“Brown girl, brown girl, turn your sound down. You know America don’t want to hear your sound,” M.I.A. raps on “Boom Skit,” echoing and satirizing all of the criticism aimed at her after the 2012 Super Bowl performance during which she flipped the bird at the cameras. She’s no stranger to such demands from her detractors, but the influx of insults and slander thrown in her direction increased immensely after the highly publicized incident. As an artist, M.I.A. fashions herself an underdog who has somehow hacked into the mainstream. “Can she subvert the system in her own way, or is it going to crush her?” asked Zane Lowe of BBC Radio 1.
“There is nothing that can touch me now; you can’t even break me down,” M.I.A. sings on her new album, Matangi, confirming that she’s survived her dance with the system unscathed. With each album, she has had access to an even bigger audience, but instead of creating an easily digestible and radio-friendly album, she continues to forge her own path and is as skilled as ever at experimenting with and blending multiple genres.
The track “Double Bubble Trouble” effortlessly weaves from reggae to trap to baile funk. We hear samples not only from the Weeknd’s prog-R&B but also from the Tamil films she grew up with. It’s not an easy listen, and like most of her albums, it takes a couple of spins to fully sink in. With the exception of “Bad Girls,” the bangers on this album are not very accessible; she takes her time doing her thing before we reach the payoff. The payoff, however, is worth the wait and begs to be played as loudly as possible.
One such highlight is “Warriors,” which opens with a beat that sounds like something out of the “Mortal Kombat” video game series. After repeating the Om mantra, Maya whispers, “We’re putting them in a trance” and tells the story of warriors who are hypnotized and made to dance to the sound of high-pitched chanting layered over low and rumbling bass.
The crux of the album, “Exodus,” is reincarnated as the final track, “Sexodus.” The reason there are two versions of the same song on the album is unclear, but it seems M.I.A. believes the subject matter is of such importance that it’s worth repeating. She samples the Weeknd’s song “Lonely Star,” in which the Weeknd attempts to woo a prospect with the promise of a life of luxury. On “(S)exodus,” M.I.A. switches up the perspective by confronting her money-driven lover: “You keep on telling me you want to have it all … Tell me what for?”
While the album may not have the broadest appeal, it’ll strike a chord with a generation that’s experiencing the highest economic imbalance since the Great Depression yet somehow still feels the pressure to post pictures of expensive dinners on Instagram. M.I.A. is cocky about her humble beginnings and boasts about her experience as a refugee the way people tend to brag about their lavish lifestyles. “While you dancing in yo Louboutins, we be makin’ tents out ya curtains,” she raps on “aTENTion.” “Do you wanna ride like a crusader, you ain’t gotta Christian Dior,” she sings on “(S)exodus,” comparing the dogma of materialism to religion with her tongue in her cheek.
M.I.A. is an anomaly and has come to be so well respected by her mainstream peers that she continues to be granted access to mainstream platforms. Even when she takes advantage of the opportunities she’s given, M.I.A. stays true to M.I.A. Matangi is no exception.
Contact Rene Hernandez at [email protected].