Release Date: 2010.7.13
M.I.A. is no stranger to violence. Having grown up in the warring Sri Lanka, having her family relocate to the UK, sparking controversy for highly political and critical lyrics, she’s also no stranger to criticism herself. Always out to inform and incinerate, I’ll quote something she once gave in an interview, “I’m tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.’ I’d rather say, ‘Give war a chance.’ The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here’s your opportunity to help.’ And no one did.” If that’s any indication of just how important musical expression is to her, then M.I.A. is probably one of the most talented artists of our generation.
Sometimes her lyrics are silly on the surface, but something dark’s bubbling underneath the surface somewhere. Sometimes they’re straight out offensive. And sometimes they don’t make any sense at all, to no one except maybe Maya herself. “Arular“, her debut album, was a joint-smoking party record, with heavy bass and lo-fi electro-hop abound to get more than enough supporters. The next, “Kala“, only served to experiment further, trying to get more and more people aware of the personal, raw side to her dance beats and hypnotic rhythms. But still, most of the masses who went out to buy her album bought it because the songs were catchy. Or because they had heard, “Paper Planes” on the radio and wanted to replay the schoolyard chanting over and over like it was nothing. It may sound bitter to some, but in my opinion most people will never get the point of her music. That she has something big to say and the only way she can get it out there is to rap and electro and dance all over the place. I’m not saying everyone is ignorant to her message, but it’s mainly melodic noise to a lot of people.
I think that with the release of her third album, “/\/\ /\ Y /\“, people may slowly, but steadily, start to understand her message of violence in third-world places better. Because while “/\/\ /\ Y /\” is probably her most out-of-control, disturbed, in your face loud album, it’s also the album where you can finally hear her. I know we could hear her before, but by the tone of these hardcore experiments, a slightly bitter, angry, defiant edge shows through where her last albums failed to reveal. I may be looking too far into it, but I think I have reason to believe so. One thing’s for damn sure: she was born free.
She introduces the album in the eerie, cryptic, “The Message“, with serves up a healthy dose of propaganda, explaining the reason behind the stylistic, unsearchable title of the album, accusing Google of blocking the flow of information for certain groups. From the first seconds of loud destroyer, “Steppin’ Up“, with the infectious, “steppin’ up, in this club / all tooled up like a thug / rub-a-dub-dub”, complete with real chainsaws providing background chorus, it’s clear she means business.
The most mainstream, yet still definably M.I.A. “XXXO“, is a short and sweet synth dance track that spills the beans on everyone wanting her to be someone she can’t be, and really serves as a flowing interlude into six-minute, “Teqkilla“, which samples her own, “Hussel“, which is a hypnotic mountain of alarms and chains and alcohol shots, whisking you off into the dirtiest, seediest nightclub in downtown New Delhi. My favorite song from the album, “Lovalot“, is a stand-up experimental anthem to declare your independence against opression, with some truly humorous lyrics (“Like a Taliban trucka eating boiled-up yucca”) and with such a powerful message and strange, tribal beat, manages to achieve in 2:50 what many of her songs can’t in double the time. “I fight the ones that fight me”. I don’t doubt it.
Zooming into the sparse, pleading “Story To Be Told“, we come to M.I.A.’s latest oddball tracks, “It Takes A Muscle” and “It Iz What It Iz“, the first reggae-influenced and the second being somewhat of a psychotic lullaby (M.I.A. also sounds heavily emotional in this song). Then we came to the oh-so controversial… “I WAS BORN FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!“. A punk-electro anthemic infection that somehow must have resulted from a late-night session of sampling old punk-rock. The music video is also a must-see (warning: very disturbing). It’s probably one of my favorite tracks because of how pissed-off it is and sounds. This sounds like the kind of shit that would be blasting during a bank heist or when you’re beating up some stupid bitch that always bullies you. Definitely one of the must-hears here.
A drug-riddled, pill-popping, Sleigh Bells-produced “Meds and Feds” is a rebellion on wheels, pretty much the kind of music you play to piss off your parents. “I just give a damn, I just-I just give a damn” set against an entire school stadium of drugged-out potheads and cheerleaders clapping while a third-cultured Sri Lankan Brit raps about shooting up? Yes please. The Diplo-produced “Tell Me Why” is a marching-band bittersweet epic about pondering the crimes of humanity, and serves as a brief reprieve before the ultimate closer, “Space“, a truly outer space track, with a breakbeat inserted when you least expect it, making the listener automatically sit up and listen.
A lot of people won’t get this album for a while. They’ll try to riddle out what exactly M.I.A. is talking about half the time, or they just won’t care and dance along. But give “/\/\ /\ Y /\” some time to adjust, and you’ll feel a little more humane, and if you’re like me, you’ll be a little more motivated to change the world, the best you can.