Tag Archives: HIGH TIMES




John Fortunato

Before becoming an international jetsetter, fashionable singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams co-championed Virginia Beach musical troupe NERD with Neptunes partner, Chad Hugo. Together, the dominant beatmeisters produced massive hits for Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Gwen Stefani, Justin Timberlake, Nelly and many other well-known artists along the way.

In 2013, his blockbuster collaboration with singer Robin Thicke, “Blurred Lines,” took the world by storm. Soon after, Pharrell hit the top of the charts once again with gleeful handclapped celebration, “Happy,” a ubiquitous R & B ditty now used in a Fiat car ad.

A debonair brown-skinned African-Filipino American with ready-made runway model good looks (and recently, a vintage park ranger-like Vivienne Westwood brown hat), Pharrell’s enormous popularity has reached superstar status.


In springtime 2010, High Times got to visit the soon-to-be famous musician at his Soho Manhattan boutique clothing store, The Ice Cream Shoppe. Though reticent to detail his own experiences with the ‘fine herb,’ Pharrell did offer a few choice tidbits concerning marijuana legalization, culture and critics. Strangely, the genesis for ”Happy” seems to emanate from the Zen-like worldview he expresses towards the end of the interview.


Who were some of your formative musical influences?


As a child, I spent a lot of time in the backseat of my mom and dad’s car listening to Earth Wind & Fire. It wasn’t my own choice. That’s what they listened to. Maurice White (EW&F’s de facto leader) was part of Ramsey Lewis Trio. He had an extensive Jazz background. His chord changes were always very difficult. There was that magical signature moment – usually a bridge – that sweet moment that takes you elsewhere in the universe. Those things stimulate you and are otherworldly in nature, taking you to another dimension and giving you a sense of euphoria. As a kid, music was that stimulus. Music had THC – meaning ‘to have color.’

 Your vehicle to escapism is music. Do you believe marijuana enhances the experience?


My music is conducive to that environment of escapism. Whatever you do and practice in your leisure, such as partaking in the fruits of the world of High Times – a magazine that’s almost a transcendental read – it’s about relaxation. More than anything else, it’s the mentality of High Times. Other magazines talk about smoking herb, but High Times is more like a celebration of culture. You don’t necessarily have to smoke or inhale anything to enjoy High Times. It’s a natural congregation.


High Times salutes marijuana’s value as a viable herbal medication. There are no major pitfalls if it’s used to experience pleasure or to rid pain.


Truth of the matter is it’s organically grown. There are medical advantages depending on what you’re doing. But it’s not a manmade plant. It’s real. All signs point to universal legalization. I was talking to Snoop Dogg about doing a Humboldt County Greenstock festival that would bring together the eco-friendly community and the herbal community and see what interesting energy would be there. Substances that need to be refined in order to make them – that’s another conversation. We’re talking about substances that come from the earth and sustain it without being refuted. Why not come together on common ground for humanity. Greenstock would be one of the biggest festivals ever because it’s based on music giving back to the earth.


Marijuana also helps people reach erotic stimulation through its transcendental qualities. In your music, eroticism equals intoxication.    


Sure. There’s a lot of eroticism in my life. Someone has to express it and give people an outlet. Intimate relationships are based on a high level of trust. I just want to provide the soundtrack to those moments. We’re fooling around with audio stimulants to moisten the environment for women, if you will, giving them inspiration, even if they’re getting desensitized by every music video having girls in thongs with fake tits. To each his own. I like a woman who’s natural and not perfect. What idealists and snobby folks see as perfection, I see as a flaw. You might as well date a mannequin. I’m not into augmentation. But I just want to participate in this world – a character in God’s book. It’s not my story. I can’t tell you what your top or behind is supposed to look like carving out that hourglass shape.


Do you get buzzed in the studio with the artists you work with?


I work with Snoop all the time and with The Game. Those guys have their leisure activities. The aroma is there.


Has America become more accepting of marijuana since Obama became president?


