M.I.A.

M.I.A. For The Masses

MIAWith the single "Galang" in dance clubs, London-based rapper M.I.A. (real name Mathangi Arulpragasam) had labels eager to work with her. But her decision to sign with Beggars Group's XL Recordings was initially based on one factor: proximity. "XL was the closest one to the area I lived in," she says. "I just went and knocked on the door."

Little did XL know that its new artist would record one of the most anticipated albums of 2005. The 27-year-old is already a magazine cover girl, and "Galang" has scored mainstream airplay in the United States.

Yet getting her debut album, "Arular," onto store shelves hasn't been easy. "Arular," out this week in the United States, was delayed a month because of what Beggars VP of marketing Matt Harmon says were a "variety of legal issues." Also, in the past four weeks, XL and M.I.A. found a major-label partner stateside in Interscope Records, forcing last-minute changes to the album's retail plan.

M.I.A., who spent her formative years in war-torn Sri Lanka, brings an inner-city bravado to her electronically spiced combative raps. Add in dancehall grooves and club-ready choruses, and M.I.A. has many believing she is going to be the first U.K. rapper to become a breakout star in the States.

The artist is happy with the licensing arrangement because she can keep one foot in the independent world. "All the labels say, 'We're genuine and into integrity,' so who actually is? I just wanted to have some fun," she says. "I'm not going to turn into a pop artist or a tamed-down version of what I'm doing."