There are few situations more stressful than losing your passport. But luckily, for Tkay Maidza, the panic-ridden circumstance ended up being a blessing in disguise.
Forced to wait in Berlin for her visa, the hip-house musician decided to take advantage of her involuntary months-long stay by making a pact with herself to do something new every few days. Soon, late nights and new friends reminded Maidza what life was all about, and Berlin became the birthplace of creative renewal — and her second album Sweet Justice.
"I feel the most creatively free when I'm having fun," the Zimbabwe-born, Australia-raised artist tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom. True to her vibrant spirit, Sweet Justice is a product of not only her search for novel experiences, but also the liberty she unlocks by breaking routine.
Long before her rejuvenating Berlin ventures, Maidza's 10-year-plus musical journey took off with her stomping debut single "Brontosaurus," leading to the success of her 2016 self-titled debut album. Influenced by visionaries like Azealia Banks and Kendrick Lamar, the singer/rapper honed her skills even further with a refreshing EP trilogy titled Last Year Was Weird (2019-2021) — and her ambition landed her opening slots on Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa's massive 2022 tours.
Ups and downs transpired after her three-prong EP series — as Maidza changed management, ended some rocky friendships, and moved to Los Angeles. Following this transitional period — and a few insightful tarot card readings — karma emerged as a core theme for Sweet Justice.
While Maidza is in firm control of her artistic vision (she gives thanks to her Capricorn placements), she's still welcome to the liberation that manifests upon leaving everything up to the universe. There's a restorative, exhilarating energy that floods Sweet Justice, and with influences like Missy Elliott and Janet Jackson, it's no wonder her fusion of hip-house, R&B, and alternative pop resonates so deeply.
Maidza is continuing to tap into life's many joys and adventures. As much as she loves diving into Reddit threads and playing tennis, she's back on the road, celebrating her album release by touring through 2023's last couple months.
Fresh off a flight from London, Maidza chatted with GRAMMY.com about her creative reinvention, understanding music as an experience, and how Sweet Justice came to life.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Tarot card readings helped inspire some of the themes in Sweet Justice, like karma and rebirth. Tell me about that.
I've kind of been always obsessed with tarot card reading since I started touring. I think it's because my mom would tell me that she kind of knew that I was going to venture off into music, but she was waiting for the right moment to tell me. So it became something to do whenever I had some confusion in terms of where to go.
After the Last Year Was Weird project, I was going through a lot of transitions — in regards to friends, from moving cities from Australia to LA. There was a big question mark of what to do next after my EPs. I remember, in a lot of the situations that I was experiencing, it didn't feel really fair. But when I had tarot readings, I kept getting the Justice card… that was kind of my theme for the album. I was like, I just have to regain my confidence and be healthy and be well and leave it all to the universe.
Also, I just took inspiration from the actual [Justice card] artwork with the reds, golds, and how the person in the terracotta is like sitting down in the middle; it's about balance and transformation.
I was just about to say, the album cover is gorgeous. Was it partially inspired by the Empress tarot card, too? I feel like they're a bit similar.
Definitely. There's always the High Priestess and the Empress. I just felt like with the Justice card, there's a lot of red, and I wanted to focus more on those colors.
But yeah, when I was doing my last EPs, that was more based on the High Priestess, where the centerpiece is a woman, and it's also the idea of birth and rebirth and abundance and enlightenment. And I think it has this ethereal feeling as well, and those three pictures, they also give that emotion of endless possibilities.
You've worked with some big names to produce Sweet Justice — Flume, KAYTRANADA and Stint, to name a few. Tell me about a moment one of those producers helped you push your creative boundaries.
I feel like I've always been working up to working with these producers. They were on my wish list since I began making music. Working with them in person, I feel like I was being pushed by basically trying to impress them, like I wanted to make sure it was a song that I could imagine them having with another artist. It was just putting my best foot forward.
