Bitch She's Tkay!

Bitch She's Tkay!

Story by Shaad D'Souza / Photography by Jamie Heath / Styling by Kurt Johnson

Those who went into 2020 underestimating Tkay Maidza exited the year shaken to their cores — and firm believers in the rising rapper's hyperglam gospel.

Over the past 12 months, the Zimbabwe-born, Adelaide-raised rapper and singer took her burgeoning stardom to another level, showcasing a unique mixture of versatility, dexterity and style on her Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2EP, a whiplash-inducing collection of Missy Elliott-indebted flexes, drill-adjacent bangers, buzzy collaborations (hello, Kari Faux and JPEGMAFIA!) and lounge-y kiss-offs. The accolades came thick and fast, with the notoriously hard-to-please Anthony Fantano calling it the No. 1 EP of the year. Of course, longtime fans have always known Tkay was a special, kinetic talent — that's been obvious since her silver-tongued early singles — but on Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2, it felt like the stars were beginning to align above the young firebrand just so.

Now it's 2021, and Tkay isn't about to let the momentum slip by. Speaking to PAPER over the phone from her new home in East Hollywood, Tkay makes it clear that the praise and new fans she accrued over the past year have just emboldened her, rather than made her complacent. And the proof is in the pudding: today she releases "Kim," a song paying ode to Kim Possible, Kim Kardashian and Lil' Kim, three patron saints of coming out on top of your haters, even in the face of the strongest underestimation.

Ferocious and unbelievably catchy — "Bitch I'm Kim, BITCH I'M BITCH I'M KIM," screams Tkay on the song's sure-to-go-viral hook — and featuring a guest verse from Yung Baby Tate, another rapper of the moment, it's a strong start to the year, and arrives alongside an equally iconic video, in which Tkay recreates looks from each Kim, including Kardashian's PAPER Break the Internet cover (!) and Lil' Kim's immortal purple pastie jumpsuit by Misa Hylton.

The sheer star power on display is out of control, the kind of thing that's sure to have teens 20 years from now screaming, "Bitch I'm Tkay!"

The title Last Year Was Weird suddenly has crazy resonance in 2021. How was your 2020?

In a way, I think for my music, it was probably the best year for me yet. It kind of sucks, the fact that I couldn't really go anywhere, but I feel like 2020 was the year that I had to almost get in touch with who I was before I started doing music. I just had so much time with my parents, and I was catching up with friends, and I guess also facing up to things that I might have run away from [in the past]. There were a lot of growing pains that I had to face — a lot of personal drama that I had to finally be like, "Okay, I'm an adult, where do I go next, the world is kind of falling apart, and it's not just you, it's affecting everyone."

The reason why I started the whole EP trilogy was because I just had this big existential crisis where I was like, "I don't know where I'm going, everything's kind of falling apart." But this last year was more so like, the whole world's falling apart, I feel like my business is put together, but there's a lot of unfinished personal things I had to come to terms with.

All in all, for me, personally, it wasn't that bad. But I think because it was collectively a bad year for everyone there were just things you couldn't really ignore in terms of like, how you sit as a human in the world. People aren't being treated fairly, and we can't just ignore that, because you're seeing it every day now. And there's not a lot going on for you to be like, "Oh, but I have work on," it's like, no, you actually have to just man up and be like, "Okay, how do I become a better human as a whole?"

Top: Caroline Reznik, Skirt: Libidex, Shoes: Nike, Jewelry: EQEQPE

In the music video for "Kim," you cosplay as Kim Possible, Kim K and Lil' Kim. What do they each represent to you?

Well, the song was initially called "Kim Possible," and it was about feeling like you're being underestimated. But someone who I feel like, in a way, is underestimated, but still comes out on top, is Kim Possible. She always saves the day, at the end of the day.

All of these Kims, at some point of their careers, have all been undermined, if anything, but a lot of these moments [we recreate in the video] are really iconic moments. I think it was just about taking that iconic moment and recreating it because that's when they're shining and at their strongest, so it's just embodying that confidence and being like, "This is it, that's who I am."

I'm not a Kim, but I feel like we were able to give each look a twist, where it's Tkay being Kim but it's also Tkay probably being her most confident.

Suit: We11done, Jewelry: Justine Clenquet, Shoes: Maison Margiela

Suit: We11done, Jewelry: Justine Clenquet, Shoes: Maison Margiela

Was there any look you were particularly excited to recreate?

I was really excited to recreate the "Crush On You" [outfit] because I just felt like it's such a look — like, it's so strong and I love Lil' Kim. You just search her name for inspo [and every moment is] just so solid, and I think that's what I aim to do in my career — have moments like that, just singularly as myself. I found that so inspiring to recreate because also it could never really look that bad because it's just so simple. The scariest [look] was probably the Break the Internet one, cause I've never been that naked in a video. That was also pretty exciting, to be honest.

"Kim" is a little different for you — almost like "Awake" or "Flexin'" on steroids. How did it come about?

"Kim" came about really quickly. Dan Farber, the producer, sent me the beat and was like, "I literally just made this, let's see if you can resonate with it." I was listening to a lot of Joyner Lucas and Jaden Smith at the time, and I really like [that kind of] flow. I was inspired immediately — like, what if the chorus is just like, "Bitch I'm Kim," and then I start screaming it?

