Tkay Maidza is gazing into a screen, her stare piercing through the grain her webcam cloaks her respective Zoom tile in. She sits by a window with the Los Angeles afternoon sun beaming on her face, her skin glowing. Following an internet connection drop-out and an abrupt, accidental Zoom call disconnection, she's still on the couch ready to continue chatting, her focus palpable.
"You have to be present, at all times," Maidza tells MTV Australia. "Before, if I was doing a photo shoot or interview where I knew I wasn't enjoying it, I would definitely detach myself. Now, I'm so present, I'm literally looking at everything as it happens. The amount of times I've had "Kim" playing – it's ridiculous, I've never heard a song so many times in my life."
"Kim" is her latest single, and it's another touchstone of Maidza's already impressive discography. The track is a proclamation of her talents, both in story and in sound. On the very off chance her messages – or warnings – still weren't clear, she teamed up with director Adrian Yu for a music video that sees her embody three different famous Kims, and their respective powers – the trailblazing and unapologetic bravado of Lil' Kim, the sexual and rebellious self-assuredness of Kim Kardashian, and the laser sharp focus and determination of Kim Possible. But it's the cartoon, mole rat-assisted, teenage crime fighter Maidza relates to the most.
"First of all, she's very tomboyish – you know, the cargo pants and crop top," she says."Her storyline is that she's very adamant. I can really relate to that – she was always so focused on what she had to do."
Maidza also understands Kim Possible's character flaws, and sees them reflected in herself.
"She has this whole love story that she's completely unaware of because she's always focused on the task at hand," Maidza says, "and that feels very me. I don't think I'm very in touch with my emotions."
Without that focus, Maidza wouldn't have her prolific career. "Kim" is the lead single from forthcoming EP Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3, arriving less than six months after the series' second volume. If that wasn't enough, her initial plan was to drop both EPs last year, had coronavirus not impeded upon it.
"I think it's just better to keep moving," she says. "There's no reason for me to wait. I could just take a break. I could go in and work on Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3 for another two years if I wanted to, but I don't think there's a reason to.
"I think it's like a lot of artists, especially nowadays. They go with their first feeling. You make songs and if it's been two months, and you still think it's sick, then why don't just put it out and move on?"
"Kim" is also a significant milestone in Maidza's career, as it marks her second collaboration in a few months with another female rapper: Yung Baby Tate.
"[We] were messaging on Instagram for ages, so it felt like the best thing to do for me because there was already a relationship there," Maidza says. "It doesn't seem like that random or anything. I think I've learned over the years that I just like to work with people that I know. I don't want to have songs out with an artist, and then hit them up and be like, 'Oh my god, they're not responding to me'. The song's going to be online forever. You don't want to make something that permanent, and have it be a bad experience."
The nature of collaboration in "Kim" feels like it's coming at an opportune moment, as society is finally catching up with the idea that an all-women rap collab can do well. We're moving past the archaic notion of a single 'Queen' atop the rap throne, instead women are lifting each other up in a genre that's been famously unkind to them.
"The idea of the archetype of a strong Black female has [always] been such an important part of culture," Maidza says.
"Lil' Kim is the blueprint for women in hip-hop," she says, "and you go to a club and you want to hear those sorts of songs, like Khia's "My Neck, My Back". They always go off. The strong Black female has always been a part of the culture, and [now] everyone wants to be that. The BLM movement in 2020 came and suddenly everyone's eyes were opened to artists that have always been there. Everyone's now like, 'Why don't we just embrace these people as opposed to hiding that we love this music?' We're not a guilty pleasure. Our talent is not a secret anymore."
Maidza's career has taken her all across the world, but her influence might still be felt the most at home. When I pose to her the idea that she might be a trailblazer in her own right in Australian hip-hop scene, she laughs with humility. "It's exciting. It's really cool to go out and know I'm not the only one who is like this," Maidza says.
"As far as being a trailblazer goes, I don't want to limit myself that way because I've still got so much I want to do, and so much of the world I want to hit. I can't think locally. I have to think internationally in order to grow locally."
We've seen Australian artists time and time again make an impact overseas before being validated on a large scale back home. Courtney Barnett, The Kid LAROI, Camp Cope, Sampa The Great – just to name a recent few.
Maidza's role in Australian music, and the music community, has come under the microscope in recent weeks following her controversial omission from triple j's Hottest 100 of 2020. Despite being championed by the broadcaster, "Shook" – the bombastic lead single from Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 – missed out on the prestigious countdown by 25 spots.
Of course, the omission is unlikely to have any real negative impact on Maidza's career, and "Kim" is an absolute validation of her talents, but Maidza admits she'd be lying if she said she didn't care about it at least a little.
"I do care," she says, "It's something that happens every year, the whole industry kind of stops for it.
"It's kind of funny because missing out on it doesn't change my mind on how I did. There's different ways to define success and it didn't make or break how good I felt about myself. So, it would have been cool but, at the same time, I think the way everyone else reacted to me not being in it just shows that I am in a good place."
Besides the fact she is first and foremost a rapper, categorising the music of Tkay Maidza feels like an arbitrary exercise. Her ambition breeds versatility, and that versatility has led her across the genre spectrum, from pop to trap to EDM and house.
However, when the powers that be do try to categorise her music, it reads like a blatant misunderstanding or even a racist microaggression. Enter the 2020 ARIA Awards, where Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 was nominated for Best Soul/R&B Release.
"That was so random," Maidza says. "I could definitely sit in the rap category, and definitely should because predominantly that's what I do now. Last year, they nominated me in the rap category so it's very odd."
But, Maidza remains adamant her music needn't be defined by any genre. "What is my music?" she says, laughing. "I think it's when you're looking at who you're up against. The issue is that the scene hasn't fully been established and you have people in suits deciding who is what. What is R&B to them?"
"These people are still somehow finding it hard to label things appropriately. They're just like 'Oh, it's a brown person, so let's put them in R&B because they're not rapping all the time. They must be an R&B singer."
It makes sense, then, that Tkay relocated to Los Angeles to write and record her music, if she's feeling misunderstood by Australia – a feeling she's lived with for a long time.
"Even when I was in high school, I found it really hard to relate to people. Australia's my home, but maybe it's just not the best place for me to be in general, even as a person just existing."
The conversation moves to talking about LA, and Tkay becomes visibly giddy. She looks up beyond her camera and lists off all the reasons why she loves being there – namely that she can finally be in a place where she can be herself.
"It truly is a la la land and a land of magic," Maidza says. "Everyone's the main character of their own lives, and no one here really wants to grow up. In Australia, everyone's very straight up and quick to make a judgement. There's never any grey – it's all black & white. I'm such a dreamer, so coming here I felt invigorated. I was like 'Nothing exists! I can do whatever I want!'".
As Maidza plays her way through the various levels of life – largely in a country where she felt like she didn't fit in – it feels like she's becoming at peace with who she is some eight years after she first broke into the music industry. She says the first Last Year Was Weird EP was about questioning who she was, and the second was about not caring who she is at all. But what does that make Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 3?
"The point of your identity is the fact that you can be anything. It's about transcending and embracing that feeling. I'm in my mid 20s, and I'm in a really good place," Maidza says.
But that's the exciting thing about Tkay Maidza – foresight and proactiveness do her little good because she's constantly in flux. She'll shapeshift into whatever the next iteration of Tkay Maidza – the artist and the person – is, and won't give anyone the slightest hint when it's coming. Why? Because she doesn't know what form she'll take next either.
That's what makes following her career so fucking fun.
Note: Article featured in MTV's newsletter with Instagram image; credit to @tkaymaidza.
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