about the artist
Sweet Justice, the long-anticipated second album by Tkay Maidza, arrives with a message etched into its face: "I'm never choosing compliance." Uttered at the outset of "Ring-A-Ling," the album's fiery, bass-heavy lead single, that line is a mantra and warning from the Zimbabwean-born, Australian-raised, Los Angeles-based rapper, singer and producer. An artist who's been releasing iconoclastic music since her teen years, on Sweet Justice Tkay comes fully into her power, leaving behind toxic people and situations — and the crippling self-doubt she contended with as a result — in her dust. Bright, soulful and seductive, Sweet Justice shows off everyMore
Sweet Justice, the long-anticipated second album by Tkay Maidza, arrives with a message etched into its face: "I'm never choosing compliance." Uttered at the outset of "Ring-A-Ling," the album's fiery, bass-heavy lead single, that line is a mantra and warning from the Zimbabwean-born, Australian-raised, Los Angeles-based rapper, singer and producer. An artist who's been releasing iconoclastic music since her teen years, on Sweet Justice Tkay comes fully into her power, leaving behind toxic people and situations — and the crippling self-doubt she contended with as a result — in her dust. Bright, soulful and seductive, Sweet Justice shows off every facet of the irrepressible Tkay: her lacerating wit and infectiousness, her staunch self-belief and refusal to compromise. "It feels like, at some point, I became too serious. This album feels like a homecoming — a return to the energy I've always wanted to embody," she says. "It's warm, it's fast, and if it's sad, it still has a feeling of hope — I don't feel defeated."
From the outside, it looks as if Tkay has been living a charmed life for the past few years: the first female rapper signed to storied indie label 4AD, and a flagship artist of her longtime Australian label Dew Process, in 2020 and 2021 she released successive instalments of her Last Year Was Weird EP series, to increasing acclaim and popularity. She moved to Los Angeles, collaborated with indie-rap luminaries like JPEGMAFIA and Baby Tate, supported Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa, and was heralded as one of pop's brightest new voices everywhere from Rolling Stone to Pitchfork.
Behind the scenes, she was beginning to feel the wheels fall off: she had just moved to Los Angeles, but was finding that the people around her were causing her to feel stressed and creatively blocked. "There was a whole year of making music I didn't like," she recalls. "The music was really dark and depressing, and I just started spiralling — I just stopped making music for six months, and started going back to Australia to see my family heaps." At the same time, she began to realise that she was stuck in toxic friendships, "seeking validation from people I don't really resonate with."
Tkay sees the idea of overcoming as the animus of her music. She makes records for fighters: her best songs channel the feeling of pulling yourself off the ropes and swinging for a knockout. The moment her music stopped evoking that feeling, she realised something had to give. Trapped in Berlin, alone, at the start of 2022 during a trip to renew her visa, Tkay decided to sever ties with the negative influences in her life and took time to breathe. "I needed to be alone to realise that everything I'm looking for is already within me. I had no choice but to look at myself and say 'There's nothing wrong — keep dreaming and believing that your reality can happen,'" she says. Upon her return to Los Angeles, songs began flowing out of her, writer's block melting away after a dark night of the soul in freezing Germany.
The refreshing, freewheeling Sweet Justice is the result of this epiphany. In a traditional sense, it's a breakup record: about Tkay splitting off from her self-doubt and warped sense of self; the toxic figures that populated the last chapter of her life; and the idea that she should stick to any one lane. In Tkay's mind, it's a rebirth album, a record about harnessing the feminine power that was innate in her the whole time. Before recording, she dove deep into the X-Men films, and found herself identifying profoundly with Jean Gray, aka Phoenix, a figure of immense power who finds her gifts controlled, manipulated and stymied by people with no real interest in seeing her thrive. Like Tkay, "the moments when she's alone are the moments she realises she's powerful."
Sweet Justice isn't a revenge album, but it does stem from a profound sense of karma — "not seeking revenge, just focussing on myself, leaving things up to the universe, and letting people get what they deserve," she says. Tkay has never sounded more liberated, or like she's having more fun, than on Sweet Justice. She flits effortlessly between styles, letting her irrefutable personality be the connective tissue. After severing ties with old friends, she found some new ones on the same creative wavelength: Canadian producers Stint and Kaytranada, and fellow Australian Flume, all of whom contribute production.
On the woozy "Love & Other Drugs," she slips into a seductive croon, like the lovechild of Erykah Badu and Kendrick Lamar; "Out of Luck" is a candy-coated funk daydream, while "Won One" is a sharply-realised drill kiss-off. "Our Way" and "Ghost," two collaborations with Kaytranada, are dazzling late-night dance tracks, conjuring the image of Tkay as a coy, effortlessly glamorous 90s diva. Of all the songs here, "Ghost," with its rumbling bassline and glossy, effortless lustre, may be the one that most embodies Tkay's carefree outlook on much of Sweet Justice: "I'm a real-ass bitch, I don't need no muse." The other side of that coin is "Silent Assassin," produced by Flume, "a song about self-empowerment and self-confidence" that finds Tkay rapping about how she's a "jigsaw, not a quick fix."
Tkay never pulls her punches on Sweet Justice. On "Woke Up and Chose Violence," she raps in a haunting, razor-sharp cadence about being at her wit's end with the people around her: "A parking spot my only validation/Wait for who? I don't got the patience." "Won One," a song **that addresses Tkay's experiences with misogyny in the music industry, is excoriating but high-minded, drawing connections between the men who try to control womens' careers and the men that do women the world over wrong every day: "You remind me of a guy that I let go/You remind me of a friend that got too close,'' she sings.
"'Won One' was therapeutic to write. I don't feel bad about anything that I said," says Tkay. Made with Stint, an artist Tkay has always wanted to work with, during one of her first sessions back in LA after her Berlin trip, "Won One" plays like an exorcism, channelling all the apathy and animosity Tkay felt towards music industry chauvinism. "It was almost like automatic writing — I didn't overthink it, I didn't edit any word that I put in." By contrast, "Out Of Luck," a collaboration with Lolo Zouaï and Amber Mark, is a plush R&B track that radiates contentment, Tkay and her collaborators using divine harmonies to communicate to some failson, without mincing words, that he missed his chance: "Early in the morning/You messed up, you lonely/I am not that type/So try another time."
Sweet Justice is an album that embodies the beautiful contradictions of Tkay's art: it's a coming-of-age record by someone who's been in the game a while; an album about karmic justice and accountability that's bright, breezy and incredibly fun, eviscerating those who are dishonest and disrespectful with a venom-laced kiss. As Tkay sings on "Love Again," a song designed to sound like a meditation session: "Gone are the days I was falling/And seeing there's no escape." It's like they always say: Living well is the best revenge. On Sweet Justice, Tkay shows you firsthand.