Yes. But we have a lot of cleaning up to do. We have an incredible country with such opportunity. But we should change our focus and stop talking about the endgame. OK, cool – The American Dream. A house, two-car garage, picket fence, 2.5 kids, little dog. But the American Dream should be about finding what you love to do in life. People spend so much time concentrating on the endgame. It’s not about a $50,000 watch. It’s about remembering where you came from. If you’re not religious – fine. But be cool to other people. If you like flipping burgers and someone comes in and blows your brains out, that’s a good life. If you’re a billionaire and can’t be happy about anything, switching wives like rims on a car, you’re fucking miserable. Focus on what makes you happy first and foremost. Then, hopefully you’ll meet your wife and you’re two happy fucks.


Some people are too close-minded and ultra-conservative to understand true happiness. They’re perfectly fucking miserable.


You have people who are against all herbal practices. They don’t understand it. But let’s go in their closet and see what’s going on. “We don’t smoke.” Well, let’s see what you do because you aren’t perfect. You shouldn’t drive when you’re high, but you also shouldn’t drive when you’re on codeine and cough syrup. Even conservatives smoke. Our last president (GW Bush) had his fair share of high times. Unfortunately, dispelling things is a much harder task than establishing fear. That’s what we’ve been based on in America. How come the American Dream isn’t a blueprint? It’s more like a photo you’re more than likely never to see. Communist and Third World nations have suppression and oppression. They don’t want the American Dream. They’re just happy doing what they want to do – making a little money doing what they like.


What’s in the future for Pharrell?


I wanna make people happy.



I first met Pot Culture author/ CelebStoner host Steve Bloom at, ironically enough, a 1st anniversary party for co-author Shirley Halperin’s now-defunct indie rag, Smug (one of my early writing gigs). It was a fortuitous night down in the Bowery at CB Gallery (an extension of illustrious dive, CBGB’s), since Bloom then hooked me up with High Times, the leading counterculture marijuana publication, a freelance job I’d only dreamt of. I took Bloom out for a bowl within minutes of meeting him, and my social life in the city, already topnotch, got elevated – more interviews with highlife celebs, better contacts, and softball with High Times’ infamous Bonghitters.

Alongside Bloom, Halperin, soon-to-be MTV editor Joe D’Angelo, and prominent photographer Dennis Kleiman, we essentially owned Roseland Ballroom at its indie rock height (‘93-’99), gathering at dozens of downtown shows, imbibing on-house drinks galore, smoking the best herb, and getting the freest tix. Halperin went on to prosper at Rolling Stone, US Weekly, and Enertainment Weekly, becoming a notarized celebrity hound frequently commentating for MTV, VH1, CNN, Fox, MSNBC, and E! I reminded her of a “long lost uncle.” She borrowed small amounts of cash, begged for late night rides back to Williamsburg, married renowned producer (and ex-Pernice Brothers bassist) Tom Monahan, moved to the Left Coast (boho hipster refuge, Silver Lake), and no doubt haunted Bloom to complete ‘joint’ endeavor, Pot Culture (Abrams Image). The tidy A to Z guide ‘to stoner language and life,’ readied for release April 20th (a.k.a. 4-20, the international time zone to toke up), is literally a Whole Earth catalog for fiendish weed demons and doobiously dawdling dabblers alike.

A fun read, Bloom and Halperin’s stony tome never directly snubs America’s antiquated marijuana laws, but indirectly encourages consenting adults to turn on, tune in, NOT drop out. Perhaps most easily palatable for skeptical dilettantes and casual readers are the purple-paged Pot Culture Picks, a nifty addendum encompassing favorite stoner movies, scenes, characters, and dialogue, plus druggy dramas, comedies, sci-fi, cartoons, slogans, and stony recipes –no to mention a handy section on best pot-influenced music!

Original onscreen stoner, Dennis Hopper (starring in summer of love flick, The Trip, and ‘69s preferred Easy Rider) is said to “embody the fear and loathing inside every pothead’s heart,” a re-contextualized phrase snatched from gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s exalted beat-styled treatise. Cheech & Chong are credited as the best pot comedic duo while Sean Penn’s Fast Times At Ridgemont High surfer dude and Carlito’s Way cocaine-inhaling mongrel afford him most famous solo pot act status.

