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Tkay Maidza on drugs, Drake and music industry snakes

06/11/2014 00:00:00
by Theguardian.com
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TKAY Maidza is on a New York City charm offensive.

“Y’all niggas are mad cos you can’t handle my ego,” raps the diminutive 18-year-old, shaking her waist-length hair as she shimmies across the stage at Pianos bar on Ludlow Street.

At this Southern Exposure event, at a hip-hop showcase at SOB’s in SoHo, at the Delancey’s Aussie BBQ, the crowds of the annual CMJ music marathon (New York’s answer to SXSW) seem smitten.

Even cynical New Yorkers are comparing Maidza (favourably) to MIA and Azealia Banks. During her catchiest hit, U-Huh, she joins her audience on the floor.

“Hold up, hold up, hold up, wait!” she riffs on Imprint. “We in the jungle and I’m here to make an imprint.”

Off-stage, after six downtown Manhattan gigs, Maidza doesn’t switch off. Over a coffee at a cafe close to the Madison Avenue record label she’s been meeting, the Adelaide-based artist sums up her attitude.

“I think Aussies are so chilled out and heaps sarcastic. So that’s basically what I am. It’s all for fun and being silly, at the same time as being yourself. That’s being Australian.”

This combination scores on tracks like her 2013 debut, Brontosaurus (“stomp your feet like a Brontosaurus”) and Switch Lanes, with its cool anime video in which she rides a dolphin.

“I don’t know why they think we’re the same,” she sings on the latter — a highlight of her EP, Switch Tape — as she mourns out-maturing old friends.

Tkay Maidza - Switch Lanes

Maidza’s attitude is refreshing after the sometime crassness of fellow Australian export Iggy Azalea, exemplified by Iggy toasting herself as a “runaway slave master” on D.R.U.G.S.

Maidza’s composure — her refusal to tolerate “broke behaviour” as U-Huh puts it — invite closer comparison to Lorde. The Aussie rapper thinks the Kiwi singer is “amazing”. She was listening to her album last night.

Not out partying? “Everyone assumes because I make music to dance to I like to go out all the time.” says Maidza. “I don’t. I don’t do drugs, basically don’t drink at all – probably once every five months.”


She jumped two years at school, finishing when she was just 16.

“I just get addicted to doing work and getting rewards from doing it. It makes me happy,” she says. Adding: “Now I’m being paid to go out.”

Wearing a blue and black Armani jacket she found in a Brooklyn thrift shop, Maidza is energised by New York.

Tapping on her phone with long black nails, she shows off some favourite photos. One is her dancing on Manhattan Bridge.

There are snaps of the “sea punk” aesthetic in the Switch Lanes video – and the pendant round her neck. Another is Maidza as a two-year-old in Zimbabwe, sitting with a green-gloved Santa wearing a USA cap.

Maidza was born into a music-loving family of miners. Her parents moved from Zimbabwe to Perth when she was five, and they lived in the mining areas of Kalgoorlie and Whyalla before settling in Adelaide four years ago. Her earliest musical memories are of time spent with her extended family in Africa.

“At Christmas we used to sing carols and I’d be the main singer,” she says.

“You had to walk a long way to get home from school. I remember this one time my parents left me outside playing with some toys and a snake came in the backyard and nearly bit me – but I survived.”

Throwing that distinctive U-huh shrug, Maidza says she’s undaunted by music’s snakes, the odd hater in her social media feeds.

“Just a few really crazy people, they write the meanest things ... One said ‘She’s not from Australia, why’s she rapping in an Australian accent? She needs to rap in a Zimbabwean accent.’ It’s like, what are you talking about!? You don’t know me. You just laugh.”

She is excited about her Australia-wide tour this November and meeting the fans who do get her.

“People know what they’re up for, they’ve heard all the music now” – with so much hype, it would have been hard to avoid – “so come and party with me and have fun.”

From the moment she gets on stage at SOBs – her opening CMJ show with her DJ Elk — owning lines like “let me finish them”, Maidza does seem like the real deal.

Later that night, Drake returned to the same venue where he made his name at five years ago.

“We played at one of the most known hip-hop joints in New York,” says Maidza with a radiant smile, her eyes widening.

“Actually living in what you feel like you watch all the time online, you’re like, oh, they actually talk like this; they actually do what they talk about; they’re not fake or anything. Because there are some people who rap but they’re not actually telling the truth.”

She’s flattered to be compared to heavyweights like MIA and Banks.

“The fact that Azealia’s trying to do a whole alternative style. It’s her doing what she wants.”

But you have to have your own back, says Maidza.

“Because if you don’t just go for it everything will always be half-half. Experiment. The weirder or sillier the better.”

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