London's Maya "M.I.A." Arulpragasam has received one of the most dubious honors in hip-hop: A two-page piece about her recently appeared in The New Yorker, which is to cutting-edge rap coverage what Condoleezza Rice is to party girls. That's no reason to dismiss her new disc, though. Arular won't tempt cruisers to break noise ordinances, but the CD creates a musical culture that coheres rather than clashes.
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While songs such as "Galang" exude a decidedly Eastern feel, owing to Arulpragasam's early years in Sri Lanka, the dominant style is dancehall as filtered through UK garage. This odd blend works, thanks in part to spare electro-arrangements that make room for off-kilter elements, including the goofy horns in "Bucky Done Gun." Still, the focus remains on M.I.A.; her bouncy flow is ideally suited to numbers like "Bingo" and "Pull Up the People," whose lyrics display a measure of social consciousness. For the most part, however, Arular is more concerned with bonbon-shaking than politics, and that's a good thing. Otherwise, the New Yorker article would have run 20 pages.