M.I.A. Talks About Learning the Language of Rebellion

The artist's fourth studio album is out and it's getting mixed reviews.

By Jamilah King Nov 05, 2013

M.I.A.’s fourth studio album "Matangi" is out today. The album has so far gotten mixed reviews. While the music blog Consequence of Sound calling it "a powerfully abrasive record that’s also M.I.A.’s best in years," Pitchfork gave it a tepid 6.5 rating and called it "limp" and perplexing."

But, as is often the case with any M.I.A. product, the packaging is just as important as what’s inside. The singer/rapper/designer sat down for an interview with NPR and talked about everything from her childhood to the song she’s written for her new album with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Among the most interesting parts of the interview is when M.I.A. talks about her reputation as a provactive artist.

Who told you to "F off," as you say? Where was that message coming from?

Well, that’s kind of what the New York Times article was about: It was a government official and my ex-boyfriend discrediting what I was saying, and everyone got behind them. So it was really confusing to me because I was like, "Well, what’s the difference?" One is a story where an American person goes to Uganda and picks out the story, puts it into context and then uploads it to YouTube, and then a lot of Americans can understand it. And me, I can be in the same category as Jacob, but I did the journey myself — nobody had to come to my village and save me and articulate my story. I’d learned the language myself, I built the platform myself, got to a microphone myself, got nominated for a Grammy and an Oscar the same month, to make the biggest platform possible in America. Then I told the story — and it didn’t translate. A lot of people were like, "Just make music; don’t talk about politics." But I was in a very difficult position: I was the only Tamil rapper [on the international stage], so when a whole bunch of Tamil people were dying, I had to tell you about it.


A last question strikes me: A lot of people describe you as provocative. Is that a fair label?

Well, I don’t know. The thing is, is that a thing about them or is it a thing about me? I don’t intentionally go, "What is provocative?" and try to do that. I just do stuff and people go, "That’s provocative." Maybe because sometimes I’m super-ignorant — and sometimes they’re super-ignorant.