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M.I.A.

Remember "Buffalo Stance"? Neneh Cherry rapping about gigolos and "smokin', not cokin'"? Remember the promise that Cherry made of a different kind of female rap/dance artist--an outsider who fused musical styles while refusing to participate in ass-shaking "fly girl" antics?

So do I. I also remember Cherry's career fizzling soon after she ruled the charts. Well, in 2005, we finally got an artist who picked up where Cherry left off: M.I.A.'s debut Arular married the world/dance fusion and off-the-cuff female cool that made "Buffalo Stance" work, while updating its sound.

Kala, the follow-up to Arular, shows that M.I.A. knows her strengths. The album aggressively fuses the synthetic and organic: The minimalist two-step breakbeats of London grime are melded with urmi drums and samples of rifle fire. M.I.A doesn't shoot for accessibility in terms of melody and cleanliness; it's the raw fuzziness of the tracks that give the album its sense of urgency. Her music is confrontational without foregoing danceability, and her choruses will have you singing along on tracks like "World Town" or "Hussel," where she boasts, "Let me tell you, we don't do bling, but we do white tee."

It's this kind of down-to-earth sass that makes Kala irresistible. From Bollywood covers to Clash-sampling street anthems, the songs here show an artist uniquely positioned between seemingly irreconcilable worlds--a Third-World landscape of shantytowns and the ringing Sidekicks of the West. M.I.A. embraces these contradictions and, consequently, has made one of the best dance/rap records of the new millennium.

More by Sean Bottai

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