M.I.A. is widely known for two things: the viral popularity of her 2008 single “Paper Planes” and flipping the bird at the 2012 Super Bowl while sharing the stage with Madonna and Nicki Minaj. She is also known for her brash, extreme political views: she is an open supporter of Wikileaks and protection of Internet privacy. Now, the Sri-Lankan rapper has returned with her fourth album, “Matangi.”
Some consider M.I.A.’s last album, “/\/\/\Y/\,” to be her dullest piece of work compared to her fantastic first two albums, “Arular” and “Kaya.” It now seems that she has learned from that, and returned to her original stylings for “Matangi.”
The majority of the production of this album is done with Switch, who was part of the production for her first two albums, and formerly of Major Lazer with Diplo. Other producers also include Hit-Boy (who was behind major hits like “N****s in Paris” and “Clique”), the Partysquad (who collaborated with Major Lazer on “Original Don”) and Danja who produced the album’s first single, “Bad Girls.”
“Matangi,” like M.I.A.’s other works, has a very worldly sound with influences from Southeast Asia and Africa. However, this is an M.I.A. album in 2013, and the rise of dubstep and trap is definitely part of the new sound. There are many times where “Matangi” seems to be emulating “Yeezus,” TNGHT, and Major Lazer, though this isn’t a bad thing. This sound really innovates M.I.A.’s style.
The latest singles, “Y.A.L.A,” hits hard with heavy trap drums and sounds. “Y.A.L.A” stands for You Always Live Again, which is both a parody and commentary on Drake’s Y.O.L.O with the rapper’s Hindu beliefs of karma and rebirth.
“Come Walk With Me” is similar to her work on “/\/\/\Y/\,” but also takes interesting turns. “Exodus” and the reprise “Sexodus” sample the Weeknd’s “Lonely Star” so heavily that they had to call it a feature and in many ways they’re more like adjusted covers.
“Bad Girls,” the nearly two-year-old single, is probably the album’s standout. It has a Middle Eastern vibe while being incredibly dance friendly. If you have not seen the music video, I highly recommend it. “Know It Ain’t Right,” is a slow, mellow jam similar to “Come Walk With Me.” “Double Bubble Trouble” is a reggae-influenced jam produced by the Partysquad, which definitely has the heaviest trap beat. “Boom” is a minute-long skit in which M.I.A. hilariously mocks her critics.
Overall, “Matangi” is a fairly decent album. It’s a large improvement on “/\/\/\Y/\,” but falls short of “Kaya” and “Arular.” I cared little for M.I.A.’s lyrics: she has overdone her extreme politics to a point where it is no longer surprising. When she’s not political, the lyrics mostly fade into the music. The combination of old-school M.I.A afrobeat, Southeast-Asian, and Middle Eastern sounds with new trap and dubstep styles works to bring new air into the rapper’s music.
Also out this week: Eminem’s “Marshall Mathers LP 2.”
Nick Dye, Music Writer