M.I.A. has said that AIM will be her final album for a while, and with her last studio album, Matangi, dropping almost three years ago in 2013, the arrival of AIM is quite bittersweet. On the album, M.I.A. knows her brand and that it doesn’t appeal to everyone — “I’m someone’s shot of whiskey, not everyone’s tea” she raps on ‘Finally’. As a whole, AIM is a bit like a shot of whiskey; its genius comes in quick bursts, but there’s still a lasting effect of greatness that lingers for a while.
AIM opens with ‘Borders’, a track that prefaced the album in both time and content. It’s been so long since the release of ‘Borders’ back in 2015, but the track is nonetheless still relevant now, if not more so, as presidential candidates talk about throwing up walls and racial and cultural differences continue to divide nations around the world. This prescience is something that often, for lack of a better word, plagues M.I.A.’s work. The mainstream media either doesn’t want to acknowledge her forewarnings or knowingly keeps quiet. On ‘Borders’, M.I.A. contrasts real issues in society (borders, police shots, immigration) with the trivial nonsense that seems to be on everyone’s mind (breaking the internet, slaying it, etc.)
The problems facing the world anger M.I.A. to the point of a bomb blasting, and AIM transitions to ‘Go Off’, a Blaqstarr/Skrillex produced track that takes a few listens to click. While ‘Borders’ serves as an introduction to the album, ‘Go Off’ is where AIM begins, which makes sense as M.I.A. described the track as the one that started the album’s creation. The lyrics on ‘Go Off’ are somewhat inane; M.I.A. spoke heavily on Matangi about her spiritual awakening, and an entire track about her operating on a higher level of consciousness and being angered by the world’s woes is a bit too on the nose for the rapper, but nonetheless the song’s wonderful production makes it a banger.
AIM begins to – excuse the horrible pun – take flight with Bird Song. While the album’s Blaqstarr mix turns the party up to an eight or nine, the bonus Diplo remix complete with additional lyrics is M.I.A. operating at an 11/10. Unlike ‘Go Off’ and it’s frivolous lyrics being a bit pretentious, ‘Bird Song’ finds its genius in its absurdity. As M.I.A. draws comparisons to herself, her love, and birds, it’s quickly apparent that both mixes of ‘Bird Song’ are like the twittering of the birds of which she sings – an enjoyable listen without meaning. The song opens with the lyrics “I’m a parrot / I’m robin this joint,” and from then on, it’s obvious that this is a fun side to M.I.A., which is a wonderful and necessary respite from the dark and brooding topics she goes in deep to tackle on this album.
While M.I.A. usually operates solo, she finds an unusual collaborator in ZAYN on the track ‘Freedun.’ Is ZAYN’s last minute addition to the song likely a ploy to get the song and album to appeal to his legion of fans? Probably, considering his lovelorn lyrics don’t vibe with M.I.A.’s verses about independence and enlightenment. It’s easy to imagine ‘Freedun’ solo, but ZAYN’s feature does have a positive aspect; M.I.A. sings on the track, unlike her traditional rapping, and ZAYN’s nasally autotuned vocals make her sound the more vocally blessed of the two.
Those who recall M.I.A.’s teaser track ‘Ola / Foreign Friend‘ may be surprised at the album cuts ‘Visa’ and ‘Foreign Friend’. M.I.A. tweeted her skepticism at ‘Ola’ being on the album at all due to licensing issues because of the inclusion of a song from Disney’s The Lion King. Nonetheless, the track is pretty much the same on the album, but with the new title of ‘Visa’ and a swapping of the Disney content for a sample of her own track ‘Galang’ — a fitting swap considering much of ‘Ola’/’Visa’ throws back to her previous albums. ‘Foreign Friend’ is now an entirely different track featuring Dexta Daps and many references to her track ‘Bad Girls.’ The mixtape version focused more on political issues, but the album track is more about a camaraderie and facing struggles with a friend.
‘Finally’ was written as M.I.A. was wrapping up the album and facing struggles with the finalization of it all. Her freedom is a blessing and a curse, and the reggae track finds her staying focused despite her haters and naysayers (likely a reference to her label and their attempts to have a heavy-handed influence on her work.)
One of the best tracks on AIM comes with ‘A.M.P. (All My People.)’ M.I.A. says on ‘Finally’ that she’s like a shot of whiskey, and ‘A.M.P.’ is shot after shot of fire. “They wanna stop me / Galliano sack me / I’ll keep on coming back / Like your freaking acne! I am pro active!” she raps in the first verse. This is M.I.A. shooting in rapid succession, and ‘A.M.P.’ is pure perfection.
‘Ali R U OK?’ is some nice filler about M.I.A.’s interaction with a workaholic, and ‘Fly Pirate’ is a track disappointingly void of substance (a mostly redundant 2 minute loop of the lyrics ‘fly pirate’ over a simple beat that feels like it would be more at home on an M.I.A. mixtape. ‘Fly Pirate’ is probably the biggest letdown on AIM, taking into account M.I.A.’s public legal battle over the ‘Borders’ video featuring a football jersey changed from ‘Fly Emirates’ to ‘Fly Pirates.’ There was much potential for M.I.A. to turn this track into something of substance, but it ultimately falls flat.
AIM comes to a close on its standard edition with ‘Survivor’, and thankfully M.I.A. goes out on a high. A song about the life and struggles of a refugee, ‘Survivor’ is relatable across many walks of life, and should serve to shift your perspective to the suffering of others and how the human race is more alike than it is different. It’s a nice bookend to ‘Borders’.
As a whole, M.I.A.’s AIM isn’t groundbreaking, and it’s unlikely to shatter many mainstream records. Thankfully, this has never been M.I.A.’s intention. Where AIM hits its mark is in its clever wordplay (would you expect any less from M.I.A.?) and it’s ability to cover dark and sensitive topics, bringing a melodic light and sense of hope to them. In that regard, AIM is M.I.A. at the pinnacle of her craft, making the album and its finality all the more wonderful, for its enjoyability, and painful at the realization that this may be the last we hear of M.I.A. for a while.