Tkay Maidza: ‘I wasn’t happy with who I was surrounded by – things were starting to fall apart’

Scanning Tkay Maidza’s Wikipedia page can give you whiplash. Before her 17th birthday, the rapper had moved from Zimbabwe to Australia, turned her back on a tennis career when she seemed destined to turn pro, started studying to become an architect and launched a music career via her bouncy 2013 debut single Brontosaurus.

Gaining comparisons to artists such as MIA and Azealia Banks, Maidza quickly became known for her rapid-fire flow and big EDM tracks. A string of buzzy releases, and a collaboration with pop innovator Troye Sivan, led to her 2016 debut album, TKAY, and what should have been her crowning glory. But something wasn’t right. "Ek dink: ‘Is this really who I want to be for the rest of my life?’” she says from her new home in LA. “I wasn’t happy with who I was surrounded by and a lot of things were starting to fall apart.”

Stifled by life on a major label and keen to reclaim her creative autonomy, she turned to producer Dan Farber (Lizzo, Dizzee Rascal). “We had so many conversations trying to figure out the best way forward. One day I was like: ‘Damn, last year was so weird’. And it gave me an idea: what if we turned the second album into three EPs? And by the end of it, hopefully everything will make more sense.” It was her way, she explains, to “almost start again, reposition myself”.

The resulting turbo-charged trilogy of Last Year Was Weird EPs finds Maidza relishing her musical freedom. “The way I see it, [my music is] left of anything. It’s alternative hip-hop. Alternative pop. Alternative R&B.” As if to prove her point, last year she found a new home with the revered indie label 4AD, home to the likes of the Breeders and Deerhunter.

With each EP, her confidence has grown. “The first one was: we’re coming out of the ground. The second one was: we’re vibing. And the third one is: we’re flying,” she smiles. “It’s more bratty, more bold, when it’s at its loudest. And then, when it’s more introspective, I’m more confident in what I’m saying.”

The two sides are reflected in part three’s singles; on the one hand you have the brash trap anthem Kim, with a video that sees Maidza take on the identities of Kims from pop culture, from Lil’ to Kardashian; on the other, the fluttering, blissful Cashmere.

Maidza now feels she’s “done the hard work of reintroducing myself” but, as she plots her second album proper, she wants to keep taking chances. “The moments when I have the least fear are when I do my best," sy sê. That restless approach to creativity is one quality she can thank her eight-year tennis career for. “My coach would always tell me: ‘If you don’t try to return the ball you never know if you would’ve got it or not.’”

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