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Arulpragasam concedes that Iovine "can't help being sort of businessy and having ideas about what you should do," and the decision to team her with Timbaland on Kala seems like just such a commerce-driven notion. She insists this isn't true, emphasizing that "Timbaland was one of my idols. All my friends would be like, 'If you work hard at it, maybe you'll meet Timbaland one day.' That used to be one of my motivations." In the end, though, Timbaland could only oversee "Come Around," which is far and away Kala's weakest track — and if Arulpragasam doesn't validate this view, she admits that the collaboration was ill-timed. "I was two years into being a music artist, and I was already nine or ten songs into my album," she points out. "So when I got to meet him, it was like, 'What am I doing here?'" In her view, "Timbaland has become — I don't want to say this, because it's a really harsh thing to say — but I was scared of being a textbook artist and making an album with ten different hot producers. I wanted one producer to do the whole album, but I didn't have that luxury."
Good thing, because Kala turned out far better than if it had been larded with Justin Timberlake cameos. The central chant in "Boyz" — "How many no-money boyz are rowdy?/How many start a war?" — adds a provocative twist to the song's ass-shaking imperative, and "World Turn" and "XR" are scorching, singular efforts of which Iovine should be proud. Granted, he may not finance such material indefinitely, especially if sales keep lagging — but whatever happens, Arulpragasam doesn't plan to go quietly.
"The creativity part, I fight for it every day. I fight so that I don't lose my attachment to that creative place," she says. "And that's the difficulty. You just have to realize that the business side is purely about funding, and it's not about creative control over what you do. And I think I've been really lucky that they've left me alone. Otherwise, I wouldn't have made the album I made."
Visit Backbeat Online for more of our interview with M.I.A.