I'm so lucky that they're all really nice people. And they were like, Whoa, this is sick. Wow. This is cool. They weren't really trying to control the sessions or anything, it was more so them letting me be myself. And that level of me pushing myself just came from making sure it was up to par with how I see them as producers.
What surprised you the most about the album making process?
The thing that surprised me the most was probably the amount of trust that I had in myself. I hadn't really trusted myself that much before, and in this process, I was working with so many different producers, so I kind of held it together more than I thought. I thought it might turn into a big mess where you're like, Oh my god, I need to rely on someone, but it flowed so easily. I felt like I was in a really good energy for two or three months where I made six songs that I just really love.
Beforehand, I was kind of in this bubble of not writing for eight months. So I was like, oh my god, I have to literally finish this before the end of the year. And it was the right time, right place, right people. And it came together. I think it was mostly just my attitude towards the whole process was what surprised me because I've definitely had moments where I feel stuck.
Right, finding the right headspace is just so important, especially for creative projects. When you kind of stumble into a period of uncertainty, or face a creative block, how do you navigate that?
I try to listen to a lot of music, but I also just try to live and have fun. If I get into a block, there seems to be some sense of monotony going on in my life; I'm not as inspired because I'm not experiencing enough. It could just be like, I'm just too zoned in on one aspect of my life. But when I open it up, then there's like a more free flowing energy, and I'm able to make the most out of every moment of the day.
It's important to switch up your routine! What are your favorite hobbies, outside of music?
I love playing tennis. I honestly love being on Reddit. I don't even know if that's a hobby. Listening to podcasts, hiking, going bowling, going to aquariums. Going on long drives to random places that I've never been, just seeing the environment that I'm in. And I think I'm really lucky being in LA because you can travel 30 minutes to an area you've never been in. It's a completely new experience.
Your EP trilogy Last Year Was Weird served as your reintroduction to the world. What was your approach to that three-part project versus Sweet Justice?
When I went into the three LPs, it was almost like a rebranding for me, in the music sense, but [also] as a person. I wrote down 50 things I hoped to achieve five years from now… I had to grow as a person as well, because I was on the beginning of experimenting with old R&B, old rap, and all that. I knew I really liked it.
But then those three EPs were the process of me improving. I hoped that when each project came out, it would catch onto more people. So that was the rebrand and hopefully, there's new people that come on the journey. And I was really lucky to see that that's what happened.
With Sweet Justice, the idea was reconfirming and doubling down that this is the space that I sit in… In some ways, it's saying I'm a chameleon, but I think there's a common thread with a lot of songs from the EPs and this album.
And that's what I wanted to further cement because I feel like sometimes artists can do something that's really dope, and then they just completely jump to the other side again, and you're just like, What? So yeah, I just wanted to further cement that I'm like, This is who she is, and I hope you like it.
You mentioned rebranding. Does that process feel natural to you, or do you feel like there's more of a pressure to reinvent yourself constantly?
It wasn't natural; it felt necessary to me. When I started off in the music industry, I wasn't really sure what I was doing; everything I released felt like trial and error. By the time I got to Last Year Was Weird, I was like, OK, we've been in the music industry for like, five years, and now we can't be reactive, we have to be proactive. So it just felt more meaningful when things worked out, because it was what I was setting out to do each time. I just wanted to make sure that I had control of the direction that I was going instead of being like, oh, this random song that I made in a session worked out.
One thing I love about your artistry is that you emphasize making music into a full, lush experience. What are some of the ways you feel music transcends just pressing play on your phone?
Having the complete package brings you back to a moment in time. When I think of when Kanye West released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, you can remember that year — when you saw the music videos, the emotion that evoked. And how it was relevant to your actual life.
When you cover all those bases, it's not just a song. You're living it. And I'm almost inviting everyone to understand my perspective… Making it immersive is so important to me. Because sometimes you might not understand the song, but if you see it, and you see the way the person is holding themselves, it sells it more to you, and it makes you love it more… they're coming along on this journey with you.
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