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Album Pick of the Month: M.I.A.’s Matangi

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Beginning with a magical flourish of a harp and a slow-building beat, the opening “Karmageddon” off M.I.A.’s highly anticipated fourth album Matangi could have set the stage for a lower key offering than what we’ve been used to.

Quickly, however, it’s evident that this 15-track compilation is yet another hard-charging set of bangers from the genre-bending Sri Lankan/English artist.

Fans have been clamoring for Matangi for a while.  It was nearly five years ago when M.I.A. was rocking the Grammy stage with the likes of Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, T.I. and Kanye West to perform her smash hit “Paper Planes” – while nine-months pregnant, no less.

It had been even longer since “Paper Planes” was released on M.I.A.’s 2007 album Kala.

Since that golden moment, M.I.A., a.k.a. Maya Arulpragasam, dropped the divisive /\/\ /\ Y /\ in 2010 and gave fans a hint of what was to come with the mixtape Vicki Leekx.

But Matangi would take a winding and convoluted road to release.  As Arulpragasam told Australia’s Gold Coast Bulletin earlier this year, via Rolling Stone, Interscope found the record “too positive.”

“I thought I’d finished it. I finished it and then I handed the record in, like a couple of months ago,” she said in January. “It’s like ‘We just built you up as the public enemy No. 1 and now you’re coming out with all this positive stuff.’”

It took a threat from M.I.A. to personally leak it to finally lock in the Nov. 5 release date.

Until then, those clamoring for new music had a few touchstones to tide them over.  There was “Bad Girls,” a track that built off a brief two-minute offering that was originally on Vicki Leekz.

MIA480She had also been playing tracks like “Only 1 U” and “Bring the Noize” live (in addition to putting out a video for “Bring the Noize”). Now, hearing everything in one place reveals that M.I.A. is as subversive and anti-establishment as ever, and that’s just with her lyrical themes.

Working with producers like Danja (Britney Spears), The Partysquad, Switch and Doc McKinney (Drake) helped build a mansion with wings dedicated to hip hop, industrial, reggaeton, and Mid and Far Eastern music. More often than not, she’s got a foot in several different rooms.

Album drama aside, M.I.A. has seen her share of controversy in the past year, from inviting friend and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to deliver a live video message to a concert crowd to flipping the bird to a worldwide audience during Madonna’s Super Bowl performance.

Arulpragasam confronts many of her haters in the 1:17-long “Boom Skit,” where she spits the lines, “Brown girl, brown girl, turn your shit down / You know America don’t wanna hear your sound,” and, “Let you into Super Bowl / You tried to steal Madonna’s crown.”

She skewers YOLO culture – championed by Canadian rapper Drake – in “Y.A.L.A.,” which features the outro, “YOLO? I don’t even know anymore, what that even means? though. If you only live once why we keep doing the same shit. Back home where I come from we keep being born again and again and again. That’s why they invented karma.”

The album also boasts two collaborations with Canadian R&B crooner the Weeknd, who adds feathery backing vocals to the cinematic “Sexodus” and “Exodus.” The tracks, which essentially use the same lyrics over slightly different R&B mixes, bring a little chill wave to the proceedings with hints of tribal drums.  And is that a helicopter at the end of “Sexodus”?

After several listens, it’s clear that “Bad Girls” is a true standout – arguably her most catchy head nodder since “Paper Planes.” Eastern-influenced synths rattle the speakers as the beat shifts throughout the song.

Meanwhile, Arulpragasam chants a refrain that brings “Bad Girls” to another blinged-out level.

“My chain hits my chest when I’m banging on the dashboard / My chain hits my chest when I’m banging on the radio,” she raps.  “Live fast, die young, bad girls do it well.”

With Matangi, M.I.A. demonstrated that she is still doing it well after nearly 10 years in the business.  She is swaggy as ever, even while holding strong to her anti-establishment convictions.

For more information, visit M.I.A.’s official website.

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