Genre: Hip Hop
Producer: M.I.A., Blaqstarr, ADP
Release Date: September 9, 2016
English rapper and political activist Mathangi Arulpragasam, better known by her stage name M.I.A., is one of the most highly acclaimed and controversial musicians of the new millennium. She made her breakthrough with her third studio album Kala, which was listed as one of the best albums of the 2000’s. It also spawned the smash hit “Paper Planes” which still can be heard regularly anywhere from malls to swimming halls.
M.I.A. claims that her fifth studio album, the either very cleverly or very lazily named AIM, will be her last. The album opens with the single “Borders”, which in its lyrics questions things like politics, police brutality and the refugee crisis. Unfortunately most of the questioning literally happens by adding “What’s up with that?” after each word. The subtly catchy track will stay in your head for weeks. Then it quickly goes downhill from there.
“Freedun” features guest vocals from One Direction graduate Zayn, who gives a surprisingly good performance compared to the mess that is his solo career. Same cannot be said about Dexta Daps on “Foreign Friend”, whose melodramatic belting seems rather comical next to M.I.A.’s deadpan delivery. Combined with the awkward timing their lines are intertwined, it almost seems like the two artist were not aware of each other.
A lot of AIM (including the album cover) reminds me of Kanye West’s recent Life of Pablo, also an acclaimed and controversial rapper’s highly anticipated album, manifested as nothing more than an unfocused collage of half-finished drafts and ideas. “Fly Pirate” is a prime example, encapsulating all the album’s problems into two and half minutes: it has interesting soundscape and great production, a good hook, and about a verse and a half’s worth of decent lyrics. Then it just devolves into repeating “fly pirate” for the next two minutes without really going anywhere. It is as if M.I.A. literally gave up halfway through the song. And it doesn’t end there: “Bird Song” is literally nothing but a compilation of bird-based wordplay and puns, played over about five-second sample of an 80’s Bollywood song “Oru Kili Urugudhu”. For some reason, the out of all the tracks on the album, this one was deemed necessary to have two versions included on the Deluxe Edition.
There are a handful of good tracks, like the polished “Finally”; the distorted “A.M.P.”, the noise of which brings Sleigh Bells to mind; or the cleverly self-referential “Visa”, but they’re not enough to keep the album afloat in the sea of incoherence. Disappointingly, half of the promising promotional singles like “Swords” and “The New International Sound” are missing from the standard version of the album. These omissions become much more severe crime after a few listens through AIM, when it becomes apparent that these singles would’ve been some of the best tracks on the album.
The album closes with “Survivor”, a pleasant-sounding, mellow and slow number, though placed at the end of the album it kind of feels like a jab at the listener: Congrats, you made it! Given M.I.A.’s prior works, AIM is a disappointing swan song: it gets points for experimentation, but too often those experiments lead to borderline catastrophes. If this truly her final album, her career goes out with a sour note.