Earlier in the week, BBC radio DJ Zane Lowe previewed Steppin’ Up, a new track from M.I.A.’s as of yet unreleased, more or less eponymous record, ////Y/. The track has since appeared on Maya-administered record label NEET Recordings’ blog and for sale as a single on iTunes.
In addition to inspiring dozens of witless iTunes reviews attempting to incorporate some permutation of the song’s title into their assessment of the track, Steppin’ Up further expands the already helter-skelter template of ///Y/. The accompanying artwork, with elements of the billboards Maya designed in anticipation of 2010’s general elections in Britain, spells her name in gold bars, highlights some of the song’s worst lyrics, and features excerpts from someone’s computer screen.
Steppin’ Up is the fourth song released from ///Y/ to date. The three other tracks traffic in downbeat electro, digital punk reminiscent of Atari Teenage Riot, and tribal pop. If these tracks are any indication of the overall feel of the record, Maya will need to pull a coup of sonic cohesion to stop the album from sounding like a compilation.
As for the track itself, Steppin’ Up is all over the place. The song starts with what is presumably the chorus, a chant backed by drills, chainsaws, and what sounds like missiles whistling across the sky. Most of the rest of track is sparse drums, chanting, and some guitars and synthesizers, though everything is drenched in such enormous reverb and echo that the song sounds massive, despite its thinness.
Steppin’ Up walks a very fine line between monotonous and hypnotic, annoying and gangsta. An undeniable hip hop swagger anchors it, making an attractive enough tune, though at times it’s almost too clear that Maya has affected her swag.
Unlike fellow swag meister T.I., who very much embodies the tremendous attitude he brings to the mic, M.I.A. puts on her thug like the borrowed gold jewelry she donned for a recent photo shoot; the attitude serves its purpose, though its here today, gone tomorrow nature reeks of superficiality.
That the lyrics, satirical though they may be, are laughably awful, doesn’t help matters. Look no further than the opening lines for proof of this: “Steppin’ up in the club/All tooled up like a thug/rub a dub dub/rub a dub a dub dub/ I light up like a genie and I blow up on this song/Aladdin no kiddin boy I need a rub.” Riiiight.
The lyrical content of Steppin’ Up is disappointingly weak. That a woman as intelligent as M.I.A. can’t find any more insightful criticism of contemporary hedonistic pop hip hop culture than “tooled up like a thug” is dispiriting. Her trite digs, assumed braggadocio, and performance with T.I., Jay-Z, Lil Weezy, and Kanyeezy at 2009’s Grammy Awards makes you wonder if Maya feels the need to embrace sardonic posturing on account of her reputation and irony-saturated fan base when really she’d rather be Jigga than the globalized alternative she’s packaged as.
Despite its flaws, however, Steppin’ Up is a success. The unusual beat, thuggish countenance, and dancehall insistence are infectious enough to overpower the song’s more questionable choices. Though certainly the worst song released thus far from ///Y/, held alongside most major label singles, Steppin’ Up is a bizarre and menacing revelation.
///Y/ drops July 13th compliments of Interscope. Listen to the song for yourself below or on the NEET Recordings blog, check out the seizure-inducing artwork, and let us know what you think.