Sonic range. Lyrical depth. Unapologetic energy.
Among the list of artists that can truly do it all, it would be remiss to not include Tkay Maidza at the very top. Zimbabwe-born and Australia-based, Tkay impressively sits at the hard-earned intersection of rapper, singer, song-writer, and all-star performer.
The world first met Tkay in 2013. Despite only being 17 then, her talent came in at full force – a talent that has undeniably carried over even a decade later. Effortlessly blending elements of hip hop, synthetic pop, EDM, and R&B, Tkay transcends traditional boundaries of genre and subject matter, proudly carving her own space within the music industry in the process.
Her most recent 2023 album, Sweet Justice, only amplifies this notion. Collaborating with music titans like Flume, Kaytranada, and Duckwrth, Tkay’s sonic versatility shines through every single track. Songs like “Out of Luck” and “Ghost!” boom with electronic pop influences, while “Wasp” champions a slower, more sultry R&B style. Her impressive range stands even prouder through songs like “Free Throws” and “Silent Assassin;” as unapologetic odes to herself, Tkay displays her full musical lethality.
Jumping from one continent to another, she has already reached international acclaim. But as Tkay embarks on her 2024 Sweet Justice tour, it’s clear she’s just getting started on yet another impressive journey. Gearing for her LA stop at the El Rey on March 8th, we spoke with Tkay Maidza about music, vegemite, and everything in between. Be sure to check out Sweet Justice here, and don’t forget to check out her tour tickets here! Trust us, you won’t regret it.
Interviewed by Jeslyn Wang, Chloe Ling, and Shaurya Mathur
Jeslyn: Hi, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. We love you so much here at UCLA Radio and we really appreciate your time!
Shaurya: We really do. I gotta start off hot: what are we listening to? What’s the tune of the day – what are you bumping to right now?
Tkay: Agora Hills!
Chloe: We’ve been told you’re in rehearsals today – how’s that been going? How are you feeling about the upcoming tour?
Tkay: I’m really excited. We’re going to be building a whole cute stage; it’s going to be really fun. It’s probably going to be my last DJ-set tour kind of thing. So it’s really cool to see the evolution and have this moment at the El Rey because the last time I went there, I saw Charli XCX. So it’s so weird that you step into it and you’re like, “Wait, now it’s actually my show.”
Jeslyn: That’s so cool. Is there like anything new that the fans will look for this time around?
Tkay: Yeah, I’m playing a lot of new songs for my album. It’s going to be the first tour that I’m playing these songs, so that’s going to be really fun. And I have a new DJ, she’s a girl; she’s cool. She’s been giving me movement training, so I’m going to be moving; doing little dances!
Chloe: You’ve been making music for over a decade now: you had your first single in 2013 and now your most recent album, Sweet Justice, is out. How would you personally characterize the evolution of your music?
Tkay: I started off as Tkay almost straight away, but I feel now, I’m better than I was: I came back into the energy that I always was. Sometimes you feel like, “I want to do this but better,” and now I feel like I’m at that point where I’m like, “This is exactly what I want to be doing.” You know what I mean?
Shaurya: That’s so awesome – we can hear it in your music. We’ve been really bumping to your new album which is so good. Sweet Justice is so awesome.
Chloe: Let’s talk about Sweet Justice! When did you start working on it? What was the creative process like compared to your last projects?
Tkay: I started in 2021 just straight after I finished my EPs. There’s probably like one or two songs that could have been on my Last Year Was Weird EPs, but I was like, “Let’s save them for the album.” So I spent a whole year writing a lot but then I was kind of sad, kind of depressed, and I was like, “What am I doing?” A lot of the songs were just about being heartbroken and I realized that that’s not the essence of who I am. A lot of it is about being heartbroken but then empowering yourself, and so I had to just shift that mindset in my daily life to be able to write it. And that’s how I kind of came up with a lot of the songs within like a two month period of 2022 and it was basically done December ‘22. It was finished within about six months because I felt like I was in my hot girl era and not sad!
Chloe: Not to put you on the spot… but what’s your favorite lyric off the album?
Tkay: Oh, God – that’s such a hard question. I think in What You Know, I say “I’ve been the lock and the key,” – so it’s like that moment where you’re like, “Everything I’m looking for I already have, so I need to stop trying to find it elsewhere.”
Chloe: So true! Which song are you most excited to perform on tour?
Tkay: I’m really excited to play Free Throws.
Shaurya: I went to class today and that song was playing. I was hot-girl walking and I was like, “I can’t wait to hear this song live.”
Jeslyn: Moving from Sweet Justice: you mentioned prior to that release, you had your trilogy, Last Year Was Weird, volumes one, two and, three. Did you plan for it to be in three parts or did it happen along the way?
