How Tkay Maidza Headed To La La Land Feeling Weird & Free

Tkay Maidza is a bit of a psychic. The Zimbabwe-born, Adelaide-raised singer/rapper released Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 1 in 2018 and followed up with a sequel during the peak of last year’s pandemic. Now, she’s completed the trilogy with Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3. Released on July 9, the EP highlights the artist’s sonic brilliance, fusing electronica, synth-pop, trap, and R&B.

“It feels like a premonition in a way, but it’s interesting how every year has gone by and everyone’s like, ‘Well, she really predicted it.’ When it’s a new year and everyone’s like, ‘Goodbye 2018, this year is going to be my best year yet,’” Maidza tells Uproxx over Zoom. “But then as it’s gone by, you’re just like, “Well, last year was insane and weird.” It’s the perfect way to describe it because you just can’t really pinpoint what that feeling is. It’s just so familiar with what everyone’s been going through.”

This self-awareness derives from the 25-year-old’s growth that began with the 2016 release of her debut album Tkay. After deciding to become independent, she left Australia’s shores to expand her creative mindset in Los Angeles.

“I’m learning to trust myself. Before when I was trying to find the sounds and where I thought I fit in best, I wasn’t that well versed to know what the limit was,” she explains. “Now with these [new] songs, I feel like I had a sense of freedom and I can push myself harder. Whereas before I was like, ‘Am I supposed to do this?’ So I think it’s just stepping into that power, accepting it, and not being afraid of it. If my intentions are clear and I keep some sort of consistency with the world I’ve created, then my path should be great. I’m excited for whatever comes next.”

Below, Uproxx catches up with Maidza about her big transitional move to Los Angeles and betting on herself.

You released your debut album in 2016, and then you went from a major label to now indie. Did the title Last Year Was Weird stem from that transition?

The term “weird” is the way I described the plunge of going into the deep end and knowing that where I was. What I wanted was like a big leap forward, but I would have to start from nothing again. I was at that lowest point every day: “What the hell is going on?” But in a way, I always had a feeling that it would work out because this was the only way it could be.

“Breathe” is my favorite on Vol. 3 because it’s about betting on yourself and like you said, taking that plunge. But also being at war with your own thoughts.

It was so interesting because I wrote this song when I was in Australia with Dan [Farber], the producer, on Zoom. This was probably just off the second EP, which is so interesting because I feel like everything’s amazing right now. But I’m starting to see a lot of parallels between now and who I was five years ago. I think the whole crux of this is feeling underestimated, but also wanting to stay here because I just feel like some part of me will never fully accept what’s happening. It’s almost like telling myself to slow it down, but still keep going. It just shows I’m always going to go through these ebbs and flows. I remember when I was signed to a major label and everything was amazing, I still had those feelings. Being able to recognize it now, I’m able to move forward as opposed to being like, “There’s so many problems.” I think everyone goes through those ups and downs, even when things are really good.

Did you sample yourself on “Eden”? Because it sounds like the intro of “Breathe”.

So we sampled some of the radio samples from the second EP. We also sampled “Breathe” because obviously when you would hear it at the end and you’re like, “Oh my God, what?” It’s interesting because “Breathe” actually samples “White Rose” from the first EP.

That’s such a cool idea.

When you listen to albums from Busta Rhymes, Ludacris, Kendrick [Lamar], or Kanye West, they’re doing their own interludes and making random voices. You really feel like they’re creating this big story, but you can tell it’s them. That’s what makes it so special because there’s so many inside jokes and things that will never leave you. I was just trying to recreate that energy because that’s what makes it so unique and so yourself, ‘cause it’s not a sample from [sample library] Splice or anywhere else. You made it and then are re-purposing it in a fresh way. I was on Twitter and someone tweeted, “L.Y.W.W. — best radio on the planet”. It’s just the coolest thing.

Do you feel more liberated now that you’re in LA? The hip-hop scene could be limiting in Australia, especially when it comes to Black artists.

Yeah, definitely. I feel like I can step out of my door and not feel like I’m standing out as much. I think there’s more people around that just understand what I’m meant to be doing. I’m still different, but I don’t have to fully sell what I’m trying to do. That’s what every day felt like for me in Australia. Having that feeling over you all the time becomes tiring. No one really understands and they didn’t want to understand. Here in LA, it’s about creating your own universe ‘cause everyone wants to be different. My favorite artists here aren’t afraid to disappear for a bit and create some things and run with them. That’s what’s so inspiring about being in LA.

Who are some of your favorites at the moment?

I’m really loving Vince Staples. Jpegmafia, I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with him and just seeing how he thinks. We’re literally very similar people. I really like Fousheé, Rei Ami, Lolo Zouaï. They have so many different sounds, and they don’t want to stick to the same thing. They have cool and innovative production, and that’s what’s so inspiring.

I spoke to Jesswar earlier this year and she brought up you and Sampa The Great when discussing POC female artists in Australia.

Because she’s also a standout as well, she would certainly understand where it comes from. It’s just a numbers thing when you’re in Australia. It’s hard to convince people that it works because there’s so little of us, you know what I mean? If you’re going to take something to the radio, they’d be like, “Oh my God, this is amazing. But there’s nothing else in our playlist that sounds like this. So if we add it, we’ll let you know.” It doesn’t make sense.

On “Cashmere” you sing: “You ain’t safe until you lived your life with no fear.” As Black women, sometimes we have to put up this cold front and we’re not allowed to be soft or vulnerable.

That’s probably been the big challenge on this EP because I have hard songs like “Kim” and “Syrup” where I definitely want to be this badass female. But at the same time, when we reached “Cashmere,” I could finally breathe and just show this other side of me. It felt so empowering because not a lot of people, like you said, feel like they’re allowed to do that. The song has an energy that I resonated with. You find your unique self when you just embrace that.

There’s a lot of artists like yourself right now who are creating a space for Black girls to be expressive and be weird.

I think it just makes sense. There’s so many women in the world that it just comes a point, especially with the internet, where there’s everyone for someone. It’s cool to see the alt girls, the goth girls, and the hard girls pop up. For a while, the industry was like “This is the stereotypical definition of a female rapper or a female pop star. If you are a singer who’s Black, you’re probably doing R&B.” So it’s really exciting because there’s less pressure to be something you’re not.

We both come from a family of immigrants and sometimes us first-generation kids aren’t allowed to express love for the arts. I thought it was great that your parents fully supported you.

I played tennis for 10 years. I graduated from school with marks that were not high enough for me to do architecture. I had a lot of opportunities to do cool things, but I just wasn’t passionate about any of it. That was when my parents realized that when I love something, I will go all the way with it. That’s probably why they were supportive about it. The other thing was, they didn’t have to pay for it either. So they said, “As long as you can support yourself and you’re having fun and you feel fulfilled with your life, then that’s the most important thing.” A lot of us are told to be doctors and this and that. Then you reach 30 or 40 years old and you’re like, “Wow, I really didn’t live my life because I wanted to do something else when I was 20.” I was just like, “No, I don’t really want to do anything else. This is the one thing that I’m really obsessed with.” My parents [said], “Cool, go ahead.”

You seem like a competitive person. Does that come from your background in tennis?

I’ve always been competitive in sports and school. I did art all throughout high school. I just remember any time I wanted to hand something in, it had to be the best. It always had to grab someone’s attention because why else would you be doing it then? Obviously, it’s for yourself. But I just always want to do something at a high level that means something and creates an impact. But when I realized that maybe I’m not dedicated enough or I’m not spending enough time on it, then I just completely stop. It’s all or nothing for me with anything.

Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3 is out now via 4AD. Get it here.