A new son, a new album—and the same revolutionary attitude. Fresh off hiatus, Complex wifey supreme M.I.A. finally returns our call.
This feature originally appeared in Complex's June/July 2010 issue.
Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam doesn't trust Google. Sure, the company's motto is "Don't be evil," but she's not fooled. He who controls information controls power, and she's never been one to relinquish control easily. After a childhood spent missing an activist father who was on the lam from the Sri Lankan government, she came to music after touring with a band as a videographer—and then created a global fanbase before she'd ever done a live show. This isn't some doe-eyed ingenue who caught a producer's eye; this is the first true success story of Internet DIY music (sorry, Drake).
Even now, on the verge of her third album, the globe-trotting MC/producer/Oscar nominee/tastemaker is as restless as ever. She spoke to us from the U.K., nestled in her mum's home with her 1-year-old son, Ikhyd. Ikhyd's grandpa may be a billionaire (Maya's man Ben Bronfman is the son of Warner Music Group CEO Edgar Bronfman Jr.), but M.I.A. is determined for her child to grow up outside a life of easy comfort. He might not be lacking, but he damn sure won't be slacking.
As a mom, do you hope for struggles for your son in his lifetime?
I don't hope for them, but he's probably going to have them. I think their generation is probably going to have the craziest, you know?
I threw the hard drive that had 'Paper Planes' on it out the window, like, 'F**k this song.'
In what respect?
Any kid being born in these times is gonna have to be resilient to a million and one things. We thought we'd seen it all, and our parents thought that they'd seen it, but every generation it gets more and more intense.
Do you think our grandparents would think we have it harder than they did?
Yeah, I think so. When I look back on my grandparents' time, there was no rush in their lifestyles. More family values, better food—I'm assuming everything they ate was organic because it was grown really locally—local culture, and all of that is gone now. My baby's generation, in his lifetime everything is gonna be a struggle to gain all the things they took for granted: privacy, good food, and time to spend with family. It's gonna become more isolated and more technology-based.
As painful and tough as those times are, I hope my kids have tough times to learn and grow from.
I have those thoughts about my son, but I think his adversities are going to be on a different scale. I had to spend ages on stupid shit, like getting to know about racism on a really street level, growing up in the projects. I think he's gonna have it in a different way.
At the moment, he's staying with me at my mum's—her house is in the projects, so the house is like the size of somebody's closet in California. But at the same time, he's got his grandpa on the other side, Ben's dad, who is at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. I think as long as he has both extremes, that's where his lessons are gonna be learned. I want him to grow up here and spend as much time as possible with his grandma to learn the things I learned growing up in this house. He needs to hang with everybody and meet people and find out what they need and find out what the problems are and what the solutions are. I can't explain it.
No, you have.
Good—I've made it clear to Ben that Ikhyd will be working in a sweatshop at age 4. [Laughs.] But sometimes I do get caught up. I always say I'm gonna send him off to China and I want him to learn Chinese, because the next hundred years is about China being a superpower and he should know how to speak it. So maybe he'll go there.
Did you see much violence growing up?
Yeah, all the time. My kid's gonna see it, but he's gonna see it in computer games. I don't know which is worse. The fact that I saw it in my life has maybe given me lots of issues, but there's a whole generation of American kids seeing violence on their computer screens and then getting shipped off to Afghanistan.
What's the link there?
They feel like they know the violence when they don't. Not having a proper understanding of violence, especially what it's like on the receiving end of it, just makes you interpret it wrong and makes inflicting violence easier. When I put on the History Channel or Discovery Channel in America, there's this insane fascination with the end of the world. Every program on television was, "The end of the world! Armageddon! 2012! 2016! Unlocking the theory to when it's gonna end!" And supersonic intercontinental ballistic missiles and nanotechnology that's gonna end the world. Everyone's so obsessed with Armageddon, the dates they're talking about is Ikhyd's generation.
But that's been an obsession since the beginning of time. Every civilization has had its own ideas about when and how the world will end.
That's true, and they thought Y2K was gonna be the end of it. But 10 years ago, they weren't making 24 hours' worth of content on Armageddon.