You've never heard anything like M.I.A. — the sound of jump-rope rhymes in a war zone. She blew out of the London electro underground last year with her indie debut single, "Galang." M.I.A. chants the hook "London calling/Speak the slang now" while she plays with her cheapskate beatbox and amps up her minimal buzzes and bleeps into monstrously cool explosions. It sounds like Bow Wow Wow shooting bottle rockets into a vintage Ms. Pac-Man machine to scare the quarters out. M.I.A.'s long-awaited full-length debut, Arular, is every bit as stunning as "Galang": weird, playful, unclassifiable, sexy, brilliantly addictive.
M.I.A. is Maya Arulpragasam, 28, a Sri Lankan artist who grew up in London after her family was forced to flee her nation's civil war. She wrote the songs for Arular on her trusty Roland MC-505 Groovebox, with producers such as Steve Mackey, Ross Orton and Richard X. There's nothing purist about her, as she hot-wires bhangra beats, dancehall toasting, Miami bass and old-school electro. In killer tracks such as "Fire Fire" and "Amazon," she raps about political troubles, war and refugee life, in her own tough no-big-deal way. "Sunshowers" noises up an old 1970s disco hit with excellent rhymes ("I salt and pepper my mango/Shoot spit out the window"). Even when you have no idea what she's saying, you have to love how M.I.A. plays bongos on her lingo: "Blaze to blaze, galang galang galanga/Purple haze, galang galang galanga!" Join in the chant.