M.I.A. — “Paper Planes”

Released: 2.12.08

Peak: #4

M.I.A.’s big hit wasn’t meant to be like “Paper Planes.” A Def Jam acquisition committed to a Timbaland studio date, Maya certainly owed the capitalist maw some more immediately digestible morsel — even if she wasn’t being groomed as the Indian subcontinent’s answer to Nelly Furtado, as Robert Christgau gloomily divined, it’s unlikely that Tim had anything as unruly as prime Missy in mind. Thanks to visa issues, though, M.I.A. had recorded most of an album before she ever reached the States– including a Diplo collaboration that only took off commercially a full year after critics had tumbled for Kala, soundtracking the brilliant trailer for David Gordon Green’s Pineapple Express.

Musicians and markets alike would transform “Paper Planes” to suit their purposes. Of the major “remixes,” only the DFA tampered substantially with the track itself (to no good purpose), though those four amazing shotgun blasts were shorn for pop airplay. T.I.’s appropriation of “No one on the corner’s got swagger like us” lead to that amazing Grammy moment of a mega-preg, ladybug-suited M.I.A. upstaging rap’s biggest names. Africa’s apostle to the indie-rockers Esau Mwamwaya jacked it for the Pitchfork-friendly “Tengazako,” though, in a decision clouded by sheer rap-ism, that site preferred the Diplo remix, with Bun B and Rich Boy attempting to spell out M.I.A.’s gangsta-capitalist ambiguities.

The original remains a genuine international player’s anthem. “Paper Planes” doesn’t just sample “Straight to Hell” — it answers it. As indirect beneficiaries of the imperialism they lamented, Joe Strummer and his boys could only sympathize with the plight of the forgotten brown kids who come with the scenery when you own a big chunk of the bloody third world. “Paper Planes” gives a voice to those now-grown babies, arming them with forged papers and guns–or at least with rebellious fantasies. As long as borders remain porous enough to allow capital to pass through, third-world hustlers will migrate likewise. Some will murder you, some will let you go. And your racist ass can’t tell ’em apart. So like the lady says, no funny business.

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