Tkay Maidza – ‘Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3’

Tkay Maidza, Australia’s Queen of Hip-Hop, has completed her Last Year Was Weird (LYWW) EP trilogy with the most mythic, adventurous and avant-garde volume yet. But, traversing gospel, neo-psychedelia and arcadian trap, Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3 is about Maidza blossoming as a young Black woman as much as affirming her auteur status.

On the fierce anthem ‘Syrup’, Maidza flosses that she’s a “goddess-like Artemis.” And the symbolically surreal LYWW3 sleeve depicts the cult rapper/singer as the Greek goddess of the hunt, armed with a bow and arrows – albeit riding in an armoured vehicle, not chariot. It gives new meaning to the term ‘slay’.

Remarkably, today the Adelaidian has the international standing to participate in an AMA on the popheads subreddit. Nearly a decade after 2013’s EDM break-out ‘Brontosaurus’, Maidza has journeyed far, recently relocating to Los Angeles (with COVID-19 restrictions easing, she’ll soon tour North America).

As with her Adelaide homeboy Allday, Maidza has long defied Australian hip-hop convention, to the point of transcending it all together. This May, Allday presented Drinking With My Smoking Friends, a wistful indie-rock album with an art-rap sensibility. And, in LYWW3, Maidza has crafted something similarly individualistic.

In 2016 Maidza released an acclaimed debut album, TKAY, via Universal Music, liaising with several producers – among them G-Eazy associate Christoph Andersson – to expand her electronic hip-hop. But, feeling uncentred, she then took months out to reassess her career. Maidza returned in 2018 to launch the evolutionary Last Year Was Weird EP series – possibly more akin to a countercultural mixtape brand. It allowed the MC to express her emotions and sonic identity.

Maidza now has a versatile – and experimental – studio cohort in Dan Farber, who helmed TKAY’s hypnotic ‘Castle In The Sky’ and is credited on Lizzo’s hit ‘Tempo’ with Missy Elliott.

Over time, Maidza has conjured the hyperpop equivalent of art-rap (in fact, she previously collaborated with PC Music affiliate Danny L Harle on ‘Bom Bom’), leaning into aesthetics rather than genre. Still, for LYWW1, Maidza softly introduced her take on neo-soul – surprising listeners with the Santigold-ish reggae ‘Big Things’.

Ahead of 2020’s LYWW2, Maidza signed to the hallowed UK label 4AD. Though known for its indie-rock roster, with acts like The National, 4AD is also home to the alt-R&B Velvet Negroni and Erika de Casier. Clearly, Maidza is in her element, latterly contributing a trippily eccentric cover of Pixies’ ’80s ‘Where Is My Mind?’ to the anniversary compilation Bills & Aches & Blues (40 Years Of 4AD). But, even by 4AD’s standards, Maidza is atypical, being simultaneously street, pop and alternative.

LYWW3 bears the influence of both Kanye West’s narrative ambition and SZA’s soulful vulnerability, but the future nostalgia is distinctly Maidza’s own. The set is prefaced by the balmy ‘Eden’, which, with a vintage sample, evokes psych-soul. Maidza sings of thriving in life, her mood carefree and optimistic.

Of West’s work, LYWW3 most recalls The Life Of Pablo (TLOP). In TLOP, the Chi-towner conceived an implausible paradigm of gospel and drill, mirroring his contradictions. LYWW3, too, reveals a dichotomy. Yet, crucially, in contrast to Ye, Maidza is less concerned with providing any meta-commentary than purposefully charting her personal resolutions.

On LYWW2 – which received an ARIA nomination for ‘Best Soul/R&B Release’ – Maidza powerfully juxtaposed bangers (the JPEGMAFIA-featuring ‘Awake’ and ‘Shook’) and ballads (‘Don’t Call Again’ with Donald Glover fave Kari Faux). She revisits this dynamic for LYWW3.

The lead single, ‘Kim’, pushes trap into an industrial space. Recruiting Yung Baby Tate – the daughter of ’90s country&B pioneer Dionne Farris – Maidza shows a playful side as she strikes back at haters, the title inspired by famously formidable Kims, including Kim Kardashian. Nonetheless, like the aforementioned ‘Syrup’, ‘Kim’ isn’t representative of an otherwise sanguine EP. Instead, Maidza favours jams such as the lushly poetic ‘Cashmere’, in which she gracefully, if necessaryily, abandons a futile relationship: “You ain’t safe until you’ve lived your life with no fear/You can’t leave until we cry every beautiful tear/It ain’t easy to let go/Especially when years involved.”

Maidza revels in the role of curator. The MC generated buzz when, for the TKAY highlight ‘Carry On’, she teamed with Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike, an early champion. In 2021, female rappers (and singers) are running the game – LYWW3 coincidentally materialising on the tail of Doja Cat’s blockbuster Planet Her. And, emulating Artemis, patron of women, Maidza is elevating her peers in the pantheon. ‘Onto Me’, a smooth R&B cut, is a collab with UMI – the vocalist renowned for her ballad ‘Remember Me’.

Many of the songs on LYWW3 find Maidza oscillating between braggadocios and self-doubt. But she opens her heart as never before, the lyrics intimate and contemplative. In ‘So Cold’, a KAYTRANADA-esque house groove, Maidza directly addresses an emotionally neglectful partner.

The airy ‘Breathe’ has Maidza considering the causes of her lingering anxiety: “Didn’t think that I could see – they underestimated me/when I needed to believe/negativity would creep.” Here, she chooses mindfulness for the future.

However, LYWW3‘s apotheosis is ‘High Beams’. It might be a throwback to TLOP’s gospeldelia ‘Ultralight Beam’, in which West intoned “This is a God dream,” only with more bounce. Biblical imagery aside, Maidza’s epic thematises the quest for self, connection and grounding, as she manifests her Black girl magic.

Maidza’s LYWW arc has been one of achieving independence and empowerment through artistic expression. But this farewell edition delivers opulently transportive music for daydreamers and self-actualising deities alike.

‘Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3’ is out today.

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