Pot Culture should convince all but the most abstinent person to strike down ridiculously strict laws governing the friendly weed. Better yet, vote out the deadwood clogging our log-jammed congressional system. Free the weed and the mass will follow. (Download Charlie Daniels’ outspoken libertarian rally “Long Haired Country Boy” here for proper musical affect).

For the uninitiated, ‘pot’ unequivocally encourages and magnifies artistic ideas, enhancing all five senses. And let me add a vicious ‘fuck you!’ to wrongheaded androids denying marijuana medication to a bulky handcuffed populace. Only the most sober individual could validate an opinion against the cursed ‘evil weed’ since alcohol is dangerous while pot is, holy shit, probably not. Safer by a fuck-load than beer and wine, marijuana’s cautious harmlessness shames all legal drugs and habitual cigarettes. An unprocessed indigenous plant lacking negative long-term effects, marijuana guilelessly outshines alcohol, uppers, downers, nicotine, and recreational cocaine-heroin. Alcohol overdose kills 5,000 yearly while pot’s psychoactive intensification stimulates brain receptors and eschews toxins. Unlike alcohol, tobacco, and coke, its prenatal use does not, I insist, cause birth defects. So stuff that in your hashpipe during pregnancy!

As we indulge at former long-time High Times editor Steve Bloom’s spacious Brooklyn apartment, the Jewish redheaded Bronx-raised website publisher, movie reviewer, sports fan, Obama supporter, and conversational pot icon commences, “Pot Culture was Shirley’s idea. She lived in Jersey, went to Rutgers, started Smug, and came up with the stoner dictionary/ encyclopedia. While I was High Times editor in ’06, she contacted me and mentioned a proposal to collaborate on the book. She was still at Us Weekly. It’d been percolating in her mind since the ‘90s. Our combined experience as stoners – I represent the Baby Boomers, she reps the younger crowd – plus my professional experience as a marijuana journalist and her orientation with celebrities, combined for a tightly written Pot-o-pedia. We siphoned information and wanted an exciting book full of pictures like a magazine – full-page spreads, visual elements, and sidebars. My knowledge is deeper in marijuana history, science, and activism while Shirley takes on everyday stoners and how they speak and act.”

Before joining High Times in the early ‘90s, Bloom admits to being “a pretty average stoner oblivious to New York’s Washington Square Park rallies” and didn’t see himself as an activist. Coming up through the ranks, the future Central Park softball commish had broke into the biz writing for Downbeat, Soho Weekly, and Rolling Stone. He credits editors Jim Henke and Peter Occiograssi with giving him a break. Fortuitously, he enjoyed funk, soul, and disco, black music overshadowed by the ’77 punk explosion. He found his niche covering Kool & the Gang and Brothers Johnson (for $5) and kept the ball rolling. He interviewed James Brown for a Soho Weekly cover and became a lifetime friend of the Godfather of Soul. As video games took over local arcades, Bloom pitched an assignment then published his first book, Video Invaders. Music editor Henke allowed him to cover the coveted New Orleans Jazz Fest, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Pretenders, and Eric Clapton.

“My peak piece for Rolling Stone was a feature on Wynton Marsalis. I was into the jazz scene and wrote for Downbeat early on. Wynton was a 19-year-old new on the scene. I pitched the story, called “Young Man With A Horn.” But I could never work my way into the Byzantine world of Village Voice. I didn’t like their stridently leftist view…and I’m a lefty,” he laughs.

Soon after, he got the gig that would define his bohemian lifestyle. As a High Times news editor, he became informed about the expanding marijuana community.

High Times was fun because it was advocacy journalism. I believed in the marijuana cause and wanted to change people’s opinion on legalization. I stress in Pot Culture how we don’t use negatives. The government spends billions convincing people marijuana’s bad. I didn’t want to play into that. We didn’t refer to pot as a vice or ‘lesser evil.’ It’s the opposite – within reason. Nobody should sit on a couch watching t.v. all day toking and being inactive. That’s the stereotypical perception – passive apathetic people with no life ambition. Be open for discussion. Pot may cause bronchial problems but is it causing cancer? No. And the THC in pot inhibits the expansion of tumors,” he insists.

