Tkay Maidza: Australian pop-rapper talks about her decade-long journey in music

Tkay Maidza: Australian pop-rapper talks about her decade-long journey in music

By Agencies

A full decade into her career, Tkay Maidza is finally having her moment — and on her own terms.

The Zimbabwe-born Australian pop-rapper debuted in 2013 and earned a string of local hits before taking her career into her own hands five years ago as an independent artist. Since the potentially risky move, she’s become one of the music industry’s favorite artists and scored slots as an opening act for Billie Eilish, Dua Lipa and Lizzo.

Now, Maidza’s gearing up to release her long-awaited second album Sweet Justice, out Nov. 3, a confident body of work preceded by her bombastic new single “Ring-a-Ling,” which dropped Tuesday alongside a high-concept music video.

Tkay Maidza
Tkay Maidza

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“I feel like I’m almost better than I have ever been,” the 27-year-old musician tells PEOPLE as she gears up to wrap the last of her seven shows on Lizzo’s Special Tour. “I’m just trying not to be exhausted now.”

After moving to Australia with her family as a child, Maidza got her start at 16 by taking rap lessons at free, government-funded recording studios. She didn’t record any music for a year, until she built up the confidence to get in the booth. “The teacher was like, ‘What the hell? This is really good. Can I take your vocal and give it to a friend that’s a producer?'” she recalls.

The recording became a dubstep track, 2013’s “Brontosaurus” with producer BadCop, which was quickly picked up by Triple J, the country’s biggest radio station, and led to record labels clamoring to sign Maidza. “For the next five years, it felt like I was building my profile,” says the performer, who released her self-titled debut album in 2016 — and soon lost her connection to most of its material. “After a while, I felt like I didn’t really have a sense of direction.”

She wanted to change up her sound, but her team at the time didn’t understand why, because she had found success with songs like “M.O.B.” and “Do It Right” with Martin Solveig. “Everyone’s telling you that nothing’s wrong, and if you keep doing what you’re doing, things are going to be fine. But deep down, I didn’t feel balanced or aligned,” she recalls. “I was really depressed.”

So, Maidza found new management, moved to Los Angeles and essentially restarted her career with Last Year Was Weird, a series of three EPs released between 2018 and 2021 that showcased her versatility as a writer and performer, seamlessly shifting between dance, hip-hop, R&B and electronic sounds.

The project paid off. Her songs (such as “Shook” and “Flexin'”) have since been featured in massive TV and film projects (including an Apple commercial, Netflix’s Inventing Anna and HBO’s The Fallout), and she embarked on a headlining tour before opening for Lipa and Eilish last year.

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“It’s really exciting, and it’s affirming that I should just do what I want,” says Maidza, who had an early fan in the “Bad Guy” performer. “I remember when I was doing Last Year Was Weird, she’d pick the randomest songs and be like, ‘Yo, Tkay, this song’s hard.’ And I’m like, ‘What? She likes this?’ So, it was cool.”

She started making Sweet Justice shortly after completing Last Year Was Weird, but after crafting “50 demos” inspired by romantic, platonic and professional breakups for the project, Maidza found herself creatively astray once again. “I just didn’t feel like I was saying the right message,” she says, noting that the music was more dreary than the “uplifting and empowering” material she’s known for.

‘That’s when I had to separate with my old team [again] and find new friends,” explains Maidza. “Whilst that was happening, I lost my passport twice, so I ended up having to go to Berlin to fix my visa, which almost felt like a divine intervention of my spirit being like, ‘You need to be alone.'”

As she awaited clearance to return to L.A., she spent three months in the German city — dating and partying at first — before she turned to solitude. “I was like, ‘I just want to experience life,” she says. “After a while, I was like, ‘OK, cool. I’m just going to stay inside, have the dark night of the soul and just rap manifestations.'”

Once Maidza was able to leave Europe, she felt overwhelmed with inspiration. “I wrote eight new songs that I really, really loved, and I felt like a new person,” she says. “I had a different perspective, like, ‘This happened, but it’s OK. It’s a lesson,’ as opposed to, ‘Damn, I’m a victim.'”

Then, she finished Sweet Justice, which is still a breakup-centered project, but not in the traditional sense. “It was every type of breakup, but also breaking up with the old version of myself,” she details. “I had to get into this new mind space where I was like, ‘You just did a tour with Dua and Billie. What is your problem? You’re not little Tkay anymore. You’re in a different tier.'”

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This summer, Maidza’s been able to preview the album for massive audiences as Lizzo’s opening act, which has further helped to cement her confident mindset. “The message that she shares and the fact that she’s a successful Black woman who speaks about positivity and loving yourself, I feel like it gave me a new light of myself,” she says. “And to be able to [perform] in front of my family and friends in my country, it has this feeling of, ‘I’m in the right place at the right time.'”

Filled with euphoric production across genres and confident lyrics, Sweet Justicefinds Maidza realizing her full potential as an artist — with help from superstar collaborators like Kaytranada, Stint, Billboard and Flume.

“There’s this feeling of acceptance. If you knew who I was before, I’m not afraid to be this person anymore,” she declares. “I’m growing in the direction that I wanted to 10 years ago.”

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