering distinctive, ground-breaking sounds above all else, Maidza is feeling at home as she blurs genre lines between dance-pop, alt-R&B and futuristic, industrial hip-hop.
After landing a couple hits on Australian radio with more straightforward, bubbly EDM-influenced pop tunes in 2015, Maidza underwent a career epiphany and decided to pursue something that felt more natural, leaving her major label deal and planning out a series of three EPs that would become the Last Year Was Weird trilogy. The hope was to let her creative spark run wild and to find her niche with each consecutive release. Lighting up with laughter when discussing the motivations behind her stylistic quirks, Maidza speaks extensively about channelling positive energy into success. “I know exactly what I’m supposed to do next now, and I know where I shine best and what makes me really happy,” she says. “I didn’t feel like I was being honest with myself, and as the EPs have come, I’ve become more open and free to express.”
Maidza was born in Zimbabwe, Africa and moved to Australia at the age of five, but she still credits her transcontinental upbringing with inspiring her genre-free pursuits. Her late uncle, Andy Brown, was an accomplished singer and guitarist behind The Storm, one of Zimbabwe’s most popular bands. She’s been listening to the recent albums by Doja Cat and Tyler, the Creator on repeat lately, and is excited that some of the biggest rap-adjacent artists seem to be following suit in breaking from formula and “becoming more fearless and progressive.” “Music has existed for thousands of years, so how much can you do?” she laughs. “Something different is exciting!”
The intention from the beginning was a journey of self-discovery, from Maidza being dropped into an unfamiliar world to slowly learning how to thrive in it. The cover art evolution from Last Year Was Weird Vol. 1 to Vol. 3, she grows from exploring a garden with trepidation to blazing across the flowery backdrop atop a futuristic, Mad Max-style tank, bow and arrow in hand. “Actually, I asked if I could have six tanks, with different versions of Tkays on every one,” she clarifies, giggling at her own extravagant ambitions. “But I was like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so much.’ I wanted the cover to be like a rising of the phoenix. I was watching too much X-Men over Christmas.”
The juxtaposition of the spiky, metallic deadly vehicle with the blooming flowers is meant to tap into Maidza’s two sides of her musical personality as she continues to discover what fuels her creative fires. The aggressive side represents an industrial rap braggadocio-fest like “KIM,” while the natural beauty is tied to something more like the smooth and vulnerable R&B cut “Cashmere.” “The most important thing is that the artist has to love what they’re doing, and I believe in the music so much – when I listen to these songs, I’ve never heard anything like this before,” she says. “It’s been about stepping into my power, empowering myself and being confident in the way I see the world. When you hear a Kanye album, or a Tyler album, they’re always going the opposite direction to whatever is happening, and that’s what’s so exciting. It’s good that I’m soft, it’s also good that I’m hard, and I’m gonna live on forever.”
Maidza’s superfandom of Mr. West is rather unsurprising – her all-time favourite album is his magnum opus My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and it’s easy to draw a direct line from the album’s maximalism, boundless creativity and unashamed confidence to Maidza’s work. Plus, much like the Chicago wunderkind, Maidza is a self-admitted neurotic perfectionist. “Each step has to be better than the last one,” she says. “I have to have this sense of ‘wait until you see this!’”
Maidza has endless diaries of notes, computer documents and mood boards planned out to help guide her vision and scribble down any ideas that come to mind. Her latest mood board has a lot of diamonds, absurdly long fingernails, and gas masks. It’s all meant to represent a long journey towards learning to be fully comfortable as your eccentric self. But when exactly does Maidza know that things are just right after all of the tinkering? “The thing I use as a tell for whether I like a song is ‘would I be excited to post this on Instagram? Would I show my coolest friend this song?’ she says. “You don’t want to promote something that makes you embarrassed. I really don’t feel embarrassed at all, because I know I did the best I could.”
Recently, Maidza has been diving into astrology, as well as taking and re-taking just about every online personality test under the sun to better understand herself. She’s a one on the Enneagram test, and an ENFP on 16 Personalities, which she describes as “basically a fairy.” In fact, one of the main reasons her work ethic is unparalleled is that she feels like she has to live up to her spiritual destiny. Her latest string of EPs contain eight tracks each because in numerology her “life path” is number eight. “If you have an eight, it’s the luckiest out of all the numbers,” she says. “You’re guaranteed success, but you have to figure it out – you could be a really successful person or have nothing, it’s one extreme or the other. The way I live is super extreme, I feel like I always want more.”
Now that Maidza has found where she wants to be, fully embracing her role as the leftfield experimentalist and critical darling, she’s likely going to get it. If her Last Year Was Weird trilogy was just the phase where she was figuring things out, there’s no telling what kind of magic will come in the future.
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