Reminds me of that Lauryn Hill lyric, "It takes one drop of purity to clean a cesspool.
It’s the same way as, like, today I can go to like a slum in Bombay or a slum in Jamaica or Brazil, and I will hear the same insane song. Like, a really shit song that we don’t know how it became No. 1. We don’t know why they say the things they’re saying. Nobody in the hood relates to it, this display of crap, but that is the song that gets played. When you go to the poorest places in the world, you hear the worst songs. And then you go, "Wow these people naturally make amazing songs. Their shit is not on the radio. What they have in the radio is like not even the best that America can offer or the best that fuckin’ Russia can offer or wherever. It’s like the lowest common denominator song." You know what I mean? It’s not even the good stuff.
But as you said, ghettos are special neighborhoods. They can be blessed, creative places where people put together their own sound systems and plug them into lamp pots.
Yes. And this story definitely did make me understand it better. You know, I had a different relationship to it before because I was a hard girl who grew up on an estate, blah blah blah. You had to really go out of your way to find your scene when I was growing up. And you know people were really protective about it. That’s not the case anymore, because places get gentrified really quickly. And things that people owned, they don’t own it anymore. The culture's not theirs anymore. And that’s really sad because that’s why the ghettos were special, because they were insular. And they knew that the world didn’t cater to them, and they had to cater to themselves. And they created these things, but now it’s not possible. And it’s really really hard because the scene cannot have enough oxygen to breathe in order to develop and grow. It gets accessed really quickly, and blown up too quickly with the Internet. Before you could exist stylistically without seeing a whole bunch of shit that’s on there now. Even with the Internet, if you want to send an MP3 to your mate down the street, you can just do that without seeing an ad or without seeing a story about Miley Cyrus. Now it’s really hard. Even if you’re that one percent of the population on the planet that can think for yourself, it’s really hard for you. And if you’re super stylish and you have very exquisite taste in everything, you still can’t go through an hour of click time without at least 80% of the information coming at you being about shit you don’t care about.
During your talk at PS1 you mentioned that you never did drugs because it wasn’t an option for people who were refugees. And the people who you were living with at the time were strung out on heroin. You talked about the cycle of apathy to guilt to drugs. America has had this embarrassment of riches for so long that there isn’t quite as much of a fighter spirit.
Again it comes down to what people are eating—and I’m talking about creatively. It’s about enriching peoples’ palate. Which is why I wanted to bring ashram to the world—you know, I’m fucking going to go back there with this weird shit. And I’m going to make them fucking listen to it because it’s so weird. [Laughs] And I’m going to tell them how vast this concept is. It’s beyond these ideologies that we’re all fighting and dying for and these economic structure that was set up by someone else’s greed. And we’re the ones feeding it, who have to pay the taxes and live by all these ideals. Even the Internet, which started with the hippies, who did go to India and do LSD and fucking meditate on the mountains. They came back invented that shit. They were like, "Ooh let’s liberate the world..." And then it got taken up by the same system. And they took it and they’re like, "This is ours now. And we’re going to use it how we want to use it. And you’re still fucked."
Matangi is 5,000 years strong.
And there were too many coincidences to ignore and not to make another album. I’m just going to approach music where I just care about music. And it’s not about being cool and having the most stylish beat for this moment. And make something for all the kids in the hood that are walking around with a skull on their T-shirt and wondering why they’re in a really beautiful, hot, colorful country dressed like a goth. It’s just about expanding everyone’s existence, conceptually. And it works in any place, you know—all people. This just says the same fucking message again, which is the power is in the people. It’s about instinct. I got offered millions of dollars for following the rules and playing the games and throwing people under the bus. I didn’t. I fought. Suffered the consequences for it and I got given this story of shit that makes sense to my life. l found meaning in the universe that makes sense to me. I discovered things and overcame things and found ways to do it. Those come to you because you lead with your instincts. And you live by that and you make choices based on what makes you feel good and not constantly compromising. I think that is the message of this whole album. The whole thing is a representation of getting to a point where it’s like, you know, sort of striking gold. And not because you kind of compromise and live by the rules.
Matangi is dealing with some pretty esoteric stuff.
Yeah, I don’t want people to be like, “Oh my gosh, she’s just spiritual and started going to a temple.” Because it’s not. It’s being conceptually drawn to something… Right now, in 2013, it’s almost like we get given a book of “This is what you’re into.” And everybody looks exactly the same. It’s got the same content, the same images, the same songs. And we can’t get away from it because the Internet has gripped us and everything’s like that. I can’t tell apart a rapper from a politician. You know, it’s all really intertwined. And at this moment, I wanted to bring a palette of different colors and different concepts.
The hypersexualized woman.
We can either be whores and sluts and prostitutes, or we can be a nun. If you take the Bible, you’ve got Mary Magdalene who was a prostitute or you’ve got the Virgin Mary who conceives without having sex. Can I just be like a scientist who’s interested in quantum physics and time-bending? Because in Hinduism, there is a woman that does that. It’s just way more open. So Matangi itself it’s interesting to talk about it. She is green, because it’s the color of intellect. But green in the West is the color of money. And so you’re already fighting with like a negative image to do with color, and it’s not even like, “I’m brown and I come from Sri Lanka.” But to put forward a cover where you’re green in the West is fucking hard because the only thing you can associate green to is zombies, witches, and money. And they’re like the three most negative existence of that color. And you know in the East it’s life, knowledge, and intellect. So even putting things on the palette in the pamphlet where you have to debate these things, to me it’s not just about the songs. It’s again, the whole concept: why do things turn negative when they get here?
