M.I.A & Diplo
Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1
ashups should come with an expiration date. While you're completely aware that your Special K with Red Berries is best before whenever, the timeframe for your average collision course (*cough*) is relative to the listener and the amount of new ground broken. By these tokens, Diplo of Hollertronix seems to have accurately mixed his way across the genre rainbow to take Sri Lankan-born London import M.I.A on an aural reconnaissance mission. And the dossier says Piracy Funds Terrorism.
So who is our operative? Her given name is Maya Arulpragasam and she is the current femme fatale of choice for the Rock Crits For Feminist Empowerment lobby. She's not an overt lyricist: all she’s shown thus far is dance-hop spirituals and post-tribal chants. Shit, you might even catch the Beanie Sigel repeat-the-last-line trick a few times. But the reason she intrigues more than predecessors like Missy Elliott and Neneh Cherry isn't based on the Heart of Darkness theory that white man + 'foriegn savage' = god's work: it's because she fucking kills tracks on melody, drive and style alone.
When she isn't planning to rob the cell phone of her boyfriend's mistress (on the standout "URAQT") or getting kidnapped and stowed in the jungle ("Amazon"), she's writing speeches for the masses of the Million Woman March. Whether she makes like Dr. Doolittle talking kung fu stances ("Ride the elephant, get one with the tiger /...Yes, swing like orangutang"), stands up to misogyny ("Suckin' on a Benson, tryna get me undone / Let me go, I don't want your attention") or hands out a subtle indictment of manipulative women ("She skipped away to the shop, she found she didn't have enough / She caught him looking right at her and sucked on a lollypop"), M.I.A delivers her manifestos and makes it all seem effortless.
Diplo's fluid mix is bursting with ideas throughout the 57 minute set: he turns the fabled "Galang" into a Reggaeton smasher and a gritty Neptunes throwback (specifically "What Happened To That Boy?") on two separate tracks, melds "Walk Like An Egyptian" with "Fire Fire" and most spectacularly, makes our heroine sound completely natural over Baltimore house, Eurythmics "Sweet Dreams" and Salt N Pepa's "Push It", among other things. The most effective mashes tend to be the straightforward rap instrumentals. "Amazon" salvages the previously under-used "Goodies" beat, while "Pop" has her utilizing the ominous flat synth bass of Dead Prez's "Hip Hop" for her most direct counter-culture assault ("You can be a follower but who is your leader? / Break that cycle or it will kill ya /...The trendsetters make things better / Don't sell out to the publishers"). The tape closer "Bingo" takes Timbaland's classic Jay-Z vehicle "Big Pimpin'" and gets laced incredibly well, making a case for M.I.A's genius with chants and hooks ("Do you know what is on? Do you know what is on? / Do you know how this beat is made in fuckin' London-d-don?").
This might be the proverbial promise ring: if her solo full-length (and the recently announced second volume of this series) can't stand up to the beat science here, we'll be left with a taste of practically unprecedented disappointment. Not to say M.I.A's previous efforts were lacking in production, Diplo's obvious grasp on M.I.A's nuances makes me excited for the future of our lady's vocals, but unsure about my preference for her own minimalist beats. Either way, East and West connect here for a genre-bending adventure in shattered preconceptions and club killing beats. Only time will tell whether or not M.I.A's upcoming solo will lead her out of being a mere footnote of this decade.
Reviewed by: Rollie Pemberton
Reviewed on: 2004-12-09