There are two approaches to a debut album. Fill it with material that you’ve already released to guarantee a familiar listen or strip it of all your preceding hits and start a fresh. The latter is a risky move and one that can often change an artist from hyped name to yesterday’s news.
When Tkay Maidza announced the arrival of her debut album TKAY it was clear she’d chosen the second option. There was no M.O.B. and no Ghost – both tracks that seemed to be leading towards an album. Instead, she’d gone for the option of 14 new tracks and while it was a somewhat puzzling decision at first, after she dropped the first single Carry On, it was clear why. Tkay’s gotten better. A lot better.
We were introduced to a different Tkay. Her lyrics were sharper, her attitude was fiercer and she sounded like a superstar rather than a local triple j favourite. These were all things apparent even while she was rapping alongside one of the world’s most quick-witted and touch rappers Killer Mike.
While the whole album doesn’t take the same hip-hop route as the first single, the whole record blends together seamlessly. From PC Music pop to big room dance anthems, it’s a record that’s pieced together not by its sounds but by the host. Tkay’s personality as a fiery youngster is what ties it all together. Even more so she keeps things interesting because she’s such a multi-faceted character like most people in their 20s. She’s confident (Always Been), sympathetic (Follow Me), ambitious (Castle In The Sky) and bored (Monochrome).
Whatever mood she’s in, she’s always energetic, egged on by the bubbling, ADD beats that are all over the record courtesy of producers like Salva, Dann Hume and her on-stage DJ L.K. McKay. Opener Always Been sets a pumping pace with Tkay throwing down bars like a runaway train. “Spitting so hard that I need to rehydrate,” she literally raps and she’s not lying, making strong case for why she’s one of the most wordy rappers in the world.
Things never get back to that pace but the energy never dips. Afterglow is a Charli XCX-esque hip-hop/pop crossover, Monochrome is a pulsating, deep house-tinged cut and Tennies takes cues from Baltimore club. She darts all over the place stylistically but if anything it sounds just as erratic as any modern music fans playlist. Tkay’s grown up in the age of iTunes and the whole record reflects her diverse, ‘shuffle’-inspired music taste. You could throw this on at a party and be sure to appease nearly every music fan at different moments and there’s something thrilling about that.
On top of being a party record, TKAY loosely follows Maidza’s journey from high school girl to national, big-stage superstar. Gentle highlight Follow Me seemingly reassures a young Tkay that it’s all going to be ok in one of the album’s more touching moments. That’s immediately followed by a tough, them-against-us anthem Castle In The Sky, bolstered by thumping beats and rushing synths.
Too often in this country artists are subconsciously made to choose whether they’re making a record for triple j or commercial radio but there’s no distinguishing between the two here. It’s refreshingly fluid bouncing between oddball pop and forward-thinking hip-hop with no pre-distinguished end point in mind. For the pop fans there is some absolute gold in here. Simulation with its tropical, euphoric vibes is very possibly one of the best pop songs of the year, worldwide, while At Least I Know wins over with a more left-of-centre tinkering of the pop formula.
That’s wonderfully juxtaposed by less accessible cuts like the glitchy, flickering State Of Mind and the wonky, winding Supasonic. It’s always hard to pin down where the albums going next and instead of sounding like she through a bunch of ideas at the wall to test out what sticks, it feels like a genuine exploration of everything she can do and all the styles she connects with.
TKAY is a triumph in so many ways. It’s the official arrival of a superstar but it’s also one of the few local pop/hip-hop releases this year that could effortlessly compete on a world stage. There is literally not one lowlight on here and while at times it’s a dizzying listen stylistically you come to the end with a strong idea of exactly who Tkay is. Like most 20-somethings in 2016, her attention is not easily held and she’s not about to be told that she can only operate in one lane. She’s consistently switching lanes and as long as she holds people’s attention, they’ll switch with her.
TKAY is out this Friday, 28th October.