photo manipulation by nacrowe
when SRI LANKAN-born, BRITISH mc M.I.A. came on the scene in the 2000s she was a revelation partly due to the unique production of her first two records and partly due to the unique global scope of her lyrics.
given the dearth of powerful female mcs at the time (and since), it is quite remarkable that this daughter of emigre political refugees from SRI LANKA (her father was involved with the TAMIL TIGERS) would assume such an outspoken role in such a hostile genre. it is not lost on anyone that women involved in the genre usually have to debase themselves with overly sexualized videos in order to gain traction in the industry (exemplified by likes of NICKI MINAJ, CARDI B, RIHANNA, MEGAN THEE STALLION, LIL' KIM and FOXY BROWN). in a sense M.I.A. is a bit of a throwback to a previous era where women where considered equals in terms of their lyrical content (artists like SALT-N-PEPA, QUEEN LATIFAH, MC LYTE, LAUREN HILL and MISSY ELLIOT). it is almost comical that she was side-by-side with NICKI MINAJ in a now overlooked MADONNA video, since in my mind they are opposite ends of the spectrum, almost like comparing PJ HARVEY or PATTI SMITH to CHRISTINA AGUILERA. but maybe i am off-base for making comparisons between female artists. let them have the freedom to portray themselves as they wish to represented. amen.
for me what separates M.I.A. from her competition (of both genders) is her use of sound collages and lyrical refrains that represent the hidden communities of underdeveloped countries around the world. hearing a song that deconstructs the power of money ("$20" off of KALA) within a third-world context is something that i have seen firsthand abroad living in NIGERIA and ALBANIA but have rarely come across in pop culture. it is just not part of the idiom of mass entertainment. same goes for her visuals which can showcase everything from amorous GIFS from the ARAB world (think about how much subterfuge is involved in that) to BOLLYWOOD dance production to Indian subcontinent visual culture of hand-painted shop signs.
when i hear her records i intuit that i am riding along an artist in full control of her artistic vision. not to get back to my point about female representation in HIP HOP, but i get the feeling M.I.A. would never allow herself to get drawn into that game. in her i see another singular artist in the vein of past luminaries like BJÖRK, EMMYLOU HARRIS, PJ HARVEY, CARLY SIMON, JANIS JOPLIN, PATTI SMITH and MARIANNE FAITHFUL who follow their own distinct lead.
could not recommend her music any stronger. check her out.