The 2023 notion of a popstar is irrefutably nebulous. Whereas artists were once confined by their brand, the dissolution of chart clout and an attention-deficit Gen Z finds acts questing for innovation in a climate that both demands and welcomes entertainment in unexpected guises. Tkay Maidza is an artist who has always explored freely; last seen with the iconoclastic ‘Last Year Was Weird’ trilogy of EPs, the final instalment of which dropped in 2021, the Zimbabwean-born Australian talent has long transcended a mixture of R&B, rap, pop.
As such, ‘Sweet Justice’ has been highly anticipated, though its gestation did not come easy. While the time in-between clocked collaborations with JPEGMAFIA and Baby Tate plus mainstream slots supporting Billie Eilish and Dua Lipa, a move to Los Angeles found Maidza struck by a paralysing creative block in a sphere of fickle-natured falseness. Toxic friendships, situationships, and music industry politics left her crippled with self-doubt. What if this wasn’t her calling after all?
A break-up album to everything that was holding her back and a personal homecoming, it is clear Maidza has found fun and fluidity in writing again. Striking unlikely inspiration in X-Men’s Jean Gray – an immensely powerful superheroine diminished by influential forces, ‘Free Throws’ reinstates that Maidza doesn’t need assistance to get to the top, while the swaggering ‘Ring-a-Ling’ and ‘WUACV’ hit extra hard; “Watch me kill this silence” she quips on the latter, a self-aggrandising mission statement of a woman at her wit’s end with those around her.
At her best while posturing, Maidza’s eclecticism shines as she segues across genres. Flume brings a buzzing electronic squirm to ‘Silent Assassin’, while the Kaytranada funk of ‘Ghost!’ declares Maidza a “real ass bitch, don’t need no muse”. Elsewhere, and the UK Garage of ‘Won One’ claps back at authority figures making her a pawn in her own career: “You remind me of a man that lied to hold me up / You playing games on the low go”. While the coercive disco of Lolo Zouai and Amber Mark-featuring ‘Out Of Luck’ and intimate R&B of ‘Love Again’ capture the polarising bittersweetness of a love gone cold.
Maidza’s uninhibited songwriting is her strength, yet whereas ‘Last Year Was Weird’ was powerfully succinct, ‘Sweet Justice’ is not. The album lacks a conceptual flow, setting up an array of obstacles and reconsolidating Maidza’s self-empowerment, but ultimately missing a clear narrative to how Maidza has re-emerged, a phoenix from her ashes – permissible in an EP, but poignantly obvious in an album’s journey of rediscovery. While not teasing her next chapter, in her quest for more, Maidza has crafted a collection of perfectly constructed songs that encapsulate her karmic truth: that living well is the best revenge.
Release date: November 3, 2023
Record label: 4AD
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