Tkay: It was always meant to be three, contractually, and also I just felt like I wanted to have the space and time to grow. Initially it was meant to be an album, but I was like, “I don’t want to make an album, so what if I did, basically, three albums?” My label was like, “We love that!” I was like “I’m gonna call them EPs,” and they’re like, “We love that!” It was the best choice for me. It gave me more space for trial and error, but I felt like I was getting stronger each project, so I’ve been really appreciative of that time.
Shaurya: One of my favorite things that I’ve seen do is watching you get the opportunity to collaborate with some really awesome artists. This might be kind of a bad question, but I have to ask: who’s been your favorite collab recently?
Tkay: I mean, there’s a lot. I mean, there’s Flume, Kaytranada. And also, I wasn’t in the studio with Lolo [Zouaï] and Amber [Mark], but the process of that song [“Out of Luck”] coming coming together was really cool because they’re really, really talented so every time they sent in their parts I was like, “Oh my God, this is so good!” The way I usually work is in my apartment. I definitely do like the send and receive better just because I like to have my own personal space. And if it makes sense, obviously, to build a relationship and get to know the person, we’ll be like, “Oh, let’s get together in person and finish it together.” But usually the idea is kind of done within our own time and then we send and receive and then we’re like, “Okay, cool, let’s meet up and finish it together.”
Jeslyn: That’s so cool. I’m a huge fan of Kaytranada, Duckwrth, and UMI, so the fact that you have so many collabs is so sick.
Shaurya: I remember the day I saw that you were making a song with Flume, I was driving and I was like, “I was like holy crap. My two favorite artists are coming together. This is so awesome.”
Chloe: How’s growing up in Australia been? How has that influenced your music? And how have experiences back home been different from the States?
Tkay: I think Australia was cool. When I first got there, I always felt like I was the odd one out in some ways, but Australia has a lot of space and time is definitely like a slower lifestyle, so I think it gives a lot of space for people to be open to experimenting and exploring new things. I think the soundscape in Australia is always like what’s emerging and what’s new. A lot of people love finding new rappers, new producers, like that’s kind of what people our age are like so it was really cool to grow up around that because I have other friends that just listened to the hits, but then you have the club kids that are always like, “Did you see this on SoundCloud?” and that’s what made me really excited about music, because I didn’t know this whole world existed. That’s how I found artists like Flume and Kaytranada back when they just started releasing, so that felt like a really special moment. Once you find your circle of friends and your rhythm in LA, it kind of feels the same as Australia, except you have the option to be really busy if you want to. But you can also just hide in your area and just be a recluse if you really want to as well.
Chloe: Connecting to that – how do you ground yourself and make moving around the world easier?
Tkay: Boundaries – just really asserting them and like sticking to them. I really like to have a routine in the morning where I go to the gym, go for a drive, go for a walk. I just do the things that normal people do in the mornings. And also when it’s 8pm, you don’t have to respond to anyone. Everyone’s always up. When I first moved here, I was like, “Oh my god, I have to respond to everyone.” Once you become really responsive, a lot of people push your buttons, so you just have to set your boundaries and just move at your time but also know when to be on it.
Shaurya: You mentioned that in Australia there were a lot of up and coming artists and it felt lik a good environment to do that; I’m an engineer right now, and I was inspired by the fact that you started off as an architect and then made the transition into going into music. I wanted to ask: what was that process like? How did you decide, “Today’s the day that I commit to this thing that obviously is going really well?”
Tkay: Before I went to college, I told my mom, “I’m going to be a musician – let me have a gap year,” and she was like, “And do what?” I just said, “Be a musician,” and she was like, “How?” and I was like “I don’t know, it’s going to work out,” and she was like, “No, you’re going to college.” I was lucky enough to get to that point where if you’re doing architecture, it literally takes all of your time and if you’re doing music, it takes all of your time. And I was traveling and playing shows every weekend, which meant I couldn’t do any homework and I was falling behind. So I asked if I could drop out and in a year we could see how it goes and it just felt like I was getting busier and busier, so I never went back!
Jeslyn: How’s it been like looking back to when you first started? Has the inspiration behind your music changed and evolved since you’ve started?
Tkay: It changes and evolves, but then I always find myself going back to what I was always inspired by, which is Janet Jackson, OutKast, Childish Gambino… obviously Kaytranada and Flume, and then Rihanna. You kind of jump into what’s new, and then you’re like, “Oh, that’s cool, but I’m gonna go listen to what I’ve always loved.” It’s the essence of who you are.
Jeslyn: How do your experiences in your daily life manifest in your songs?
Tkay: I try to pay attention to how I feel. I feel like I’m really spiritual, so I’m kind of on the level of 5D, and that’s kind of how I find my songs because it’s also very introspective. It’s about where I am and where I want to go. And yeah, it’s just finding that balance. And obviously, if you’re working a lot, sometimes there’s nothing really to talk about because I’m just at the airport all the time. So I tried to take breaks and be like, “I’m just going to go party and live my life.” And also, assess where you are mentally because that’s how you find what to talk about.
