M.I.A. – Matangi

written by: November 15, 2013
Album-art-for-Matangi-by-MIA Release Date: November 5, 2013


M.I.A. has carved a niche within electronic music, melding Eastern and Western elements together to create bhangra hip hop with hints of fidget house. Her fourth album Matangi has the digitized grit of her earlier albums, but doesn’t drop jaws in the same way.

This project is supposed to be M.I.A.’s spiritual album, drawing influence from her namesake, the goddess Matangi—M.I.A.’s birth name is Mathangi—who is the tantric goddess of music and learning in Hinduism.

This concept is present in the title, and more evident on the anti-YOLO track “YALA” (You Always Live Again) in which M.I.A. raps vaguely about reincarnation.

Whatever drove M.I.A. to create this album was lost in translation.

The lyrics are not as deep as one might hope, considering the inspiration, M.I.A.’s beliefs, and her previous work. The highly stylized production sometimes overwhelms the vocals, pushing M.I.A.’s lyricism even further into the background.

Since her first album Arular, M.I.A. has been rapping over a glitchy and bass-heavy hybrid. Every beat on Matangi is frenetic, noisy, and throbbing, but consistently grounded in the incorporation of bhangra sounds or samples. The production is entrancing.

Unfortunately, Matangi is also full of disappointments. “Exodus” and “Sexodus” both sample “Lonely Star” by The Weeknd. Neither song is particularly special, and they lose even more value with redundancy. Throughout the album, M.I.A.’S rapping lacks the ferocity and sting of her previous work.

The track “aTENTion” is lazy and shallow. The “tent” wordplay has a pretty killer beat, but a kindergarten-level concept—yes, M.I.A. successfully incorporated several words that end with “tent” into the lyrics, but is there any meaning behind it?

“The fullest extent of my intent is to let you know what is importent/My existents is militent cause my content bangs like it’s potent/Resistent to the pollutent, never hesitent, always consistent/I back it up, yeah I’m very blatent/Don’t try to copy this cause I patent,” M.I.A. raps.

She addressed this as her “spiritual” album, yet so much is lacking lyrically that it’s hard to take her motives seriously.

While Matangi is more positive and less aggressive than her previous work, M.I.A.’S rapping and songwriting feel thin, with the exception of a few tracks.

“Lights” is calmer, with a more minimal, mystical beat. M.I.A. gently raps, “Rainbows in my vision move into the rhythm/Electric shadows in my ear got me dancing spinnin’/Northern lights on my mind all the colors rhyme/Loving me all the time keep that on your timeline/I keep my distance even though I shine.”

Perhaps this would have been a better route to take when trying to engage with the concept on the rest of the album.

Contrasting the airiness of “Lights,” “Bring the Noize” attacks the current electronic/hip hop/pop formulas and forces them to work in unnatural ways.

This track is on fire. The beat creaks, vibrates, scratches, and pulsates, while M.I.A. spits, “I’m so tangy, people call me Mathangi/Goddess of word, bitches I’ma keep it banging/Truth is like a rotten tooth, you gotta spit it out!/Let the bottom two, let my wisdom work it out/Big on the underground, can’t knock me down/Vicki Leekx bitches, back by dope demand.” This is the strong M.I.A., who rarely shows on other songs from Matangi.

Matangi was expected to be released in December of 2012, but was delayed because label executives believed it was too upbeat. Finally, it arrived nearly a year later. If this is 2012 M.I.A., and the release is already dated, how will her work stack up in the future? The album loses some intrigue with this knowledge, even though the beats and production are on point.

The music that M.I.A. produces is always interesting and full of surprises, something Matangi never lacks; however, this album is missing the force of volumes like Arular or Kala.

The proclaimed spirituality of the album is too weak to hold up against the dominant production, and the concept lacks depth. Matangi succeeds because it is an M.I.A. project, but M.I.A. herself could have pushed it further.

M.I.A. – Matangi tracklist:

  1. “Karmageddon”
  2. “Matangi”
  3. “Only 1 U”
  4. “Warriors”
  5. “Come Walk With ME”
  6. “aTENTion”
  7. “Exodus (feat. The Weeknd)”
  8. “Bad Girls”
  9. “Boom Skit”
  10. “Double Bubble Trouble”
  11. “YALA”
  12. “Bring the Noize”
  13. “Lights”
  14. “Know It Ain’t Right”
  15. “Sexodus (feat. The Weeknd)”