erasing clouds

M.I.A. & Diplo, Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1

reviewed by dave heaton

Philadelphia-based beat junkie Diplo, one-half of the party crew Hollertronix, has the gift of seeing connections between songs that most people don't hear. Part of the joy people get from the mash-up craze is about unlikely songs fitting together, or not fitting, but Diplo has a better handle on these connections than most, maybe because he comes off as a rapid listener but also has a strong sense for the effects that certain sounds, moods, textures, melodies, and beats have on people. This was true of his album of hip-hop mood-scapes Florida, but it's also true when he's DJing, when he's taking a Miami bass song and marrying it to Radiohead or putting a current top 40 hip-hop hit with an 80s pop hit from the past.

His love for all kinds of popular music makes him ready for hero worship from today's music critics, many of whom lately seem so proud of themselves for being ga-ga over top 40 pop radio, and share his propensity to look outside of the States for musical pleasures. Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1 is the first of what will likely be many collaborations between Diplo and U.K. hip-hop/reggae artist M.I.A., another critical favorite lately. A limited-edition mixtape (now making its way round the Internet), it was on the top of several U.S. critics' top 10 lists for 2004. And for (at least some) good reasons. Though the mix overall is a bit erratic, and starts off a little slow, overall it's pleasurable and a lot of fun. And it does a lot to show off the talents of both M.I.A. and Diplo.

M.I.A. has a unique voice - she rhymes/sings in a style that mashes up hip-hop, R&B and dancehall reggae. And Diplo does much the same, and more, to the musix. He takes her songs, leaving some alone and remixing some, and mixes them up with current hip-hop (The Clipse, Missy Elliott), with Brazillian baile funk, with the Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian," with the theme song to Sanford and Sun. It's an electric mix, ever-flowing from hook to hook to hook, with an eclectic variety of beats and textures, familiar and unfamiliar, underneath. M.I.A. sings about everything from politics to jealousy to absolute nonsense, and sometimes she does it in a really catchy way. A song like Diplo's mix of "Uraqt" should be enough to make them both stars.

If there's something a bit underwhelming about Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1 at times, it's more about how much is already being made of M.I.A. as a star, this early in her career, than it is about the music itself. This is the effect of today's 24-hour news culture, and the way it's infiltrating the world of music critics, already so taken with racing to find the next big things. Of course, that's likely to be made irrelevant when her full-length album comes out in a couple weeks, if it lives up to its promise. In any case there's magical things going on throughout Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1, and a lot of has to do with Diplo's free-wheeling, generous vision of what music is all about.

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