Change precipitates growth. MIA exists in a constant state of change reflective of her own insatiable creativity, acute internal compass, and a perennial place ahead of the curve socially, aesthetically, and musically. As such, she consistently sets the pace for culture.
Catalyzed at the crossroads of art, activism, and fashion, her seminal breakthrough album KALA arrived with the force of a tsunami in 2007. An insurgent pastiche of hip-hop attitude, world music connectivity, high fashion disruption, and radicalized consciousness, Rolling Stone and NME both christened it one of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time,” while Spin touted it among “The 300 Best Albums of the Past 30 Years.” It earned a gold certification and spawned the quadruple-platinum generational anthem “Paper Planes.” Indicative of its impact, the mega-smash appeared in the Academy® Award-winning Slumdog Millionaire directed by iconic filmmaker Danny Boyle. Fellow revolutionaries Tom Morello and Boots Riley covered it as part of Street Sweeper Social Club, while Rihanna performed it in a popular live medley. Famously, T.I., JAY-Z, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne sampled it as the hook for the multiplatinum smash “Swagga Like Us,” taking home the GRAMMY® Award for “Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group.” She parlayed this momentum into 2010’s MAYA, which marked her first Top 10 debut on the Billboard Top 200. Following the 2013 opus Matangi and the banger “Bad Girls,” AIM closed out 2016 on various year-end lists, and Q dubbed it “her best outing since 2007’s Kala.” Along the way, she collaborated with the likes of Madonna, Nicki Minaj, and Travis Scott, to name a few.
Casting just as wide of a shadow over fashion, Versace, Marc Jacobs, and more have sought her out for collaborations. Recognizing her impact, Vulture hailed her as “a precursor for the various fashion-rap acts (Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert, Playboi Carti, and above all A$AP Rocky).” An outspoken humanitarian, she has supported various global causes to build schools, stand up for victims of atrocities, and support impoverished communities.
However, M.I.A. levels up once again on 2022’s MATA, showing another side of herself altogether. Turning the page on a new chapter, she signed to Island Records and is managed by SALXCO.
“This album was actually written in a very peaceful place,” she observes. “COVID happened, and I’m sure there were expectations for me to make a violent and aggressive record, but you already have that in my catalog. If you want to protest, if you want to speak up, or if you want to fight, all of those songs are there—and they always will be. MATA is about rising above any earthly problems and social problems. I took a step back and looked at it from a bigger perspective. No matter what religion you ascribe to, the message is ultimately the same. I create out of chaos. Everything that’s creative and created is god, and everything that’s destructive and destroys is god too. To me, this record is complete acceptance of the divine. Whatever happens is what happens. I approached this music as if I was meant to make it.”
MATA certainly sounds meant to be. Writing throughout 2020 and 2021, M.I.A. still “used her four-track and old laptop” and personally produced various tracks. At the same time, she collaborated with the likes of Pharrell, Diplo, Rex Kudo, Switch, Troy Baker, T-Minus, and more. Beyond recording at home, she also worked out of Rick Rubin’s Malibu studio.
Ultimately, the album represents two halves of her vision.
“On some songs, I’m trying to escape and come back to my old style of writing and production,” she reveals. “50% of the album is me holding on to what I am. The other half of the record is joining a bigger discussion about what I am, because it’s not about the same comfort zone.”
That brings us to the first single “The One.” Co-produced by T-Minus and Kudo, the upbeat groove underlines bold and buoyant bars as she examines a moment of transformation. Leaning into the beat, she promises, “This time I’m gonna flip the whole thing. New era I’m gonna bring it.”
“It’s about the challenge of making this record,” she muses. “It was raw ego versus embracing changes you have to embrace when it’s not about you. That happened to me. I had an awakening. It wasn’t something I was looking for. I was minding my own business. Boom, out of nowhere, I had this spiritual experience, and it turned my world upside down creatively. That’s where I’m at now.”
As always with M.I.A., MATA balances extremes. Pharrell made a Tamil beat for “Time Travel,” relying on graceful simplicity. “KTP,” short for “Keep The Peace,” brought together production from Skrillex with invaluable perspective from Rubin. “There are songs we made in half-an-hour with a coconut, and there are songs we made with a Tesla X on mars,” she grins.
In the end, change has brought M.I.A. to the dawn of a new era unlike anything before it and, most likely, after it as well…
“This is the second coming,” she leaves off. “It’s very hard to tell what the world needs right now. I tried to get out of the game. I’ve done my best to escape, but I can’t. I’ve accepted it though. I’m really happy to be making music. I’m at peace with the fact I’m a musician. I’m truthful to my journey. When you listen to this record, you’ll get everything. You’ll hear the growing pains, but you’ll hear accessibility and relatability. It’s everything. It’s still me.”