Label: N.E.E.T., Interscope
It's a good thing M.I.A. named the opening track of Matangi, her fourth studio album, "Karmageddon" because, despite the fact that karma is technically relegated to reincarnation, the album is an apocalyptic bird-flip to everyone who doubted her. After the flop of /\/\/\Y/\, an industrial-dancehall experiment before its time, the London rapper needed to re-emerge with a controlled declaration of her over-the-top power and her not-totally-paranoid. Matangi is M.I.A.'s usual quilt of world music influences, but more "real hip-hop" than anything she's ever produced before.
There's the sample of Bonecrusher's "Never Scared" on the Julian Assange-co-written "aTENTtion." There's the two separate Drake disses bookending the album. She raps "Started at the bottom/but Drake gets all the credit" on the dizzying title track. Later, on "Y.A.L.A." (You Always Live Again) she asks, "If you only live once, why do we keep doing such stupid things?" There's the party-primed taunting of rave-thrasher "Bring The Noize," an electro-blitz that explodes into a twinkling coda where she interpolates Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee." M.I.A.'s been known to find creative ways to flip other people's music—pulling apart The Clash's "Straight to Hell" for "Paper Planes," for example—but the crystalline use of Joplin's "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" is one of her most haunting examples of using pop music to express fear.
Other standouts include "Exodus" and its reprise "Sexodus," both better version of The Weeknd's "Lonely Star," and the equally languid "Know It Ain't Right." And then there's "Bad Girls," one of the best songs of 2012, which could take the throne from so many songs of this year. The collection is a muscular jolt for a political blowout the night before the world ends. —Claire Lobenfeld