I was in third grade

What is it like to be Maya Arulpragasam these days? The music public at large did a big ol’ blink on Arular despite the hype, the curse of making music without a American sound struck again (rest in your native country, Dizzee), she cameoed with Missy E and dropped out of the music presses’ collective eye. Sure, Americans would go on to adapt her delivery as we’re wont to do — Fergie and Nelly Fertado even made money on it.

So that’s got to put her in a unique position. How does the slept-on tastemaker with a Soulseeking/blog-reading/Myspace-having audience proceed? Let me ask the boyfriend. Hello, Diplo? Wes has weaved his love for funk carioca and B’more club through his production style almost completely, completely disregarding the trip-hop/downtempo sound of Florida, and kept producing for his ladyfriend. His portions of Arular worked well, tempered by Maya’s impeccable taste.

Well, mostly. “XR 2” showed up on Dip’s Myspace recently, the proper locale for a track so characteristically his. Raved up horns made for bouncing off favela walls are manicly driven, and repetitively so. The hop-skip, double dutch Baltimore drum programming is just as relentless; verses offer a sparse reprieve, clipped and appropriately lo-tech. M.I.A. sounds less herself — scaling back her emphatic exclamations to, say, sitting on the couch, recording between commercials after she gets another hit off the blunt; and let’s give Wes a few verses so this isn’t just another practice beat. She’s confident if subdued, glad to be recording and only the slightest bit wary of the outcome.

It takes a few listens before it’s apparent this is more carefully assembled than that cursory spin suggested. Among a slew of half-assed rhymes (that whole section on anagrams makes Myspace Uffie’s look clever) slither a few hot lines. “Where were you in ’92?” references one of the most violent periods of Sri Lanka’s history and puts the audience on the defense/on blast/onto Google to figure out what happened. She gets lost in the instrumental while whispering, but “Whistle whistle / blow blow / here we here we / go go” is pretty detached and authoritarianly sexy at full volume. Cleverly enough, the lyrics and theme reach their peak when the song swallows itself: “Some people think we’re stupid but we’re not,” then vanishes for three-quarters of a beat. She doesn’t come back really strong right after, not needing to say what the silence didn’t say for her. That said, the track has a weird disposably interesting appeal, in all its enduringly straight-forward glory. Will it be reflective of her future? Being a stylistic shapeshifter makes considering the question practically moot. Personally I’d rather not hear this sound out of her; surely Diplo remembers he can make his own records.

Audio, M.I.A., “XR 2”


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