Alright, alright. Hold up a fucking second.
Did I miss something? No, I'm serious, did I miss something? Because I've sampled and downloaded commercial hip-hop that's been recommended with such prolix and feeling only to find that, wait, yes, it's still terrible. When did Cam'ron's Purple Haze earn Pitchfork's rare "Best New Music" award and when did 50 Cent's The Massacre match, in artistic capability and performance, Dalek's Absence? This isn't simply purist beef I have. I'm always down with a copacetic beat and a dope flow--I still think Jay-Z's '99 Problems' is one of the best hip-hop singles ever released--but never at the cost of message and meaning. I don't look to my hip-hop collection with a eugenicist's eye, scouring the Interweb for every Can Ox live EP imported from Belgium or every piece of Anti-Pop Consortium memorabilia I can find, but I don't go stinkfisting in the radio either.
It's 2005, can we just agree that there is no beef and all the shit-talking by 50 Cent and Ja Rule is meaningless when neither will ever grow the balls to battle because both are making money from the playground show of words? Can we agree that with its commercial success, that aspect of hip-hop which desires only to be profitable shouldn't be magnified unnecessarily until a fleeting, frail beating artistic heart is discovered? Finally, can we agree hip-hop is global and the street grime dimension is a dishonest front? Because hip-hop is at its most concentrated when it's a display of the world's glories and disasters, when it's a fundamental exploration of humanity. The genre is a conduit, a frame meant only to capture and animate the greater human story.
Arular is a mighty reversion to hip-hop's birthplace, but not literally. The genre's genesis from the street corner of racism, drug use, and violence is applied to the world, revivifying hip-hop's original exigence. Instead you see a compressed and thematically cacophanous medley of a world on fire; a post-9/11, globalized world where spirituality is adhered to with dangerous fervor; a world where our enemies have been narrowed to a particular shade of Brown. M.I.A. (real name Maya Arulpragasam) has lived in this world. At 27, her residence in England feels slightly temporary, if only because she's traversed the world, to say nothing of how itinerant the music itself sounds. The daughter of a Tamil Tiger rebel leader, M.I.A.'s Arular is sparse and spartan but grabs at all times in all directions as if trying to consider the world and herself simultaneously. You hear Electronic, Dancehall, Hip-Hop, and pop in expeditious movements without once sounding awkward or sluggish. The sexy thuggery of 'Fire, Fire' or 'Pull Up The People' is never forced as the beats and her performance are reflective of each other.
'Galang' and 'Hombre' alone prove amazingly satisfying, textured, and rich. At base inspection it sounds like just a collection of expertly conducted Dancehall and Electronic music, which alone would merit a good word. But the lyrics offer far more complexity and help the album cohere as a single musical and political entity. Lines like "I've Got The Bombs to make you Bang Bang Bang" on 'Pull Up The People' prove to be direct and her rhyming style doesn't unneccesarily attach itself to one genre or the other. Such lyrical dexterity helps maintain the listener's attention. In fact, I hesitate to call Arular mainly hip-hop at all because of how rapidly it jumps around and I only do so with futility. But it's a good species of futility. If this is truly hip-hop then 99% of what passes in that genre today is grossly and pathetically myopic; a moribund phenomenon bound by convention and kept alive only through capital machines. Arular demands your attention by the sheer volume it carries, parsed no more poignantly than when M.I.A. tells hip-hop's motherland to stop speaking: "Quiet Down, New York, I need to make a sound."
Release date: March 22, 2005
Label: Xl/Beggars US
Rating: 9.8 / 10
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