M.I.A. exploded onto the hipster music scene in 2005 with the release of her debut LP, Arular, named after her Sir Lankin revolutionary father. The album was an indie classic, filled with bittersweet B-More and dancehall tinged political jams that truly allowed listeners to party for the right to fight. The rest of the world caught up with the tastemakers with the release of her flawed but still solid second LP, Kala, named after her mother, largely in part to it’s lead single “Paper Planes”, which was freestyled over by just about everyone (including 50 Cent, Trey Songz, and Bun B, to name a few), catching on after it’s use in trailers for Pineapple Express. The song shortly thereafter led to T.I.’s “Swagger Like Us”, built off a line from “Paper Planes”, while each T.I., Jay-Z, Kanye, and Lil Wayne rapped over it. Her pregnant award-show appearance performing the track on stage with all four rappers had solidified her presence in the game; M.I.A. had arrived.
The road leading up to her third LP, ///Y/ (pronounced “Maya”, her own name), was a bumpy one, first finding the artist venomously spewing hatred at Lady Gaga for swagger-jacking on Wale’s “Lookin’ At Me”. Things got even worse when she angrily retaliated at a New York Times interviewer by releasing his phone number over the internet. Early reviews for Maya have been largely mixed, even prompting one ?uestlove to ask: damn. didn’t know M.I.A.’s NYT’s antics came at a price (my question is…is this payback and a message from the press on some “we made you we’ll break you” ish? cause i can’t believe all of a sudden she made such a putrid album that these reviews are ready to pounce on her like this—ive seen mediocre albums get a “pass” in the name of love—since half yall—psssh since all of yall following me on twitter….will any journalist actually admit that this pan is more payback for maya putting a journalist’s phone number on the net than it is she made a bad record?
Is Maya a bad record? No. Is it a good record? Not really. But the critical consensus has nothing to do with her being a cunt. The difference here was her first album knocked the ball right out of the park. Her second LP pushed the boundaries a little too far, but was excusable as it still had some great moments. Maya attempts to go the way of Coldcut, The Bomb Squad and El-P and perfect the art of noise, but in many places falls flat.
It starts off well, with the well thought out conceptual intro “The Message”, which sets up a theme of anti-internet paranoia that runs throughout the album. The raw, aggro boom of “Steppin’ Up” follows and gets it right, suggesting we’re in for an experimental sonic tour-de-force, while “XXXO” is a dark and lovely melodic pop track that is executed perfectly. The ode to her favorite drugs and alcohol, “Teqkilla” attempts to appeal to rapper sensibilities, but pushes it just a bit too far.
The middle of the album is where things begin to fall short. She begins to prattle along aimlessly with an uninspiring crop of tracks, each a far cry from anything on her first two records. Yawn inducing tracks like “Lovalot” and “It Iz What It Iz” drag the album down, and while both “Story To Be Told” and the dub-flavored “It Takes A Muscle” might work as great backdrops to your next blunt session, don’t seem to work in this context.
We get a brief wake up call with the lead single, “Born Free”, a bold Sleigh Bells featured punk rock track that sticks in your head like it’s video that you can’t un-see, while the Diplo produced “Meds and Feds” follows, begging the question as to why he was only used for one track. (The reason being that M.I.A.’s baby daddy hates him. So there’s that.)
The album closes out with two lazy additions, “Tell Me Why” and “Space”, where she lackadaisically references Puzzle Bubble (yes, really), not leaving things on a good note. Things dwell even deeper into mediocrity on the deluxe edition, which tacks on an extra four tracks that were not good enough to make the final cut. And for an album that’s only average, one can imagine the amount of quality included herein.
It takes a rare talent to turn random sounds into music that people want to listen to, and we’ve seen the aforementioned artists Coldcut, El-P, and Public Enemy perfect this. But when an artist attempts to do this and fails, they fall hard. Perhaps the biggest mistake made on Maya is her assumption that she is in the position to “do anything”, rather than just to make the kind of music we all fell in love with five years ago in the first place. While unfortunately the fads of B-More and baile-funk rhythms have faded, surely there’s a better direction to take her music than what is found on Maya. Better luck next time.
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