Shaurya: I have another more personal question for us. I first found your music and discovered you when I went to Bruin Bash – it was two years ago when you opened. I just remember such stage presence and you really got everyone just so hooked on your music. I wanted to ask: behind the scenes, what was that experience like? And how were the UCLA kids? What did you think of us?
Tkay: It was insane. Because that was my first show after the pandemic, so it was kind of weird seeing so many people be so energetic, but it was an adrenaline rush. I was so excited and it brought me back to that moment of, “This is what I do. This is what I was doing before the blip happened.”
Shaurya: Speaking of being in LA, we know you have a show on your tour coming on March 8 at El Rey – what are the chances that we can convince you to come into the station for UCLA part two?
Tkay: We can try! I would love to, but it just depends on what happens during the day.
Jeslyn: If you ever want to come, our station is open at any time – just let us know! On the note of performing Bruin Bash and all of that: do you have any favorite fan moments while you’re on tour?
Tkay: I love staying back at the venue after the show. I feel like those are the moments where you get to be really personable and understand that the people that come to your shows are literally exactly like you or you’re on a spectrum with each other. There’s a reason why people come to my shows and there’s a reason why we get along after the shows. There’s special moments of just understanding people’s taste and getting their energy – I’m really grateful for moments like that.
Chloe: Looking into the future, do we have any, you know, upcoming collabs or projects we can kind of tease? What’s next for you?
Tkay: Definitely – I’m working on a new project right now. And I do have more collabs – I actually have one with MadeinTYO [pronounced “Made in Tokyo”] coming out, so that’s exciting! I have other collabs but I don’t know if I can talk about them yet… but there’s a lot coming this year.
Jeslyn: On the note of collaborating – in the same way that we’re fangirling like talking to you right now – do you ever fangirl when you’re collabing with Kaytranada or touring with Billie Eilish and all that? How does that feel?
Tkay: Definitely, but I don’t turn into a weirdo! I just don’t really say a lot. But yeah, definitely you can tell. You know, when you meet someone you like and you just go “Hey…” and they’re like “How are you?” and you’re like “Good…?” I feel like I just say less, because I’m not really thinking in the moment. I’m just overwhelmed.
Shaurya: Ok, so now, I have a really, really serious question for you. This one’s getting a little closer to the heartstrings: in your phone right now, who is the most famous person?
Tkay: Probably Kevin Parker.
Chloe: Do you just call up on the regular?
Tkay: No, but it’s always just text messages like, “We should play tennis soon!” He’s just like one of those people where you don’t really know where he is. And I’m sure I’m probably one of those people too.
Shaurya: Another hard hitting question: you’re gonna be touring in America for a really long time and you spend a lot of time here. What’s one thing that can get food-wise in Australia that you’ve been really missing being here?
Tkay: You can’t get Nando’s here. I just want Peri-Peri.
Jeslyn: Have you taken the time to get Sweetgreen or Erewhon or all the LA girl things?
Tkay: I definitely have moments like that where I’m going to Erewhon way too much. I think right now I’m having a taco tour at the moment. So I’m just going to random taco spots and even that was Tendergreens at the moment.
Shaurya: The lemonade gets me every time. It’s so, so good. Also if you need any taco recommendations, my favorite place is Guisados. It’s in Downtown LA; it’s so good it’s ridiculous.
Chloe: Do you have any Adelaide recs? Any food recs from Australia?
Tkay: Honestly… Nando’s.
Jeslyn: What’s your opinion on Vegemite?
Tkay: I don’t like it. Not that I eat earwax, but it looks like ear wax.
Chloe: Okay, so we have one final question for you. At UCLA Radio we get everyone to choose their DJ name. So if you had a radio show here, what would your DJ name be?
Tkay: Mine would be DJ Peanut Cherub.
Jeslyn: Okay, well, I’ve got to hear the story behind this.
Tkay: I feel like if I tell you this, someone’s going to look for it, but I don’t care. I just have a finsta and it’s called peanut butter cherub.
Shaurya: I’m following it right now.
Tkay: I mean, yeah, you can find it but it’s private so good luck!
Chloe: So, DJ Peanut Cherub, do you have anything to say to any aspiring creatives and rising artists or tuning in?
Tkay: Just do what makes you excited and always try to make something you feel like you haven’t heard before, because that sets you apart from everyone.
Jeslyn: Thank you for that. That’s great advice and it’s a great way to end off the interview. Besides that, you have your show on March 8 at the El Rey in LA can’t wait to see you there. We’re all going to be there. Can’t wait. Good luck on your tour, I know that’s coming up super soon. Thank you so much for taking the time to do this today – I know you were super busy and we appreciate it so much. Truly, we love you so much here. If you ever have the time, UCLA Radio is always open.
Take a listen to Sweet Justice here.