piracy funds terrorism

Though she may have once stated her intentions to “live fast, die young,” our ears can all rejoice in the fact that this word was not kept, as MIA turns 38 today. While she may not be the first artist to come to mind in the electronic music lexicon that Okayfuture normally covers, MIA’s influence can be heard (and seen) in any number of the artists we feature daily.

Many may not consider MIA as much of a force in the increasingly DIY-centered music industry we know today, however MIA cannot be overlooked. While to a younger listener in 2013’s anything-goes, “death to genres,” Kanye-releasing-what-is-essentially-an-industrial-album world, MIA might not seem to be anything other than a hugely successful artist. In 2004, however, acts like Daft Punk, Robin Thicke, and Macklemore could not have conceivably co-inhabited the Billboard Hot 100. Projects like Diplo‘s electronic dancehall experiment Major Lazer (more on Diplo later), weren’t the kinds of acts selling out 10,000 capacity venues worldwide.

MIA’s debut album, 2005’s Arular (and all of her subsequent releases), was the first genre-mashing, multi-cultural dance project of its kind to be thrust into popular consciousness; unlike any mainstream act at the time, her music consistently featured elements of favela funk, dancehall, hip-hop, punk rock, and electro (just to name a few). If, in 2004 someone said, for example, a self-released, self-distributed album from a white rapper would be one of the year’s best sellers, you would be dismissed immediately. MIA, a displaced Sri Lankan-refugee Londoner, creating songs like “Galang”, went against all odds when her debut album was released to commercial critical acclaim on XL Recordings. Okayfuture is all about forward thinking (the word future is in our damn name), so today, in honor of Maya’s 38th, we’re going to take a look at the 2004 mixtape that arguably started it all for many of us, Piracy Funds Terrorism.

In 2004, Arular‘s  release date was being pushed back further and further by the minute, mostly due to problems with sample clearances, leaving an already buzzed about MIA without an album to solidify her spot as an indie music mainstay. This is where a pre-Blackberry commercial starring, pre-Chris Brown producing, pre-million follower having Diplo comes into play. Known at the time primarily as one-half of Philadelphia underground party-revolutionaries Hollertronix, Diplo met MIA in London during the recording of Arular. Finding fast-friends in each other (they would ultimately become romantically involved) and with two buzz-worthy singles under her belt, Diplo conceived the idea of creating a mixtape to keep MIA relevant in the hype for her much-delayed debut album. The result of this is Piracy Funds Terrorism.

Clocking in at just under an hour long (21 tracks deep), Piracy was recorded originally  with the intention of only being distributed on the road and online as a promotional item. Featuring rough mixes of vocals from the to-be-released Arular over samples as diverse as “Walk Like an Egyptian” to “Big Pimpin,” Piracy Funds Terrorism received an original pressing of just 2,000 copies. In the age of the internet, however, those 2,000 copies would turn into massive circulation, and Piracy Funds Terrorism became a success almost overnight. It was unlike anything before it. Reggaeton, hip-hop, electro, and favela funk all come together on Piracy, in a way, at the time, few had attempted before. The promo-tape would find it’s way on to year end lists on some of the most significant music publications, with Pitchfork placing it at number 12 on their list of 2004’s best albums.

While the universal acclaim of of Arular ultimately swallowed the initial hype around Piracy Funds Terrorism, the home-mixed Diplo joint should not be forgotten as the first time many of us were truly acquainted with the two future stars. With the chart-toppers that they would both see in subsequent years (including a little song called “Paper Planes“), listening to Piracy Funds Terrorism in 2013 is like looking through your friends’ baby pictures–a beautiful transition you can hear for yourself at the end of this post.

Watch out for her seemingly eternally delayed fourth album, Matangi, which will hopefully see the light of day soon. Happy birthday MIA!

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