Sri Lankan rapper and singer M.I.A. recently sat down with Rolling Stone associate editor Brian Hiatt to discuss her new album, Kala. The globe-trotting MC chatted about everything from her childhood crackhead neighbors to her obsession with "organic" sounding music. Here's a bit of their interview:
M.I.A. has a gang of thieves to thank for introducing her to hip-hop: "I'd have this radio I'd listen to every night before I went to bed ... The next door neighbors, they were like these sort of Irish crackhead kids, and they broke into our house and they stole everything, and they stole my radio. The day they stole my radio is when I started hearing hip-hop through the walls of next door ... I was just hearing basslines and shit like that. And then it was Public Enemy, because then I got to know it, and I was listening to anything rap music."
M.I.A. discusses the making of "Boyz" and "Bird Flu" and her obsession with an "organic" sound: "When I made 'Boyz' and 'Bird Flu,' I felt like it was a really weird sound. I [felt like I] have to make this sound, because I can hear it and I'm going to do it and it's just crazy and it's an experiment. All the music that's going on [in the U.S.] is this just-beats dance music style ... you don't have organicness in the sound of your music, and everything's getting really digital-sounding. I felt, 'Shit, I'm the only person that's going to make one organic-sounding thing in music, and maybe it just won't translate.'"
M.I.A. discusses her reintroduction to America after recording Kala all around the world: "One week you're in India, and it's like a thousand cockroaches in your suitcase, and you can hear them breathe because they're so big, and the next minute you're in Beverly Hills, and it's like a mansion. When I went to Jimmy [Iovine, her label boss]'s house to play him the stuff, he had a team of sixteen-year-olds there doing a cheerleading competition ... as soon as I went in, they were screaming, 'Oh my God, it's M.I.A.'"