On Nov. 4 M.I.A. released her fourth studio album, Matangi, named for the Hindu goddess of music and learning. Already another critical hit, Matangi finds the GRAMMY-nominated star again exploring her playful side, with a social consciousness and eloquence unique to today's pop music landscape.
M.I.A. scored her mainstream breakthrough with her sophomore studio album, 2007's Kala, which peaked at No. 18 on the Billboard 200. The album spawned the Top 5 hit "Paper Planes," which earned her a GRAMMY nomination for Record Of The Year. M.I.A. took the stage with rappers Jay-Z, T.I., Kanye West, and Lil Wayne for a performance of "Swagga Like Us" at the 51st GRAMMY Awards on Feb. 8, 2009. At the time, M.I.A. was nine months pregnant, making for one of the more memorable, if not labor-intensive, GRAMMY performances in recent history.
In an exclusive GRAMMY.com interview on the day of Matangi's release, M.I.A. discussed the album's concept, artists she feels a kinship with, how to bring social consciousness back to music, and her dream GRAMMY performance collaborator.
Is this a day that has special meaning for you or is it more a day of work?
I think that's more like it, I have tons of stuff going on. Last night I was still at the venue at midnight so we got to celebrate there.
Are there a few albums from your musical upbringing you remember as significant?
Oh yeah, a hundred percent, there are tons of albums. I think during the whole Brit-pop phase when Oasis and Blur came out, you had to choose which one you were going to buy, there were those kind of moments . … Obviously, there were loads of rap albums that made complete sense to me, like Lil' Kim's [first] album, Eminem's [debut] album [and] DMX's [debut] album, those kind of albums I had to have on the first day.
The stuff anybody listens to when they're younger is so often the music that continues to resonate with them. What are those works that stay timeless for you?
Yeah, I can listen to N.W.A and get the same feeling all the time, that doesn't change. Same with Aaliyah, she'll never change for me. … Same with Eazy-E. I think that artists who are not here I definitely have that special respect for. I have a special place for 2Pac. His work is cemented in that moment.
Were there any surprises that emerged during the writing of Matangi?
I don't know if I can be so reflective. It's sort of an overall concept. When I found the Matangi thing, I was like, "Oh wow, things that I very specifically was into Matangi was into . …" She lived in the ghetto, moved … and then she's also got this crazy wild side. She's a very clean being, she is the goddess of knowledge and she's not a sexual goddess — she wears white, she's pure, she's clean. She creates things and possibilities that would never be there, but she's also wild and she creates chaos, she creates wildness for energy. It might seem chaotic, but she [creates mayhem] for fun. I feel like that's what Matangi is — it brings together things that don't go together and it's about creating an ecstatic, wild, crazy moment of what is acceptable.
What do you think can bring back more of a social consciousness into popular music?
At the moment everyone is motivated by, "Hey, I want to be a musician so I can be a billionaire." That has to change and we've been living like that for 10 or 15 years, so if you're really gonna change music, using music for what music used to be, social commentary, then it has to go back [to like it was] before [music] became a machine. Maybe people are gonna get sick of the financial phase and then it's gonna come back.
Who would be your dream collaborator for a GRAMMY performance?
Probably The Weeknd.
(Steve Baltin has written about music for Rolling Stone, Los Angeles Times, MOJO, Chicago Tribune, AOL, LA Weekly, Philadelphia Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, and dozens more publications.)