Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 85)
It was late 2004 and Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam was frustrated.
After clawing her way out of poverty in Sri Lanka, surviving the Sri Lankan civil war in the process, to graduate from London’s St. Martin’s School of Design, to using a few connections and MySpace to cultivate her own buzz, signing with XL as M.I.A., and finally recording her debut album, she was hit with the dreaded delay. A few pesky samples weren’t clearing from her XL debut Arular
and its original September release date became December became sometime in 2005.
Rather than sit and mope about it, Maya, along with Florida DJ Diplo who had already been snapping songs together like Legos in Hollertronix, decided to yank the vocals from the Arular
tracks and lay them over contemporary rap/hip-hop beats. This gradually evolved into the all out house party Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1
, an idea so genius I cannot believe more people don’t rip it off. It might be the most enduring example of early-00’s mashup culture there is and a reminder that the unifying power of the internet used to be thrilling instead of existentially crushing.
The ultimate test of the mash-up is if it still slams after the fizzy joy of hearing familiar sounds in new contexts goes away. It’s why my Girl Talk albums are rusting over while Piracy Funds Terrorism
feels fresh. These mash-up’s are about lending a new perspective to existing songs rather than overwhelming the listener with gimmickry. None of the M.I.A. combos top the Arular
originals though a few come close. Pairing the Stockholm Syndrome tale “Amazon” with the crunk ‘n’ B of Lil’ Jon’s “Goodies” is nothing less than inspired as the sweaty crunch of the beat is reinterpreted as listless boredom as “minutes turn to hours that became my days”. “Bingo” sounds perfect on top of Timbaland’s “Big Pimpin’”, with the original’s thump becoming an irrepressible bounce.
A whole album of M.I.A. mashups probably could have worked but wouldn’t have been half as interesting as Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1
actually is. In addition, M.I.A. and Diplo pull sources from the popular to the classic to the obscure and slam them into their rough edged Baile funk. A 30 second interlude on Arular
, “One for the Head” is overlaid with Missy Elliott’s vocal from “Pass that Dutch”, taking the verse from the bass heavy original and laying it over something that could be playing out of an ice cream truck. On “Galang”, the vox from total obscurity “The Glock” by Jamaican-NYC rapper Lil’ Vicious is mixed with the bleep ‘n’ bass of the Neptunes’ “What Happened to that Boy"” in a combination so natural I thought it was an original vocal at first. And on “Fire Fire” the song’s original beat is mixed with, of all things, The Bangles’ “Walk Like an Egyptian” and the combination is peanut butter and jelly as the beat’s tough door slams and stuttering synth throw the 80s pop song’s big hooks into stark relief .
Piracy Funds Terrorism Vol. 1
has the infectious momentum of a great DJ set, mixed and arranged so something familiar is never far off from the unknown. It’s adventurous and surprising while maintaining an accessible bent by keeping well known artists close to its more out there slices of Baile funk. Over a decade after its release, and long after the novelty has worn off, it still remains a fun and enlightening trip through the tastes of two artists who were about to move onto bigger things.