Then again you've got a song on the album called “Bad Girls.” Is that the first time you and Danja worked together?
Yes. We wrote that the first day we worked together. We wrote it in like 2-3 hours, and at the time we didn’t think much of it. Then we just kind of shelved it and carried on working on this other track which didn’t really come out in the end.
And then you came back to Bad Girls and said, "Hey, we’ve got something here..."
Yeah. It was just kind of like a throwaway track. And no one was into it, cause I guess it was sort of quite classically hip-hop. I played it for my other producers and they were like, “Yeah it’s OK.” And then I put it on the mixtape and that’s the one that everyone loved. And all my friends who heard it, they were like, “You can’t just forget about it after you put it on the mixtape.”
So crazy. What did we not see that happened on the video set? Any fun memories?
All I remember is that it was really freezing cold. But then on the set it was like 106 degrees. And it was very awkward the whole time because it made styling very difficult. We had like 100 people, with extras and stuff like that. And it seemed like an odd time to be making a video. I didn’t have an album and nobody really was into the idea. But I thought there was something magical about it, you know? Apart from the danger aspect of me thinking maybe I should write my will before I shoot this scene... Fun is not the word that came to my mind.
What was the danger aspect? Those car tricks?
It’s funny because Danja produced the track and then the video was pretty dangerous. It wasn’t fun because I’m a mum. So I was like, “Oh my God, I have to make a decision about this." You know, "Can I raise my child with no legs?” You do have to think like that. And then I was like, "No, I’m cool. As long as you know you could just jump off there you’re OK.”
The whole idea of “brown girl, turn your shit down, go back to India...” and all that. Was that something that really flared up after the Superbowl? Were you hearing that a lot after all the controversy with the halftime show?
More than before? Hmmm.. You know, it’s a reference to “Born to Roll,” Masta Ace. He said “Black Boy, black boy, turn that shit down.’ And I felt like in 2013, that was no longer the case. Me and Hit-Boy talked about that. I was, like, an “other.” And the way that Superbowl was treating me was as though I’m an “other.” They weren’t even hearing me out. They were like, “She’s not even fucking American.” And that sentiment, I definitely felt it. I felt like they had so much support from people who wouldn’t really support this weird court case, but they were able to be like, “You definitely can’t trust this girl.” And a lot of people were like, “Yeah, maybe you’re right. You know what she's like.” And that’s not the case. And I feel like maybe if Madonna weren’t really quiet... I don’t know. I don’t want to really speak for her, but a lot of people went quiet. They didn’t say anything to my face, but they didn’t say anything at all.
I actually remember reading a quote from Madonna that was critical of you. Did you see that?
I think that’s when I was away making music... There’s no news there. That’s why I like going there. Yeah I just missed that whole wave of Super Bowl news. When I left my publicist was like, “You peed on the American flag.” And I was like, “That’s a bit harsh, come on.” And he’s like, ‘No, you did.’ So I didn’t look at the news after that. I was like, ‘Well, you know... I’m not coming back to be accused.’
Well Madonna invited you to the party, right? She was the one who wanted you to be on the record.
Yeah she invited me to the party. I didn’t gate crash it. But she did say that I was like a drunk guy that gate-crashed her wedding.
Oh, she said that?
Someone in her camp said that. I thought that was quite funny. I’m giving you all the juicy story here. I’ve been called "the female Kanye" and “the drunk guy at the wedding."
Who called you “the female Kanye?”
Someone in her camp. Sources. Can I say sources in the camp?
Finally, what's going on with the documentary? The trailer looked pretty cool but then it was taken down for a while. Will it ever see the light of day?
It’ll come. It’ll come. It’s just taking a bit. It’s just growing because loads of people are really supportive. Obviously my fans are really supportive. So I’m not scared of it. It’s so good actually that I just kind of want to put the album out and be with it for a minute. But at the moment I don’t want to disturb Steve [Loveridge] while he’s on a run… He’s doing it, and one of the pacts we made was that I wouldn’t get involved and pick at it, like, “My hair’s not right.” And do stupid shit to it. Basically a lot of the people from my class at St. Martin’s are making it now. So it’s become, like, their shit and not mine. But when I was there, I got into St. Martin’s with no work. But my friend Steve, he got into St. Martins with the most elaborate one-hour feature film that was like this film noir movie he’d made with his mum and dad. And he’d like dug a hole in his living room, had a crane that came through—it was so elaborate and insane. And they put us next to each other in class because we were the polar opposites of how we work. I had no work and he was just gonna make something amazing one day. So I totally trust him to make something that will be a film, but I don’t want to like disturb his process just because he just is a laborious person, and I’m too impatient. And also he’s known me for 15 years so I don’t even want to know what he’s going to say. Cause he could be like “Yeah, I’m gonna get that bitch back.” [Laughs.]
There is so much more at the source
I tried to cut it down but it was really interesting. OOP