It was meant to kind of be like "Awake" and "IDC IF U BE DED" or "Flexin'" — it's kind of like, whatever you say goes. Don't overthink it, that kind of thing. It's meant to be fun, a moment in a live set where you just go dumb.

Corset: all is a gentle spring, Pants: Caroline Reznik, Jewelry: Ebonny Munro

It feels like the EP trilogy has been slowly building in intensity — where do you see part three going?

I think it's still taking on the same energy, but I think we've almost pushed it a little bit — I think "Kim" is in the same world as "Flexin'," "Awake," "Grasshopper," but I feel like the production is being pushed a little bit further. It sounds cleaner, and like, definite — very definitive and very immediate. I think there's like a lot of songs on there that are just very immediate, straight to the point even more, but still just like building and like cementing that this is me.

Will you keep doing EPs, or do you think you'll change formats?

The next one [after Last Year Was Weird Part 3 is] an album. I'm going to do that next. And then, after that, I'll be able to just be like, "Okay, where do I go next?" Because after that, I'll be out of all of my record deals that I've been signed to since I was 17. I could almost do anything if I wanted to. I like the EP idea, because it's still an album, in a way — like, eight songs is still a lot — but I think it gives a lot of room to have fun and to experiment, as well. And it's a concept, but you can just move on to it, instead of being like, "This is the album!"

Bodysuit: all is a gentle spring, Skirt: Uma Wang, Boots: Ann Demeulemeester, Jewelry: Ebonny Munro

On that topic — you signed a lot of these deals, with Universal and Dew Process in particular, when you were really young. How have you dealt with that as an artist as you've grown over the years?

It's been a challenge in some ways, but I think the reason they signed me was because I was like, this very electrifying [artist], you know, almost always trying to find the new thing. I think that's why they were like, super excited. When I started Last Year Was Weird Part 1, it was very, "What are you doing? Why are you doing this? Where are you going?" And I was like, "This feels right to me, and I love this."

I'm lucky that my deals are more like, I get given a certain amount of money, and then I hand in songs, and we kind of pick what's the best foot forward. So I have creative control, but obviously, everyone's [goal is to] do better than the last time and ultimately, like, world domination. But I've been fortunate to be able to, like maneuver and be like, "This is cool. Let's just do it. Trust me." And, if anything, last year, kind of proved that I should just trust that instinct, and they should trust me. It's been a long journey, but I think it's working out for the best now because it's kind of like, when it comes from me, and I'm really confident in it, [it works out].

Seeing all the international press has been amazing, but it's also been really interesting, because it's kinda deja vu, because you've been established in Australia for a while. What's that experience like, of releasing an EP and people kinda treating it like your debut?

It's really cool, it's really exciting. I think this is what I always wanted. I think I value respect and artistic integrity, and the idea that an artist is being free and doing what they want to do. So I think the fact that it seems like everyone understood that [Last Year Was Weird Part 2] was a really big expression of myself, musically and like visually, it just felt like I was finally aligning with how cool people thought I could be. And I [appreciate] that because I just really thought the music was really cool. It's really reassuring.

Top: Ottolinger, Pants: Caroline Reznik, Shoes: Maison Margiela, Earrings: Ebonny Munro

So much happened around the EP — was there one particular highlight of last year for you?

Definitely [YouTuber Anthony] Fantano['s cosign,] because he's such a cultural influence, especially in that cool, critically acclaimed music sphere, and I also think as a person that's where I sit as a consumer of music.

Pitchfork is really sick, everyone's dream is to be on Pitchfork, and to be featured in PAPER and Wonderland. That's the stuff that, when you're first in the music industry, you're like, "Oh my god, FKA twigs is in there, that's the best shit ever." And it's pretty surreal to then see that I'm getting those opportunities and looks. And just getting some small covers for some UK mags and stuff, that was really amazing.

I think the praise that "You Sad" had was really cool, and just like how Twitter was embracing every video that I dropped, that was also really amazing. I just feel like that's priceless. And you can't really make that happen, you know, it's just like, people have to love it.

What's your vision for 2021?

For me, it's just bringing out more music. There's like four music videos I'm thinking of making right now — we're planning the second one after "Kim" [right now]. I want to honestly read more and become more in touch with myself again. I feel like I've been on the internet a lot, lately, and I just need to like, almost disconnect, and just write music. I'm really excited to do that.

This year has been a restart for everyone, if anything — we've been in the pandemic, the vaccine's coming and so now it's kind of like, "Alright, back to business, how can I grow but also in like, a meaningful way because [we've] just had all these lessons in terms of politics and stuff." You know, you can use that to become a better person, or you can kind of like, compartmentalize and forget that it happened, but I don't really want to do that. I just want to learn more, if anything.

Photography: Jamie Heath
Styling and art direction: Kurt Johnson
Hair: Laura Mazikana
Makeup: Yasmin Goonweyn
Photography assistant: Oli Poignand
Special thanks to Terminal Six, Pieces and Max Black