“How do I want to exist in the world?,” muses Tkay Maidza, reflecting on the mental space she was in during the making of 2021’s Last Year Was Weird (Vol. 3). The final entry in a trilogy of EP releases placed a definitive marker on Tkay’s body of work; a transitional arc in her creative process and journey that was exciting for long time fans.
The record demonstrated a moment of arrival from an artist who, for the first time, was beginning to discover the woman and artist she had always wanted to become. Parlaying that mentality into the development of Sweet Justice, her highly-anticipated second studio album, Tkay unleashed what she considers a superpower. In discovering the fully realised version of herself, Tkay has achieved creative fulfilment. As she puts it, “I turned myself into a project.”
When Being A Chameleon Is A Problem, Not An Asset
Having been in the spotlight as an artist since she was seventeen, Tkay’s formative years as a musician saw the Zimbabwe-born, Adelaide-raised performer trying to engage with a sonic identity that was genuine to her own musical loves and inspiration — one that wasn’t formed by expectation from a music industry that perhaps wasn’t ready to properly appreciate her potential at the time.
The success of early cuts like ‘Brontosaurus’ and ‘U-Huh’ earned Tkay recognition as a fiery new voice to be reckoned with, the latter earning Tkay an ARIA Platinum certification. International collaborations with SBTRKT, Martin Solveig and Killer Mike (who featured on Tkay’s 2016 eponymously titled debut album) cemented Tkay as a tastemaker’s dream.
Tkay’s emergence in Australia at the time, though, came when hip-hop was beginning to undergo a cultural shift. A turn away from the trends audiences had been largely used to was paving the way for artists like Remi and Sampa The Great to take their first steps. A more diversified realm, for sure, but at this time, Tkay stood out as an anomaly.
Even she admits that this period was wracked with uncertainty. “When my first album came out, I had a lot of anxiety,” Tkay says. “I was just accepting that I didn’t know what I was doing.”
“When I first came onto the scene, being a chameleon or having so many things that you do was seen as a problem. No one knows what to do with you. Once people project that onto you, you’re like, ‘Oh my God — maybe it’s never going to make sense.’”
Her quickfire raps, bolstered by electronic and synth-based production in those early days, gave her a “brat-rap” label that never quite represented Tkay’s full potential. Attempts to pigeonhole the young artist as an “Australian rapper” never landed either: from the jump, Tkay’s creative output didn’t reflect what the industry was used to; especially when it came to what was considered successful.
It took decamping to Los Angeles for Tkay to start this journey of proper personal and creative discovery. The process has taken its time, but the rewards have been beautiful — namely the sense of peace Tkay feels has taken over her life. “I feel like I’m not questioning things anymore,” she says.
Sweet Justice, The Perfect Love Letter To Young Adulthood
Having built a solid touring profile for herself in the years before she made the permanent move to the US, Tkay’s confidence as a performer and player in the international space grew naturally, and exponentially.
Establishing a base for herself in Los Angeles, Tkay began building solid foundations in a music space that was celebrating the likes of JPEGMAFIA, Tierra Whack, Kari Faux and BROCKHAMPTON for their bold desire (and ability) to switch up genre conventions and weave elements of hip-hop and R&B together with experimental production.
Collaborations with the likes of JPEGMAFIA and Kari, as well as DUCKWRTH and Yung Baby Tate, brought Tkay further in line with an artistic vision that was becoming clearer with each release.
The fresh air of inspiration, courtesy of branching out on her own in a new country, a new music scene, and a new community, was teasing a sense of rejuvenation out of Tkay that has since flourished in recent years.
Off the back of the Last Year Was Weird trilogy, Tkay has also elevated as a performer —arena tours with artists like Lizzo and Dua Lipa have repositioned her as a formidable presence within a wave of Australian artists making strides overseas.
Taking this energy back into the studio, Tkay found herself at a new personal peak, ready to tackle Album Number Two. Calling the new studio album Sweet Justice, in itself, signals a sense of completion; a breath of relief.
For Tkay, it is a homecoming. In prioritising her health — both mental and physical — and surrounding herself with fellow creatives who share the same life outlook and inspiration, the music that Tkay has made has never felt more intertwined with her own personal growth.
“Before I even did the [Last Year…] EPs, I had this massive list of who I would like to work with,” she says. “If I had the description of, ‘What kind of friends does Tkay have?’, it would be the people I work with now. They’re my best friends. It all makes sense. You can tell my music sounds like me now. Other people who like similar genres have the same personality types; I’m not alone, we’re doing this together.”
Sweet Justice came out the gate swinging, leading with the Flume-collaboration ‘Silent Assassin’ — a track that is so snatched, it was never not going to be an instant favourite of fans in both artist’s camps.
From there, the roll out hasn’t stopped. Songs like ‘Ring-a-Ling’ and ‘WUACV’ have fleshed the Sweet Justice soundscape out impressively. ‘Out Of Luck’ (featuring Amber Mark and Lolo Zouaï) stands out as an album moment where Tkay absolutely soars. Throw two KAYTRANADA-produced cuts in there as well, and it’s easy to get an idea of the type of expansive soundscape Sweet Justice inhabits.
“The music is the more realised, evolved version of me. The energy is still fun, happy and youthful but there’s the confidence of, ‘I’m a woman now, I’m an adult, she’s got her flow,’ — that’s the difference.” Tkay says.
“When I first moved to LA, I had this feeling of embarrassment. I felt like I wasn’t doing the right thing. Now, I just don’t have that feeling. I had to come to terms with a lot of old friendships that I let go of. I became closer with my family in the last two years as well. There’s a sense of completion — I’m aware of my toxic traits, and my strengths. Before I was trying to figure everything out, but now I know where to put that energy across and give it to people.”
“Life Is Good”: A Testament To A Shift In Consciousness
The shackles of self-doubt and imposter syndrome erased, Tkay Maidza is ready to show up and show out.
In some ways, this album serves as a reintroduction. Moreover, it’s a powerful statement of intent from a woman who has stepped into her own power and is relishing the light this new spotlight has been beaming down.
“Sweet Justice is saying that karma will come around and if you’re a good person and you’re doing your job, you’re going to be okay,” Tkay says. “That was the ethos of this time, embracing the change.”
“I’ve accepted the ending of a chapter, and I’m welcoming new cycles,” Tkay adds. “When you’re young in general, everyone is scared of the next step. For this, I had to let go of a lot of people I worked with, a lot of old friends. I was scared because I didn’t know who I was without them. When I started really working on the album, I was like, ‘Wait — it’s going to be okay.’”
Teasing new music at SXSW Sydney in October was a way for Tkay to slip a reminder to the Australians that she hasn’t forgotten about the country that raised her — bringing this Sweet Justice chapter of her story back this month is something she can’t wait to do.
“After my first album happened, I just accepted that I would be growing in front of people. You never know when you have that special moment, when you’re a long term artist,” Tkay explains.
“You may get better opportunities, but don’t sit there and be defeated that your album didn’t blow up. You have to look after yourself, because you’re strapped in for the next album and the next step.”
“Every step that I took, it was in front of people. It was just always judged. It’s a weird thing to think about. It’s also interesting because so many rappers and artists, you see the spiral happen in front of you, and then they stop making music. They want to hide. One thing I’m proud of is that I never gave up.”
Tkay Maidza’s new album Sweet Justice is out now.
Sosefina Fuamoli is an award-winning Samoan-Australian music writer and radio broadcaster, based in Melbourne.
Image credit: Dana Trippe