Courtesy Maiya the Don
Nov 3, 2023
From TikTok fame to the rap game: Maiya the Don is a ‘Hot Commodity’
The up-and-coming rapper parlayed a beauty account on TikTok into a music career — but will her fans follow?
It has been a rapid ascent for Maiya the Don. A beauty influencer on TikTok who had amassed some 500,000 fans from the comfort of her bedroom during lockdown, Maiya (born Maiya Early) pivoted to hip-hop last year, most notably with her viral hit “Telfy.” Now, she has a new mixtape out and is in the midst of a nationwide tour opening for Flo Milli, performing to thousands every night.
It was never her dream to become a rapper, though the rising star loved hip-hop from a young age and would often battle with her brother at home in Brownsville. And now she is on her way professionally, bringing those TikTok followers along for the ride. She’ll be opening for Flo Milli at Brooklyn Steel on November 6.
“Being from Brooklyn? I take so much pride in that,” says Maiya. “We have the best rappers in the world; we’ve got Biggie, Jay-Z and [Lil’] Kim. You have that pride in you to nurture your love and appreciation of hip-hop. I mirrored my taste, value and appreciation of music on them.”
The initial goal was school. Maiya studied cosmetology before going on to major in psychology at SUNY New Paltz. “That’s the life of a Hispanic woman,” she recently told Okayplayer. “I’m very Puerto Rican in that way. We are studious and must always look good and be put together.”
In 2020, she joined TikTok to showcase her beauty hacks — wig tutorials and eye shadow tips — to make observations and jokes, and to preach positivity, representation and empowerment. In under a year, she was speaking daily to half a million fans with an uncalculated charm, exuberant confidence and humor … and earning good money through endorsements. Her life had changed forever.
But it also began to feel “super stagnant” just as quickly. So, to scratch an old itch, she asked her friend Eric Evander to take her into the studio in Poughkeepsie, where she started rapping in earnest. Her manager Eric Scantlebury says Maiya is a natural entertainer with her humor and “huge radiant personality” — all in evidence on TikTok— and instantly showed promising signs as a rapper.
“What made it a game changer was how confident she was in becoming a better rapper every day. That persistence made me understand she had what it took to be anything she put her mind to,” says Scantlebury. “She’s the type of person that gives you no choice but to believe she can be one of the greatest.”
Pursuing a music career after gaining fame in another discipline is nothing new; actors have been doing it for decades. But to go from a TikTok influencer to a bona fide rap star is something else.
“Every day I have to show people that I’m an artist,” says Maiya, who admits her large following is both an asset and an obstacle. “There was a whole conversation about me being a TikTok artist and not having talent but got lucky and went viral,” she says. “I’m talented, it’s not a gimmick. I’m trying to prove to people that I’m worth being part of the conversation of women in rap.”
‘Choking on my tears’
Maiya’s breakout came with the 2022 single “Telfy,” which currently has 6.5 million streams on Spotify. The track, about the ubiquitous Telfar bag and featuring a sample of Sisqo’s “Thong Song,” quickly captured mainstream attention as she savvily released snippets on social media before dropping the full song.
Maiya followed that up with her debut mixtape “Hot Commodity” last month — which Pitchfork calls “stylish” and “swaggering” and boasts features from TY Dolla $ign, Maeta and more.
“I wanted it to be an introduction to who I am as an artist and as a person, almost a window to see what’s been going on in the past eight months.”
The vulnerability that Maiya alludes to is most evident on the last track, “Hello My Name Is.”
“Seein’ kids with they parents, can’t control the jealousy,” she raps. “Issues with abandonment, that’s why I need therapy / An angel on the outside, but really it be hell for me.”
Maiya describes the process of writing that song in particular as “really difficult” as she opens up about the trauma she faced growing up. The rapper had to be persuaded by her team to include the track at all as she was initially unsure whether she wanted certain aspects of her life to be made public.
“It took forever to record because I was choking on my tears,” says Maiya. “It’s super hard for me to be vulnerable. I don’t like putting people in my business and talking about things that make me sad … but it was important for me to get it off my chest and show my supporters that I’m only human and just 21.”
The latest marker of Maiya’s rapid rise came when Flo Milli invited the Brooklyn native to be the opening act on her headlining “Thanks for Coming Here, Ho” nationwide tour. This “surreal” opportunity came about when Maiya was on set for a music video with Flo Milli and her manager and caught wind that she might be heading on tour. Maiya jokingly asked, with a hint of seriousness, whether she could open for her. Maiya got a phone call a couple of weeks later with the invitation. The tour will pass through her native Brooklyn on November 6 when they play Brooklyn Steel.
Maiya admits that she gets nervous ahead of most shows, right up until she hears her DJ. Ahead of her homecoming show, though, she feels nothing but excitement.
“New York, that’s home. I know that everybody is going to ride for me. I don’t even have a worry in my heart, which I feel like is backwards,” she says. “I feel like I should be nervous for that show.”
After the tour, she will head straight to the studio and work on the deluxe version of “Hot Commodity” — and will take steps toward launching an acting career. She’s already taking acting classes, because it’s never too soon to pivot again.
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