The loquacious Bloom acknowledges modern marijuana is much stronger than the ‘70s stuff he used to toke. He admits marijuana was condensed, flattened out, seedy, brown, and came overseas from exotic countries back then. There wasn’t radiant green marijuana with flecks of red, orange, and purple covered by snowy oozing resin. Truly, today’s beautifully delicious plants with grown-out buds are spectacular.

Bloom goes on to explain the disparity between indica and sativa strains.

“There’s a genetic difference between tall, tropical, spindly sativa, an energetic, uplifting strain, compared to indica, shorter, bushier, tighter nuggets – sleep-inducing mountainous weed from Pakistan that withstands harsher weather conditions.” He swoons, “Most marijuana’s a combination now. Pure sativa is haze, but it’s been crossed. Indica is generally Northern Lights. I like mostly skunky, fruit-flavored indica with full taste that won’t make you gasp for breath strength-wise, but has a deep flavor you’d get from a Cabernet Sauvignon red. I love the fullness on the palate of a good strong smoke, the fruity bouquet and the nice heavy pull into your lungs that has a thick impact. From the second you smoke it, you think, ‘That’s good stuff!’”

Dutifully, Pot Culture advocates proper smoking etiquette. Lighting the corner of a bowl instead of passing a scorched pipe is an obligatory nicety. Childproof lighters are a no-no. And while pot smoking isn’t a replacement for nausea-inducing chemotherapy, according to singer-guitarist Melissa Etheridge’s 2-page scoop, it’ll ease the recuperative pain. Bloom encourages readers to move around the book instead of going front-to-back. The index quickly guides readers to subject matter. While lengthily discussing the stoner album covers illustrated, Bloom cites David Peel’s ’68 mandate, Have A Marijuana, as the first to feature the ‘good herb.’

Then my fifty-something buddy leads me on a journey through marijuana’s dark, glorious past.

“The book has a wide spectrum of data, dating back to the ‘30s Reefer Madness era. Actor Robert Mitchum and musicians Louis Armstrong and Gene Krupa’s marijuana arrests may go unrecognized as celebrities who took hits for being busted and suffering for their right to smoke. There was no NORML for protest. Following Jazz, the Beat’s in the ‘50s embraced marijuana. The Beats were influenced by jazz. Jack Kerouac was into Charlie Parker and be-bop. They were into pot – and Benzedrine, because they liked the upside of things. That was cool daddy-o!” Bloom continues, “They were puffing, drinking, traveling. The Beats led to the hippies’ ‘60s psychedelic era. Ken Kesey was part of the new generation coming off the Beats. He and Timothy Leary were the next players addressing the drug issue broadly. Kesey on the West Coast and Leary on the East were the first to proselytize LSD.”

Though Pot Culture focuses on natural narcotics (marijuana/ hashish/ mushrooms/ peyote), chemically altered drugs such as LSD and ecstasy, relatively safe if used properly, are discreetly endorsed while dangerous anodynes such as cocaine and heroin are shunned. The deaths of musicians Jerry Garcia, Rick James, and Gram Parsons are related to hard drug abuse, but none are traced back to non-addictive substances such as weed, schrooms, or cacti. Even Pink Floyd acid casualty Syd Barrett is listed as dying from “natural causes,” forty years after getting tossed from his acclaimed prog-rock band. Rightfully, college heads laughed at stupid government-aided anti-marijuana movies such as Reefer Madness upon its ‘70s re-release. Hypocritically, during World War II, the government actually sponsored brief film, Hemp For Victory.

“Jack Herer, author of pro-hemp scrapbook, The Emperor Wears No Clothes, and fellow activist, Maria Faro, traveled around during the ‘90s, selling t-shirts and going to DC’s Library of Congress, digging up Hemp For Victory, a 15-minute short patriotically saluting ten foot high hemp plants waving in the wind. The government wanted hemp for rope, parachutes, and ships. It’s strong, durable, and benefited our overseas effort. It became popular when Reefer Madness gained a cult following. Interestingly, NORML founder Keith Stroup discovered Reefer Madness, brought and released it in the ‘70s. Herer suffered a stroke recently but nonetheless has an initiative to legalize marijuana in Santa Barbara. He no longer travels to campuses.” Bloom continues, “I took on college tours to educate students while at High Times, discussing pot’s use beyond recreationally, as an industrial plant used for paper and rope or for medicinal purposes. The seed could be used for soap, shampoo, food items.”

