M.I.A, despite the clear connotations of her stage name, is not missing in action. In fact, she has returned to center stage with her latest hit single ‘Borders’. Of course, M.I.A’s stage name is inspired by her own initials as well, which is Mathangi ‘Maya’ Arulpragasam. She is an English-Tamil rapper, singer-songwriter, and record producer. Beyond the musical realm, her career includes experience and accolades in the fields of visual art, activism, photography and fashion. Her many influences come through in her music, its dynamic and evocative sound clearly born of a myriad of artistic angles.
Her style is a combination of rap, avant-garde and world music. Over steady, minimalist beats with light electronic accompaniments, she raps steadily and rapidly, often adopting monotone vocals that give a seriousness, a viciousness to her performance. Though she may never be compared to the likes of Remy Ma, Nicki Minaj or Dej Loaf in terms of the best female rappers in the game, I find this to be an oversight. While M.I.A is certainly not producing rap in the mainstream sense of the genre, her flow is inarguably legitimate. Her lyrics are crafty and thought provoking, holding serious weight as they carry the track, especially on her latest ‘Borders’.
Where on some tracks she allows her vocals to burst forth in song, forgoing rap, her latest release is rap through and through. As far as the song’s backbeat, she enlists steady drum loops, which occasionally releases a subtle yet effective bass drop. Otherwise, the minimalist arrangement is given further depth and intrigue with the addition of edited horns and synths, working to further highlight her unique voice. She raps, “borders, what’s up with that? Politics, what’s up with that? Police shots, what’s up with that? Identities, what’s up with that? Your privilege, what’s up with that?” Cleary M.I.A is taking a slightly more critical stance with ‘Borders’. She is challenging the system, or at least a system of some kind, in every line, each followed by the earworm refrain “what’s up with that?”
Where M.I.A has long been a staple on the upbeat style of rap played at clubs and dancehalls, I see ‘Borders’ as a change in tone. This track is her coming of age in the political, activist undertones it inspires. I think M.I.A’s talent often goes overlooked, and I suggest that you hit play on ‘Borders’ to put an end to this injustice.
By: Fletcher Bonin
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