“I think it’s going a lot better than I expected,” Australian rapper Tkay Maidza comments on the reception to her stand-out single ‘Carry On.’ “The feedback is pretty great as well. I haven’t really seen anything mean, which is a bonus!” Tkay is being more than a little bit modest. It’s not the attitude you’d expect to come from a young rapper whose debut, club-ready track, ‘Brontosaurus,’ launched her into the spotlight when she was just 17. But she was genuinely nervous about unveiling the first single from her long-awaited debut album ‘Tkay.’ “I’ve seen a lot of people release first singles and second singles or whatever, and you’re kind of like ‘okay, that’s a really strange song’,” she explains. “It’s just me hoping that I’m not one of those people going in the wrong direction!”
‘Carry On’ isn’t the step in the “wrong direction” that she feared, but is instead a bold move further into pop-rap territory. It’s a futuristic and charismatic banger that’s bombastic but also somehow manages to be both nonchalant and filled with exuberant energy at the same time. It’s also got something that a lot of artists would probably be pretty jealous of: a guest verse from none other than Killer Mike. After seeing Tkay perform, he was keen to get on board. “Apparently he watched me play at one of the shows and said something really nice about me and introduced himself. I said thank you, and he said that if I need anything he was totally happy to help,” Tkay says. “I thought that the song would be really cool to work on. I finished the song and asked if he was keen to work on it, and he was super happy.” Even though she once stated that she’d be hesitant to collaborate with rappers who didn’t share her musical style, working with Mike was a no-brainer. “He wholly gets the vibe and Run The Jewels make music that’s really forward-thinking but fun at the same time,” she explains. “It just made a lot of sense!” Besides, who wouldn’t want to collaborate with Killer Mike?
Due to the long distance, the pair “didn’t work in person.” Instead, they communicated by sending each other music and lyrics across the Internet. So, in theory, it might seem practical to move to America or even the UK (she even admits that being a rapper in Australia is “kinda strange”). But Tkay doesn’t have any plans to abandon her roots any time soon: “I’m happy where I am.” Born in Zimbabwe, she grew up in a small Australian mining town and for a little while lived something of a nomadic lifestyle. “We were constantly moving around,” she says, “but at the time it was cool because you have a lot of space to explore and not as much danger as there’d be in a capital city.” When she finally settled down, it helped to give her a new perspective. “Moving to a capital city and finishing high school and stuff was the right move, because you need to see and feel a lot more.”
"Who wouldn’t want to collaborate with Killer Mike?"
— Tkay Maidza
Because of her background, Tkay is careful not to start spitting rhymes about issues and themes she isn’t familiar with. “I feel like rap albums are mostly based on experience. It doesn’t really make sense if you’re talking about something that’s supposed to be true but you’ve never seen a gun in your life!” she laughs. Instead, her songs are based on personal, relatable incidents. Tkay explains that the things that affect her are “sometimes one really small thing, but one thing can go a long way. It’s often just in that moment that it affects me.” She doesn’t have any time for haters and “people trying to convince me not to do what I want to do,” constantly reiterating in her songs that she’s focused on doing her own thing. It’s been a strong theme even since ‘Brontosaurus,’ where she was “doing my thang.” Over time, she’s only become more adamant about her independence. On ‘U-Huh’ she said “I’m solo but aimin’/ I do it on my own,” while the first line of ‘Carry On’ sees Tkay making it clear that “I really don’t care and I’m still kinda young.”
Tkay’s individuality also extends to the music, a slick blend of trap beats and pop rhythms with samples mined from across the musical spectrum. Her experimentation can be traced back to some of her favourite MCs: M.I.A, Santigold and Azealia Banks. It’s their push to be distinctive that left a huge impact on Tkay. “The fact they’re unique is because they’re true to themselves and they have no rules,” she says. “They’re not stuck trying to copy something or letting anything hold them down. Their music is anthemic, it’s about setting yourself free from something and finding yourself, that’s what they go by. That really helped me when I was younger and I listened to their music. It was super inspiring.”
“I feel like rap albums are mostly based on experience."
— Tkay Maidza
Tkay thinks she’s not quite found her definitive style yet (“I’m still working on it”) but knows that her debut album shows off “a more grown-up version of me.” Her new tracks are certainly a step up even from the highlights of debut mixtape ‘Switch Tape.’ The pop sensibilities of ‘Carry On’ are continued in the tropical R&B vibe of ‘Simulation.’ Meanwhile ‘Tennies’ is a stripped-back mix of exotic beats and banjo twangs. Yep, really. On the whole, Tkay says the album will be “a lot more poppy.” “I think I’m singing a lot more on the album than before, and it’s a lot more melodic than before,” she explains. That’s because she was listening to a lot more pop singers (she’s an avid fan of Nao’s ‘For All We Know’): “whatever you surround yourself with you probably are a bit more influenced by.”
She tried not to get too carried away with a completely different style, though: “I was thinking ‘oh I just want to make ballads now instead of rap’ but that’s probably not the best thing to do because that’s not really Tkay!” But really, it’s hard to imagine Tkay being anything but true to herself.
‘Tkay’ is out now via Kitsuné.