Getting Down with Australian Rapper Tkay Maidza

words by zoee
images by adam

Kilo Lounge is a different spot without its throngs of sweaty bodies and loud thumping bass. The typically dark and nondescript cavern is well lit and the quiet, understated surroundings made for a good scene to sit down and catch up with the young rapper Tkay Maidza. Tkay is a Zimbabwe-born Australian rapper and when she showed up for her soundcheck, she smiled a sweet “Hi” and seemed unassuming in her petite frame. That is until she took the stage and launched into her verses. The 23-year-old has mostly conquered the Australian, UK, and US markets and is now just dipping her toes in the Asian hip-hop scene. Culture Cartel sits down with her just hours before her show at Kilo Lounge presented by Collective Minds to chat more about her new song with JPEGMAFIA, how she feels being a twenty-something, and the healing properties of Bikram yoga.

Tkay begins all excited about being back in Singapore and raring to explore the culture in the short 48 hours she has. “I definitely want to go shopping and do some sightseeing. I was here a few years ago with family and I remember it to be really beautiful and clean.” Being pretty new in the Asian hip hop scene, she recognizes that it is all about learning and embracing new experiences. “I’m just learning about new artists and being more aware of the culture. It’s just the beginning for me here and I can’t really tell if it’s hard or not but I’m so excited,” she gushed. When asked about how different the Asian scene is, she attributes the differences to the Asian markets’ love for trap and strong beats.

Any new artist in the industry would tread gingerly when it comes to whether the crowd would be receptive and excited to hear their stuff. Thankfully, Tkay has a strategy around it – she adapts her sets to fit the audience’s hunger for high energy.

Her ability to gauge the nature of a crowd and to capture their attention is undeniable. But Tkay knows that it’s not just about how you perform – it’s also about who you can bring in to do it with. Using her live video performance of “Awake” to a crowd of 5000, she managed to hook JPEGMAFIA onboard to feature in the song.

“We were all ‘Look it already works! It’s a good song!’ and he was keen to hop on it and wrote the verses within the week. It really just made the song all that better. The collaboration just happened so organically and he’s just the nicest person ever. I went to LA to shoot the video and he came two hours early, just chilling on the couch with his phone and making sure we had everything we needed. It was actually so lovely because I’m a tad bit smaller and younger than all other rappers so I’m usually super intimidated but he was totally with it and so chill.”

Age was, after all, something the young artist struggled to come to terms with growing up. Like any kid, she adored the concept of growing up and becoming more self-aware but dreaded the fear of running out of time. “I’ve just come to terms with it now because you always have time,” she admits. “You could be forty but still have time and even have a different and better outlook in life. I am more aware of who I want to be and my life as a whole.

Indeed, the adage is that the older you get the wiser. As she mentions in her ep “Switch Tape”, she had more friends a few years ago but they weren’t all the right friends. “Those are the lessons you learn as you grow older. You don’t need a lot of people around to feel like yourself and you kind of have to find the balance of sacrificing and protecting yourself,” she muses.

Something that really helped the Australian rapper stake her place in the scene was the music that she listened to growing up. Her appreciation of music spans across a plethora of genres and she finds herself drawing inspiration from many different artists, from early Flume to Diplo and FKA Twigs. “I find myself going back to a lot of music that I was listening to when I was first starting out and I loved it cause the music felt so free. Listening back, I find myself marvelling over the guitars in the song and how they’re so cool and quirky. It reminds me of why I was so excited about music in the beginning and that kind of refocuses me. You just get caught up in the whole New Music Friday and what’s happening every week so it’s good to have a playlist of stuff that you like back then cause that’s your true identity. I even go back to the music that my parents liked to listen to when I was growing up because those songs shaped me as well.”

Being true to one’s essence seems to be the core of young Maidza’s career. When a major player in the hip-hop scene encounters issues, negativity or bumps in the road, they usually turn to darker vices like drugs and booze. Tkay opts for a more wholesome and holistic approach to retune her essence – Bikram yoga. “I used to go four times a week and this one place I visited was 30 minutes away from where I lived but all I could think about was nailing those poses,” she enthused. Bikram yoga trains mindfulness because you must hold your poses for at least a minute and you have to learn how to transfer all focus to what was happening in the now instead of external factors out of your control. “You begin to notice what you do when you’re really stressed out. I remember once the teacher was telling me to stop clenching my teeth and I didn’t even realize I was doing that! So now, I’ve become more aware of how my body reacts to negativity and stress and Bikram has really taught me how to better control that.”

It is definitely awe-inspiring to come across a young female player in the industry who is so undeniably certain of her place and identity. Working on growth in a typically male-dominated industry can be challenging when you are a young female but the sprightly 23-year-old remains unbothered. “You may think that no one’s paying any attention to you but when that happens you’re focusing on external factors and not on yourself. It’s a lot of consistency and networking and you just have to stick it out.”

Listen to Awake here.