Less than a year ago, YouTube decided to do a Cool Thing™ and place Tkay Maidza‘s “You Sad” video in my recommendations. I watched it and was immediately enamored with her aesthetic and fun take on sugary pop. I needed more, so I checked out her very recently released project, Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2, and, well… the rest is history.
I was just as excited to learn that the Last Year Was Weird series was intended to be a trilogy, telegraphing the eventual release of Vol. 3. I even said, ‘If last year was weird, I can’t wait for the next‘, as the title was practically made for the absolute shitshow that was 2020. In that, Vol. 3 feels a lot like 2020, though less dependent on the weirdness the title refers to and more about the self-growth, reflection, and longing for connection that we all missed out on.
Gone are the oddities of JPEGMAFIA features and some of the variety found on her previous projects in exchange for one of the most concise and tight EPs that still tread plenty of r&b, pop, and soul-adjacent sounds – stuff the Zimbabwean-born Australian singer/rapper is now known for, somehow made more confident and fully realized than before. Apex Tkay, if you will.
Again, each of this EP’s eight songs just bang harder than… something that bangs hard (I’m tired, give me a break). Starting with the ephemeral visit to “Eden”, we get a gilded pop track with a sung hook and gently rapped verse, both stellar. Production just breathes deep and hard into the chest of the song with sunny strings, light bass, fluttering piano – you can practically see Tkay sat upon a cloud with wings and a halo orbiting her head. Things really get interesting with the next track though. “Onto Me” sounds a lot like new millennium r&b with its more sultry production and heartfelt, sexy lyrics.
‘Bring it to me
Sweet like honey
And I can’t believe
It’s stickin’ right onto me
You cling so close
I smell your clothes
And I can’t believe
It’s stickin’ right onto me‘
There’s an assist here from UMI, a singer I was not familiar with before, but matches Maidza’s prowess with ease and adds some extra spice with a wonderfully metered verse that complements the rest of the song.
One thing that Tkay really impresses with is her heavier leanings, when she really brings out her personality and lays down fierce raps. The two songs we get in that vein are “Syrup” and “Kim”, both of which were singles. “Syrup” is a slammer with deep, distorted bass – it’s like THRAXX produced this one, but nope, Dan Farber on the beat just like the rest of the EP and many, many other Tkay Maidza songs. Her flow is viscous like the name implies, getting a couple gems for punchlines out (‘And that’s the tea, AriZona/I’mma ride it, Winona/I go hard, I’m a boner/Up the hill like I’m Jonah, on time‘) amidst all the braggadocio (‘Used to be the kid that took the front of the bus/Now my tour bus get the miles with a plus‘).
“Kim” on the other hand is an absolute power anthem. Although the song mostly references the Disney cartoon Kim Possible – a top flight show from my childhood, like Tkay’s I’m sure since we’re close enough in age for that overlap – the video has references to other great Kim moments in pop culture courtesy of Lil Kim and Kim Kardashian. Production is punchy just like “Syrup”, and Tkay and Yung Baby Tate just eat it the hell up with their rapping.
Arguably, my favorite song is “Cashmere”, a more vulnerable take on her trials with love that really melts into you. It’s slower, but not lethargic; well-paced to make every word and every soulful note reverberate in your head. The melodies are just so lovely with the chorus carrying most of the weight with its endlessly singable cadence. It’s all very warm and trance-like. You really owe it to yourself to check this track out if nothing else (though you should check out everything else too).
There’s a lot of references and lyrics that have to do with breathing on Vol. 3, like Tkay Maidza was getting meditative in some ways with this EP. Key moments, like in the song “Breathe”, ask that you stay put to enjoy the moment for what it is, take a breather, and enjoy what you’re afforded in life. As life steers into more stressful directions this year, it’s a delightful reminder, even among the bombast that this music houses in pop castle setpieces, that time is best spent in service to yourself and your well-being. Basically, be the bad bitch you know you are, but realize that even bad bitches need a break for self-care – a poetic, purposeful takeaway if there ever was one.
In the end, this installment of Last Year Was Weird feels the most salient of the three for obvious reasons, a multifaceted showcase of a pop extraordinaire where clichés are gnashed into daring declarations of individuality and the caliber of work shines bright no matter the angle – another strength of Tkay Maidza that continues to get more honed. She moves her sound forward, never compromising who or what she is. With the end of this EP trilogy, it only make sense that she starts setting her sights even higher with an LP that will, at this rate, tear the doors off of pop music conventions and make a lot more people take notice than already do. I, for one, can’t wait.