M.I.A. - AIM
The rapper-producer-director-photographer-fashion designer-activist and all round artistic polymath returns with her fifth studio album. Her previous release, 2013's Matangi, was met with widespread critical acclaim that didn't relate to commercial success. It was subjected to delays thanks to disputes with Interscope before finally securing a release after M.I.A. threatened to leak the album herself. In a way, it comes as no surprise that AIM is claimed to be the rapper’s final album. Even the cover comes with a shade of irony with this farewell, an emblem surrounded with the tagline “MIA - Uniting people since 2003”, especially in light of how divisive she has been in the US since allegedly flipping off the viewing millions during the 2012 NFL Superbowl half-time show and not issuing a grovelling apology.
AIM is a continuation of M.I.A.’s musical journey, working with previous collaborator Diplo but also drafting in Skrillex and Blaqstarr on production duties, and Zayn Malik and Dexter Dapps on guest vocal duties. As with her previous releases, rhythms crash into each other with abrasive and jarring found sound samples combining stark hip hop with angular punk, on top of this M.I.A.’s laidback lyrical delivery creates an evocative soundscape. Highlights include both versions of ‘Birdsong’ which threatens to become the first modern hip hop classic with kazoos, ‘Foreign Friend’ tackling refugee status, Asian bhangra being put into a washing machine of ‘Ali R U OK’, and the woozy siren and driving beat of ‘A.M.P.’. On first listen, the album isn’t as focused as previous releases, ideas fly in from every corner and collide. However, on repeated listens you have to wonder whether this on purpose.
The message behind it all still has M.I.A angry as ever over an unjust world, touching on tensions arising from race, immigration, sex and sexuality, and has its sights fixed firmly on the media and political spin on these topics. Rather than being as pointed and barbed as her previous efforts, the tracks on her final release leave these questions hanging in the air as with album opener ‘Borders’ - “Borders, what’s up with that? Politics, what’s up with that? Police shots, what’s up with that?”. Rather than giving us the answers, M.I.A.’s parting shot is for us to answer these ourselves, the hope is that we answer correctly.