Arguably one of Melbourne’s most promising up-and-coming MCs, ThatKidMaz has spent the last couple of years tirelessly working to create music that reflects his most authentic self. Growing up amidst Melbourne’s Southeast, ThatKidMaz channels his Eritrean roots and first-gen Australian upbringing to express some of the challenges he’s embraced as an artist and individual. This ‘friendly neighbourhood rapper’ is a familiar face amongst Melbourne’s Hip-Hop scene, garnering the attention of many through his energetic live performances and charismatic humour. ThatKidMaz started off this year in full force, being selected as one of Acclaim’s very own 2022 All-Stars as well as releasing his first single off the project, Sheltered.
Recently dropping his debut EP titled Lil Eritrean Boy, ThatKidMaz seamlessly incorporates traditional Hip-Hop sounds with what he describes as, a touch of alternative, Boom-Bap, R&B beats. The project was produced by fellow creative and close friend JUJO, with each track offering pensive lyricism mixed in with tasteful flows. The depth and honesty shared by ThatKidMaz in this EP is so important. He looks to humanise experiences with processing personal traumas whilst offering a realistic take on the complexities of mental illness and self-sabotaging behaviours.
We caught up with ThatKidMaz to uncover more about his latest EP release and speak candidly about the vulnerabilities of recognising one’s battles with mental health.
ThatKidMaz, congratulations on the release of your latest EP, Lil Eritrean Boy. How does it feel to be releasing music again?
Thank you! I feel like releasing music is like releasing a part of you. You’re sharing your baby to the world, which feels amazing. Before I dropped Sheltered this year, it had been two years since my last release. So, yeah I’m feeling a mix of emotions, I’m so excited but I’m also so nervous because I’ve only released singles before and releasing this project has really been a new experience. Also, this EP is super experimental for me. I didn’t really focus on pleasing a mainstream audience; instead, I honed in on self-expression and getting off what was on my chest at the time. So, I think what makes this EP so nerve-wracking is how the public will perceive it. However, I’m able to release this because I intend to create freely and not feed too much into what’s expected of me as an artist. Nonetheless, I think my excitement to really revel in this drop is something I’ve been waiting to experience since beginning my music journey. It feels really good to be able to release again and seeing everyone’s responses so far has made me a little more confident to keep sharing my music.
As this EP is your first project, what’s the journey been like getting to this point?
Well, I started making music back when I was like 12, around the time I started high school. My homie Jordan Dennis and I went to school together and we both shared the same interests. So naturally, when I asked him to write a rap song with me, he was keen. From then on, we just kept it up and would show each other our raps, which then built our confidence to actually take it seriously and that happened when I was around 19-20 years old. Fast forward a little, I released my first single No Vibe – which I had no idea what I was doing with that (laughs). I had a little bit more of an idea when I dropped Glow Up and then a little bit more with IKNOW. Now I feel like we have a bit more of a better understanding with Sheltered and this EP. But also, I was on a very, very long journey before creating this EP. I had two other attempts at creating a project and they both didn’t really reflect the type of music that I wanted to create. I struggled a lot with finding my sound and what I wanted more broadly. I was really focused on pleasing everyone and making music that didn’t really reflect myself. With this project and with any of my future projects, I’ve started to really create based on what feels important and meaningful to me. I guess I stopped thinking of what people would perceive as good or bad and I just started creating. That was something that JUJO really helped me with. You know, if you’re harbouring anything it’s best to just put it into your music, because it’s something that people will be able to relate to even if it’s only three people. So, it’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’m super excited that the world gets to hear it.
From a lyrical perspective, the EP is deeply introspective. Your first single off the project Sheltered, speaks to learning from your mistakes and acknowledging that some of your habits have fed into escapism behaviours. With that in mind, how have you navigated overcoming some of those challenges?
I think it’s a little hard to answer that question because it’s still something I struggle with every single day. That’s also the main reason why I made this song because this struggle isn’t something you can overcome and then just relax. It’s a reoccurring battle and that’s, I guess, the main point of Sheltered and even the EP more generally. Your anxiety or anything you’re going through in life, whether it’s escapism [behaviours], anxiety or any other mental health problems – it’s a constant fight and every day is a new day to beat it.
You refer to this EP as symbolising the cyclical nature of mental illness and the struggles you’ve personally gone through. Why is it important for you to delve into the intricate parts of your mental health on this project?
It was quite hard to ignore especially since the creation of this project was around the start of COVID so mental health problems were very in your face. I wanted to create something that was true to myself and all the things that I was going through at the time. A Lot of it was very based in trying to heal and understand my mental health. So, I created something to reflect that. It was like therapy in a sense and definitely something I needed at that time.
Did you ever have doubts about putting so much of your struggle out into the world and allowing yourself to be that vulnerable?
100%. Especially when my music is probably going to be consumed by some of the people that I talk about on there. At a certain time, it was really scary just to be vulnerable which created a lot of writing blocks. I started to learn how to write with ambiguity and that helped with getting off whatever was on my chest whilst protecting people that may listen to it. It was quite challenging, but I definitely think I’ve grown from it.
Production wise for this EP you’ve worked exclusively with producer JUJO. Sonically, how would you describe the EP’s sound?
One thing I would say is, if JUJO is on production it’s never going to be ordinary. I just want to say this on record, JUJO is seriously one of the greatest producers out there and no one can change my mind about that. That man is a freaking genius, he’s wild. But I think for this project he and I really went for a different sound, it’s experimental for me. The EP has a lot of Hip-Hop elements, and I would say it also has some alternative / Boom Bap / RnB sounds too. I feel like JUJO meshed a lot of sounds together in order for it to sound refreshing and new.
2022 has already proven quite eventful for ThatKidMaz. What excites you when thinking about the future?
I would say travelling and performing both interstate and internationally. I can’t wait to be doing bigger shows and of course, dropping new music. After this EP, I’m wanting to drop some singles to close out the year and then work towards creating a body of work that sits within the Lo-Fi-Boom Bap-Hip-Hop realms which I’m super excited about. But yeah, just grateful for all that’s happened and pumped for what’s to come.