Mathangi Arulpragasam is probably one of the most bizarre icons of the 2000s. She’s got some strange ethics for making music. From her mockery of politics to her blistering holes in references to crossing borders like a refugee, M.I.A. is a shiny spotlight in the frameworks of ‘world’ hip-hop. Let’s not forget her singles like “Pull Up the People” and “Paper Planes”, lyrical reflexes that produced (somewhat) timeless antics of both cocky fusion and beefed-up, protagonist heroics. The latest fruit of labor, AIM, gives a softer punch, while pointing out usual caricatures in musical development.
I really got into the opener, “Borders”. The artist questions just about every point of view and status with a sly “What’s up with that?” I’m impressed that those lyrics are coherent, since most of Arulpragasam’s content is blurry unless you are an avid listener. I recommend watching the music video. M.I.A. has control of the directing, so you know she’s going to make a statement. And it’s incredible. Loaded with hundreds of extras on set, the video promotes extreme collaboration with refugees and offers a dozen different scenes of them on boats, climbing over massive fences and standing on shore lines in curious crowd formation.
M.I.A. declares herself to be in a state of bliss, saying AIM is her “cleanest” album to date. “Go Off” features some built-up instinctive tension. The song engages dance club notions with an ongoing pulse in the background and industrial drum patterns. This track is talked up a lot on British interviews. Mesmerizing loops fit perfectly in with decibel containing brick venues. That being said, I wouldn’t add too much more hype. I think this album offers other extractions that slip under the radar a bit too easily.
M.I.A. adds a few featured artists to the album. ZAYN is featured in the chillwave-tilted “Freedun”. Here, she really tries to blend in her ‘last’ record feels, while sticking with her cheeky lyricism concerning politics. “I don’t need any audition / It grew bigger than a politician.” Though the opening lyrics are corny and poorly written, the chorus is plausible. A similar political feel builds in “Foreign Friend” which features Dexta Daps. The two collaborate in a rhythmic swaying reminiscent of Kanye West‘s “Heartless”.
The media had plenty of time to manage the new album’s portfolio, which honestly makes up most of the reason this album got people excited. M.I.A. put out some singles as early as last year. Journalists gobbled up her “Fly Pirate” scandal when she apparently caused ripples between a European soccer team and Emirates Airlines by wearing a jersey with the label “Fly Pirate” in one of her music videos. This was enough of a diss that the two companies had to ask for an edit of the shirt decal.
Close to her Sri Lankan roots, M.I.A. is no stranger to Middle Eastern sounding tracks. “Ali are u ok?” and “Visa” stick out like sore thumbs in the album. I had some mixture of emotion for these two. I wanted to respect them for what they were. I tried to lasso in the cultural upshot. But, it’s hard to avoid the sloppy one-line piano pre-verses on “Visa” and neglect the stop-go effect on “Ali r u ok?”
Compilation with producer Diplo defines itself very few times throughout the album. Especially having connections with EDM genius Skrillex, I expected much more. The album stands out as more of a club playlist than a ‘sit down and listen to’ album. I think glimpses of AIM represent M.I.A. very well, but that is as far as I will go. If only M.I.A. put in a little more effort to capture imaginations, she might have had earned a better rating.
Hip-hop/EDM | Interscope Records