Happily, the ‘90s decade was a boon for marijuana subsequent to the conservative ‘80s. Though decriminalized in some states during the ‘70s, the ensuing ‘Just Say No’ Reagan era had put a temporary crimp on the pro-pot movement. Presently, there’s a rebirth of activism ratified by California’s Proposition 215, legalizing marijuana for medicinal use. In fact, there are several worthy stoner inventions recently unveiled.

Bloom chimes in. “Indoor growing allowed American cultivation to expand. Kind bud is a stoner innovation. Many innovations don’t come from big corporations. It’s done through grassroots underground efforts. Glass pipes, grinders, and vaporizers were invented by reliable stoners. But if marijuana were legal, there wouldn’t be the pursuit for, and accentuation on, indoor growing. It’d be made available in many ways.”

Thankfully, Bloom’s CelebStoner site parallels veritable godsend, Pot Culture. The beliefs and travails of pro-pot dignitaries such as Willie Nelson and Tommy Chong are interspersed with ‘toking gun’ pot-related news stories. Top Ten Celebstoners, January ’08, included Snoop Dogg (number one), Bill Maher, Matthew Mc Conaughey, Cameron Diaz, Jack Black, and Woody Harrelson. Approximately one hundred pot-friendly celebs were recently listed supporting different ’08 presidential candidates.

Though he regularly samples high quality marijuana, Bloom contends the stronger stuff will allow people to smoke less and lead healthier lives. Just don’t mistake Bloom for a pro-cigarette espouser, since the harmful legal smoke, unlike marijuana, poses extreme health risks “poisoning the system.”

He exhorts, “Cigarette smoking is a plague that must be eradicated. I’m offended by laws that prosecute marijuana users when there are 400,000 people a year dying from legal tobacco. It’s a foul habit. It’s rude to see half-smoked cigarettes in the gutter. It’s gross. You may not like marijuana, but it’s not a despicable habit turning lungs black or affecting people around you. I steer away from cigarette smokers when walking down the street. Do it privately. If you can’t smoke joints in the street, why are cigarettes o.k.”


Shirley Halperin, a diligent Israeli-American with a hard-working reputation enjoys the high-pressure life of a celeb reporter. The respected entertainment editor graduated East Brunswick High School, attended Rutgers University, then had the unmitigated nerve to drop out with one semester left to start Smug Magazine, New York’s best alternative rock source from ’93 to ’97. It was a ballsy move that earned her immediate indie cred, and subsequently, through US Weekly and Enertainment Weekly, aboveground notoriety. She’s consistently done television commentary, lending lucid content to Bravo’s 100 Funniest Movies, Britney Spears True Hollywood Story, American Idol Untold, and soon-to-be-revealed Pussycat Dolls True Hollywood Story.

Obsessed with popular culture and an admitted t.v. junkie, Halperin originally poo-poo’d reality shows, but now loves them too. Four years at Us Weekly befriending Hollywood stars prepared Halperin for more mainstream coverage at EW. Yet beyond the faddish reporting and hyped-up documentaries, the persevering lass decided to go back to her subterranean roots by anthologizing marijuana fun facts for Pot Culture.

“I’d been working on the book before I took the EW job. They’ve been supportive. As a woman in the corporate world, it’s difficult enough to battle. Luckily, I’m strong and independent. Some find that intimidating. But I also smoke pot,” Halperin affably permits.

Keeping up with Hollywood gossip while preparing for Pot Culture exposure, the industrious author used her L.A. connections to amp up mod marijuana coverage.

“I did a Rob Thomas ‘In The Studio’ piece for Rolling Stone. Within ten minutes he pulled out a bong. We became friends and he was the first person I called for a celebrity essay. The stoner bond is very strong. Once you smoke with someone, you’ve got common ground. On a certain level, we could relate strictly because of that,” she shares. “Adrianne Curry from America’s Top Model, who’s married to Christopher Knight (a.k.a. Peter Brady), is a huge pot head. It’s rare to find visible female celebs volunteering information. She talked about the troubles she went through hiding weed stench. She was very open. Not every stoner’s a lazy slacker that’s crunchy, dreadlocked, and tie-dyed.”

