Of all the hip-hop releases this year, I think ‘Matangi’ has been the most severely underrated. Amidst the Drakes, the Earl Sweatshirts, and the Danny Browns, MIA seems to have been given the “oh yeah, and that happened” treatment, which is bewildering to me, given the actual music. My best guess is that people are over the idea of MIA, and so don’t really give much thought to actually listening to what she says. There may be a point to the way her in-your-faceitude is less like a fly in the ointment the way ‘Yeezus’ was, and more like Lisa Simpson pretentiously wagging her finger in your face about whatever hot button topic she’s taking issue with at the moment, especially considering that has been her shtick for the majority of her work. However, there’s something to be said for persistence, and that applies to the way she approaches this album just as much as it does her long-term career goals.
The first half of the album is the less radio-friendly half, abrasive portion, which serves as a test of commitment for the listener. If you’re willing to wade through the dense production of songs like the title track and “Warriors,” and the relatively middling, “Exodus,” there’s some diamonds in the rough to be found. “Come Walk With Me” shows hints of a more tender side of Maya Arulpragasam, and “aTENTion” shows some distinct and remarkably smooth house which perhaps indicates some note-taking of Disclosure’s recent success. Even “Exodus” has some redeeming lyrical quality, displaying Maya’s characteristic sarcasm.
The album takes all the themes explored in the first 7 tracks and kicks them into high gear for the second half. “Bad Girls” seems like the standout track on the album, perhaps being so idiosyncratic because it was written and completed at an entirely different time than the rest of the songs on this long-delayed album. While something of an uncharacteristic centerpiece, it is still the best song on the album, which isn’t to say that the relatively newer tracks reflect a decline in artistic quality over time. Its inclusion on the album simply demands attention, rather than simply protesting for it. “Boom Skit” boasts some of the more interesting sonic experimentation, and it’s a shame it was relegated to novelty status. “Double Bubble Trouble” is a solid dub-fusion track that seems a logical extension of her interest in the synthesis of various cultures and styles that has been such a crucial part of her style, and was hinted at further on the title track with its list of nations. “YALA” takes a sardonic jab at Drake and the culture that he represents, and contains the funniest lyrics you’re likely to find on ‘Matangi.’ “Bring The Noize” is a close second to “Bad Girls” for best track and is the most solid example of MIA refuses to slip into decline. “Know It Ain’t Right” builds on the promise of “Come Walk With Me” for sweet melody, and “Sexodus” is just as much more interesting than “Exodus” as its title would suggest, showing that the collaboration with The Weeknd was not for nothing.
While perhaps not the smash sequel to ‘Kala’ that some anti-‘Maya’ revisionists were hoping, the way MIA refuses to let up with her agenda becomes more endearing with age. In many ways, ‘Matangi’ was a much greater challenge to supporters and critics than anything she’s done before, and it pays off with some uncompromisingly confrontational music that doesn’t indicate a change in direction as much as it does pushing the limits of her style to the bursting point. It’s the musical culmination of her middle-finger display at the 2012 Super Bowl – issuing a bold challenge to the very audience that she hopes to court.
Recommended Tracks: Matangi, aTENTion, Bad Girls, YALA, Bring The Noize