Top 100 Artists of the Decade: #13 M.I.A.


The Top 100 Artists of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 artist of the decade!

Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.

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#13 M.I.A.

Pop music wasn’t always just bland dance music. Hip hop music doesn’t just have to be about slinging yay, coppin’ bitches, and cappin’ fools. Just ask M.I.A.. Her story, like her music, is foreign to the American hip hop we’ve become accustomed to hearing—but you’d expect that from a Sri Lankan rapper from London. Her two albums are filled with healthy portions of global sounds, catchy rhymes and bumpin’ beats; balanced with supple amounts of politics and playfulness. M.I.A. is one of our top artists of the last decade because she reminds listeners that pop doesn’t have to be bland Britney Spears, but can be infused with culture and politics.

While journalists have focused on her past as a Tamil with a revolutionary father, and her relocation to London for a stabilized life, they’ve neglected to mention her success as a woman in hip hop. Usually, women in hip hop are faced with an image dichotomy: 1) Act and appear sluttish (aka Lil’ Kim or Foxy Brown) or 2) Dress asexual, project masculinity, and be “one of the boys” (aka Eve or Queen Latifah). But like Madonna, M.I.A. has traversed her own path, both sexualized and empowered. In her music she makes herself an object of affection on “Jimmy,” or a gangsta out for dough on “Paper Planes.” Honestly, she’s more gangsta than most studio rappers because they can’t rap they’re on a US terrorist watch list.

Her sound is incomparable to one artist or style, and accordingly, her music attracts an uncharacteristic audience. Call it a “global” sound, either way, her combination of electro, dancehall, bhangra, funk, hip hop, and many other sounds, creates a unique style which is played on any type of radio station. Each song is layered with stabbing synthesizers, punctuating samples with banging methodical drum patterns. Her lyrics can be forgettable like American sounding “Throw some D’s on It,” or in her case, “Road runner, road runner,” or politically charged, “Like PLO we do not surrendo.”

It’s rare to find an artist as dynamic as M.I.A.: easy to listen to, but thought provoking, comfortable, but foreign. Now retired, she abruptly ended a flourishing career. With her first album Arular, named after her father and her second album Kala, named after her mother, listeners can only hope after her child is born, that she releases a third album entitled after her newborn.

- David Johnson-Igra

Check back tomorrow for the next artist! To see the full list of the Top 100 Artists of the Decade, click here.

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