A knack for infectious hooks, whip-sharp flow and some serious drive has made twenty-year-old Australian rapper Tkay Maidza a force to be reckoned with. Since releasing her debut EP, Switch Tape, in 2014, she has hit the ground running, relentlessly playing shows and quickly becoming a staple of the national festival circuit. She’s about to drop her debut album, TKAY, which has been more or less two years in the making. “I get really restless if I haven’t written anything, considering that music moves around a lot,” says Maidza, adding that she’s been penning songs for the album since the release of Switch Tape. “Sometimes I would spend two weeks and be so happy with everything, and then I’d backtrack and be like wow, I hate everything and start again,” she says. “It was a whirlwind, if anything.”
After a year or so of extensive writing sessions, Maidza found herself with enough material to be selective, carefully curating the shape of the album. “I think there’s a lot more that goes into making something that’s going to last your whole life, and it’s a representation of you,” she says. “For a while, I was just listening to a lot of experimental RnB music and I was like, I wanna do that, then I realised that wasn’t really me and I was just being influenced by whatever I was listening to. That was really weird – figuring out what’s right for me and what I was interested in.”
For the album, she deliberately concentrated on re-focusing her state of mind in order to create the music she wanted to make. This approach included dipping into old favourites – Outkast, Rhianna and early Santiago all get a mention, as well as Janet Jackson, whose album, The Velvet Rope, Maidza credits as influencing the songs she sings on. “I just went back to lots of albums I really loved before I started writing,” she says. “It put me in the right mindset again – it made me really excited because music never really ages if it’s great.”
It’s a tactic that’s paid off – TKAY is confident, brash and about to become your summer soundtrack. There’s a playfulness that colours the album, a celebration and declaration of youth without the jaded edges. In particular, the refrain of “still kinda young”, the rallying cry in Carry On, is the mantra for the entire album. “I wanted [the album] to be childish and playful because I wanted it to be kind of a school kid’s diary – so that’s what it is!” Says Maidza. “I think a lot of the songs come from a sense of loneliness and wanting to belong somewhere. A lot of the songs are like, I have no friends but I’m fine! That’s the mindset I had.”
Recently, Maidza has started testing the waters of the new album at current shows, which have been amped up with the addition of a drummer who “picks up the energy even higher”. Incorporating new material into the live sets has been “really nerve wracking but it’s been really fun,” says Maidza. “When I play my songs off the EP [Switch Tape] before anybody knew them it was kinda like the same vibe – people were moving even though they didn’t know the song, which is a good sign I guess for the first time hearing it.”
There’s a boundless energy to her music, epitomised in her live shows, where Maidza bounces around frenetically, ever-present on stage. “I don’t really like standing still – I think I have a really small attention span, and I can’t sit still even if I’m at home, I’m always moving,” she says. “So I think when I go on stage, it’s like everything is moving through me and I’m just running around everywhere being silly and full of adrenaline,” she says. “In the beginning it was a conscious thought because during the first few shows I played my friends were like ‘you stand still’, and I’m like, what do you mean? So since then it’s just been natural for me not to stand still.”
‘TKAY’ is out tomorrow, Friday, 28th October. Tkay Maidza will be touring around the country throughout October and November, and performing at a slew of Aussie festival dates this summer, including Southbound and Field Day.