TKAY MAIDZA IN NEW YORK, OCTOBER 2016. PHOTOS: JAMES RYANG. STYLING: LILLI MILLHISER. HAIR: LINDA SHALABI/SEE MANAGEMENT USING ORIBE. MAKEUP: MARK EDIO/SEE MANAGEMENT USING NARS COSMETICS. PHOTO ASSISTANTS: RUBY JUN AND SHEN WILLIAMS-COHEN. SPECIAL THANKS: GEORGE BROWN STUDIO.
Tkay Maidza is a force to be reckoned with. The Zimbabwe-born, Adelaide, Australia-raised musician graduated high school at age 16, and was studying architecture at university when national radio station Triple J introduced Down Under to the relentlessly catchy “Brontosaurus,” her first single, in 2013. Since then, she’s teamed up with Run the Jewels‘ Killer Mike, performed alongside Charli XCX and Mark Ronson, and was nominated for BET’s Best New International Act of 2016. Her ascent has been as swift as her unremitting verses with torrents of tours, festivals, international performances and today—finally—a debut album.
Tkay (Dew Process/Universal Music Australia) sees Maidza darting from the rapid-fire rap of its opening track, “Always Been,” to the infectious, dancehall inspired “Simulation” and the synth heavy “House of Cards.” The synthesis of rap and punchy electronic beats results in a record that’ll perhaps place Maidza and her distinctive sound in the hip-hop landscape right where it should be: front and center.
Here we catch up with Maidza over the phone to talk about her debut LP.
PIMPLOY PHONGSIRIVECH: How’s New York treating you?
TKAY MAIDZA: I’ve been here for two days, but I’ve been here before. I went for a walk in Prospect Park yesterday, which is the first time I’ve done that. It’s really beautiful. When you come to New York you always get a buzz.
PHONGSIRIVECH: How are you feeling about the album release?
MAIDZA: Excited but kind of nervous because you never really know what’s going to happen. It’s been a year coming to this point so it’ll be interesting to see what happens—but yeah, nervous more than anything.
PHONGSIRIVECH: Killer Mike gave you a shout-out early on. You’ve performed with Charli XCX and Mark Ronson. That’s pretty wild, especially at 20. Have you had time to grasp and make sense of everything?
MAIDZA: It’s been this big rush. Generally it’s just been me writing whatever I feel like writing, and then somehow crazy things have happened out of it.
PHONGSIRIVECH: So how did it all begin? Was there a point in your life where you decided, “This is it. I’m going to make music professionally.”
MAIDZA: I think when it first started I didn’t really have a plan. I was writing music for the sake of writing music; it was just fun. The first two original songs I’d ever written were picked up by a national radio station, [Triple J,] which is kind of this indie radio—they play music that’s new so people get really excited because it’s almost a scouting thing. And so they played it and it’s just been escalating and growing ever since.
PHONGSIRIVECH: What do you tend to write about most?
MAIDZA: I write from my point of view … I wrote the experiences from high school and growing up. If anything, it’s something that someone my age would resonate with, because I like to write music that I feel like I would listen to. It’s like my interpretation of what I want to hear.
PHONGSIRIVECH: Let’s talk about the record. Are there any tracks you’re nervous about sharing?
MAIDZA: I think the whole album. [laughs] There’s also a lot of stuff on there that’s a lot more commercial, and I feel like that’s what everyone’s always scared of.
PHONGSIRIVECH: Are there any that you find particularly indicative of your current state of mind?
MAIDZA: There’s one song I really like called “Afterglow.” The chorus is really simple because when I wrote it I felt like I didn’t have anyone. I felt really alone, and so the chorus I wrote was, “Where did everybody go?” My record is layered a lot and it sounds like a lot of little girls singing it. [laughs] So it sounds quite lonely. It’s sad, but the song’s pretty upbeat. I think anyone can understand it.
PHONGSIRIVECH: So would you say that one is your favorite?
MAIDZA: Probably. This other song called “Castle in the Air” I really like as well. It’s about guarding a fortress. I like medieval terminology so I was really excited to make a song like that.
PHONGSIRIVECH: You’ve said that artists like Major Lazer, Santigold, and Nicki Minaj have informed your sound. Were there any specific musicians who had a lot of influence on the record?
MAIDZA: Not really. It was all over the place, but I do think the whole vibe was kind of Childish Gambino, where he has an album and it’s sort of a journey of different sounds: He’s singing and rapping and he’s telling his own story of what he’s afraid of and what he wants—finding himself through being alone.
PHONGSIRIVECH: And who are you listening to right now?
MAIDZA: A producer called King Henry. And lots of Vince Staples and Francis and the Lights.
PHONGSIRIVECH: I know that your family has been really supportive. Have there been moments where you’ve felt discouraged or, like you said, really alone? And how did you trudge through that?
MAIDZA: I’m a person who goes by what I feel like and almost no one can tell me what to do. [laughs] It’s always self-motivation. If I’m not into it, I don’t do it at all. I think trusting your instincts and doing what is right by you is the most important thing, because at the end of the day you go to bed and you wake up as you. I mainly try not to be afraid.
PHONGSIRIVECH: And you deferred school where you were studying architecture, right?
PHONGSIRIVECH: My sister’s an architect too—
PHONGSIRIVECH: Yeah! Anyway, I think that was very, well, “not afraid” of you.
MAIDZA: [laughs] Thank you.
PHONGSIRIVECH: Do you think you’ll ever go back?
MAIDZA: My ultimate goal is to try and get as far as I can with this, but if I could go back and study as well it would be amazing.
TKAY (DEW PROCESS/UNIVERSAL MUSIC AUSTRALIA) IS OUT TODAY. FOR MORE ON TKAY MAIDZA, VISIT HER WEBSITE.