M.I.A. and The Cool Kids Heat Up Miami
By Shaun Flagg
I am exhausted from last night; it is a struggle to function and coffee is the only thing holding me together right now. But it is worth the pain, a long workday of lethargy is a small price to pay. The show at Studio A was unbelievable. The Cool Kids and M.I.A. showed hip-hop is alive and well. The heat in the small venue was stifling like a summer day in Sri Lanka and both the rookie Cool Kids and more seasoned M.I.A. colluded to set the place ablaze.
The Cool Kids hail from Chicago and bring a throw back style of hip-hop reminiscent of the early LL days. There is the big beat sound and their retro clothing style that wraps their facade in the neon haze of the 80s. Although these guys are new to the scene they commanded the stage and easily flowed through their set. Wordplay, clever lyrics laced with humorous punch lines, and good chemistry between Mikey and Chuck made for a very entertaining show. Both rappers played off each other’s rhymes in an alleyoop fashion passing off one line for the next, a coordinated and smooth effort that was a triumphant slam-dunk. I had a smile on my face the whole time as I watched these newcomers give a stellar performance. American hip-hop has recently suffered from a pervasive staleness but it is groups like The Cool Kids that divert from the oft-traveled path and deliver a fresh and fantastic sound. The group left the stage to energetic applause having stoked the embers that would soon burst into flames with the arrival of M.I.A.
I was curious about the live presence and sound of M.I.A. and how it would hold up under the nakedness of the stage sans any production assistance. I have seen groups who rely heavily on processed beats and electronic augmentation that when they are on stage without the heavy arsenal of the studio the sound loses its layered pomposity. I soon found out that this would not be the case in this instance. The set opened to a projection video of an angry, bald, Asian guy speaking to what seemed like a parliamentary assembly denouncing the majority in his country and calling for revolution. It was a powerful introduction and set the mood for her first song “World Town”, an enthusiastic revolutionary incitement. M.I.A. took the stage like a fighter entering the ring wearing a boxer’s robe with some custom M.I.A. designs stitched on the front. Wearing 80s style sunglasses and a hood draped over her head she floated on stage electrified by the music, she delivered her passionate lyrical diatribe against oppressive forces. Her music is politically charged but you have to pay close attention because it is wrapped up in wildly danceable beats. This may seem at first incongruent with the context but she strikes a fine balance of energetic disobedience and irreverent protest delivered in dance friendly tracks.
The sound was full and just as well formed as if you were listening to the album on your car stereo. M.I.A. was backed by a solid DJ who was able to provide the lush and layered musical backdrop we have come to expect. She was assisted on stage by a sidekick vocalist who added some dimension and depth as their voices combined for emphasis or were dotted with the many tongue rolls and vocalizations present in her songs. There is a heavy tribal influence in her music with the heavy drums and cacophonous shouts; it’s a primeval mixture tossed into a sonic processor; a sound that pushes dance music to new heights.
M.I.A performed for nearly two hours and by the time she was done the crowd was dripping with sweat. An exhausting and rewarding experience I was pleased to look back and say every expectation was met and exceeded.
Photos to come soon.