Unlike tobacco-averse Bloom, Halperin is an on-again off-again cigarette smoker (though Bloom smirks at the off-again part). She admits smoking cigs is hard to stop and agrees marijuana may not be addictive.

“Quitting cigarettes is tough. They’re extremely harmful and have become a great tragedy I still struggle with,” Halperin confirms.

However, unlike Bloom and I, she’s wearily unsure of marijuana’s dissenting quandaries. “Pot hasn’t been studied long enough to know if there’s physical and mental dependence. Are the carcinogens damaging? Are there any proven cases of lung cancer due to pot smoking? I don’t think so.”

One of Halperin’s favorite marijuana strains, Sour Diesel, has become increasingly common out West, where growers have seemingly perfected the once-indigenous East Coast bud. She understands there’s different smoke for different folk.

In step with Bloom, Halperin concludes, “I’ve learned from California Medical Law that certain strains are better for certain people. Sativa is lighter and gives most people more energy whereas an indica strain like Kush could put you to sleep. Some patients may need to be sedated to cope while others want to be invigorated and animated. So picking the right strain is important. People should be able to medicate for both common and uncommon ailments.”

No argument here.

In the future, the enterprising authors hope to publish updated Pot Culture guides, since technological advances, innovative methodology, and newfound material need amended ascertainment. One glaring omission may’ve been the exclusion of High School Confidential, an audaciously forward-thinking ’58 film featuring West Side Story ’Jet’ Russ Tamblyn and platinum blonde hottie, Mamie Van Doren. Brought to my attention by Bloom, the legendary drama is loaded with much of the jargon modern stoners still utilize. A fascinatingly sympathetic morality play informed by James Dean’s rebellious Rebel Without A Cause flick, it disses heroin but leaves open the argument against marijuana as a gateway drug.


FOREWORD: M.I.A. reached the pinnacle of success in ’08 when “Paper Planes,” a nifty cut ‘n paste club track with well-placed gunshot sound affects (from her second album, Kala) made MTV and radio playlists. She received great exposure at Bonnaroo Music Festival, but told a friend of mine she was sick of being harassed during passport checks because of her fathers’ affiliation with controversial Sri Lankan freedom fighters. She’s since then taken a sabbatical and became a mother. This article originally appeared in High Times.

Gifted Sri Lankan refugee, M.I.A. (a.k.a. Maya Arulpragasam), faced savage bloodshed, racial tension, and hurtful injustice her entire life. But that heartbreakingly scandalous turbulence only provided serious ammunition for the foxy dark-skinned artisan. Alongside her mother, M.I.A. fled to England’s lower class council estates at her renegade father’s insistence, escaping the war-torn village of Tamil for the less violent segregationist subclass of London’s bleaker poverty-stricken Surrey section.

Graduating from prestigious Central St. Martins College, where she studied film and created graffiti art, M.I.A. soon acquired a cheap ‘80s-derived Roland TR-505 beat machine and began to cut ‘n paste minimalist dub-styled dancehall-related hip-hop while reluctantly becoming an exotic fashion plate.

M.I.A. received underground praise, then worldwide recognition for exhilarating multi-culti electroclash playground rhyme, “Galang,” the highlight of 2005’s compelling Caribbean-accented Bollywood-styled debut, Arular. Based around acid-soaked “purple haze” adulation and stocked with dazzling synthesized bleats, beeps, and bleeps, the kitsch-y “Galang” secured a knee-slapped stutter-stepped chug-a-lug pulsation merging varied global genres.

Born in the United Kingdom and raised in Sri Lanka then nearby India, M.I.A. appropriated the nickname of her protectionist father as album title fodder. A militant guerrilla battling majority Sinhalese Buddhists as leader of the autonomous Eelam Revolutionary Organization, he thereafter aligned with the larger secessionist Tamil Tigers sect of northern Sri Lanka, fighting for equal rights while resisting unfavorable federal settlements oppressing his native Hindu minority for decades. Resorting to roadside suicide bombings and other violent acts, their vicious terrorist tactics counteract the inequity of heavy-handed government enslavement.

Unlike radical Islam, the Tamil Tigers fight for sovereignty and independence, not tyrannical subjugation a la wrongheaded fundamentalist gangland murderers in the Taliban. However, the controversial Tigers broke a 2002 cease-fire agreement, launching a few deadly air attacks on the military from M.I.A.’s hometown of Jaffna, blowing up a civilian bus, and bombing Sri Lanka capitol, Colombo, in 2007 alone.

“I feel sad the Sri Lankans that make it out can’t talk about (the troubles). There’s two million military soldiers against 5,000 Tigers, which is now only 2,000. Something’s seriously wrong,” M.I.A. insists. “The week I got my graduate certificate from art school, someone said my cousin, whom I’d copied off in school, was dead. It was devastating. In England, I was able to live a different life. I can complain about stupid shit like Playstation and my shoes in London. But I wanted to make a connection between the apathy I was feeling in England and what (my peers) in Sri Lanka go through. If you shoot to kill people wearing black, a supposed terrorist color, on suspicion, the murderer doesn’t need to be brought in on. You weren’t allowed to wear khakis, leopard-tiger prints, Puma shirts.”

M.I.A. attempted to enlighten the outside world about the subjugation and repression witnessed via a firsthand documentary, but fearful ultraconservatives lynched the anticipated film while absurdly aligning her with terrorist uproar.

“When I went back they said my cousin was a vegetable in a refugee camp. Some said he was married to a Sinhalese girl and defected. I found that every Tamil family had those stories. You never find the body and it’s hard to exorcise from your life,” she admits. “Under oppression, you have no future. I was constantly harassed by police. I had to register at police stations just to get a hotel room. Tamil people are lined up like herds of animals in 100-degree heat in dirt. The army empties their goods into mud and the babies are all gonna be dead by age five. They were disposable. It felt horrible. The Tamils are banned from census reports. The government could wipe out the whole race and there’d be no account. If you’re talking about terrorists, the group is as good or bad as the government they’re struggling against.”

M.I.A.’s combative Cockney-cadenced lyrical discontent contrasts Arular’s primal upbeat sway and crackling tropical riddims. Sure-handed Philadelphia DJ, Diplo, her old flame, provides a few stomping beats and talented collaborators. Swarming robotic reggaeton rumble, “Bingo,” tribal quick-spit protocol, “Sunshowers,” and redemptive jump-roped woofer-blasting alarm, “Fire Fire,” are armed and extremely dangerous missives. On “Bucky Done Gun,” faux-trumpets anticipate a bloody skirmish. Despite Arular’s overwhelmingly confrontational theme, static-y club-banging anthem, “Pull Up The People,” seeks uplifting proletarian liberation. Sirens, laser zaps, steel drums, traps, toms, and tape-looped samples gird the elementary arrangements. A tone-deaf wild child with no prior musical skills, the scrappily resourceful M.I.A. startlingly became a universal superstar.

“What I did with Arular was a test with a bunch of questions that came from all angles – the media, immigration, the government, certain magazines, and television stations. I had to have consequences and side affects,” she explains. “Sri Lankan Sinhalese rioted at venues where I performed. They tried boycotting. I got hate mail. I’m not doing this to be ignorant and precious or angry and negative. It’s interesting to see the edges of these problems. I’ve seen Sri Lankan monks killing people and children. How do you allow it to go on? I went to British, Christian, and Hindu schools. The army would come down to the Tamil convent (I attended), put guns through holes in the windows and shoot. We were trained to dive under the table or run next door to English schools that wouldn’t get shot. It was a bullying exploitation.”

M.I.A. initially found her groove after finishing college while vacationing on tiny Caribbean island, Bequia, where Gospel music and Diwali jungle rhythms piqued her interest. She had no love for pop and dismissed punk because of its skinhead association, but started assimilating her newfound Carib influences with the underground rap infiltrating Surrey’s poorest populace.

“I went to Bequia with a friend who wanted to get away from hard times,” she recalls. “I started going out to this chicken shed with a sound system. You buy rum through a hatch and dance in the street. They convinced me to come to church where people sing so amazingly. But I couldn’t clap along to hallelujah. I was out of rhythm. Someone said, ‘What happened to Jesus? I saw you dancing last night and you were totally fine.’ They stopped the service and taught me to clap in time. It was embarrassing.”

Then, she got stoned at night and wrote swaggering rogue flaunt, “M.I.A.,” procuring the appellation as stage name and dedicating it to her former London gang association with Missing In Action.

“I’d never smoked weed,” she admits. “At the time, it helped kick-start and focus my obsession with music. But it’s not productive if you’re completely reliant on it. I’m constant – the same high or not.”

M.I.A. adds a small disclaimer, “Getting high is like losing control and these days women have too much on their plate raising kids, working, looking good, being on MySpace.”

Then again, she’s onboard for marijuana reform and legalization.

“Going to the Caribbean the first time, it was like Sri Lanka without the war and ugliness -real beautiful and natural. People were chill, no stress. If weed makes people passive, content, and happy, it’s fine. Of course, America has the best weed. In England, it’s garbage. No one takes time to cultivate the land. Besides, the sunshine’s better in America.” Furthermore, she claims, “I did a show on mushrooms in Japan. Thought it was the best show I’d ever done, even if it wasn’t the case. It was amazing. I felt like laughing the whole time as lights were going around and it got real trippy. Everything felt like it was going in slow motion.”

Dropping much of the political rhetoric on her equally fine ’07 follow-up, Kala (named in honor of her mother), M.I.A. still effectively sods Indian-induced hip-hop culture with British grime, a vogue urban two-step garage styling Dizzee Rascal and Wiley made famous. Jumpy Jamaican jostle “Hussel,” beeping nursery-rhymed romp “Boyz,” and clanging rampage “Bamboo Banga” (which hijacks Jonathan Richman’s classic cruisin’ rambler “Roadrunner”), deal more with the politics of dancing than war.

M.I.A. offers, “Arular was immersed in politics. It was on the street corner and t.v. I was outraged. This time, I had to work out where I was. Did I wanna be a pop star or an artist? There are so many options. That’s the downside. I had to find a place that gave me more space to grow. People are wrong to judge me as someone who’s shoving a manifesto in people’s faces and say ‘live like this.’ We all saw Saddam Hussien hung on U-Tube. People have seen how that situation panned out. I thought it was important to teach people to find balance in their life. Find happiness in what’s around you. I’m on the verge of being a super-Americanized version of a musician, but I could’ve stayed humble, got married, had kids, and say I’ve done it once, why try again?”

Perhaps the forthcoming apocalypse could be put on hold, as the carousing Kala truly gets the party going in a ceremoniously footloose manner. She celebrates ecstasy-laced rave culture on the bustling “XR2,” cunningly inquiring ‘where were you in ‘92/ took a pill/ had a good time.’

“An XR2’s a shitty hatchback Ford and the easiest car to break into. All the kids I hung out with back then were in little gangs that fought. One gang had an XR2,” she says. “We were the first ones to break out of the stupid-ness and the violence and started going out to parties and raving. We were more into music, dancing, fashion.”

This type of bohemian brevity won’t solve the planet’s staggering tribulations, but its escapism is absolutely addictive.

Though she may remain skeptical about with the Tamil Tigers fierce fanatical intimidation, M.I.A. understands how difficult and tricky the Sri Lanka situation still is, especially since juvenile labor and child soldiers continue to exist.

She concludes, “My work constantly opens minds for debate on the Tamil Tigers. What makes good and evil? I felt uncomfortable broaching it. People won’t give me the benefit of doubt. If you’re a citizen and get shot or bombed, you should be able to tell anyone if you have a microphone in your face. Politics of war changed the course of my life. I’m eating a burger talking to you, but I could’ve been in Sri Lanka with eight kids running an electric shop selling t.v.’s and baking cakes for neighbors. But I’ve come this far. If you care about the issue of child soldiers, look towards Africa. Every other soldier’s a child. Every country has these rebels popping up. The Brits fucked up the Tamils, who were smart, educated, middle class civilians. When the Brits gave power to the majority Sinhalese, they made the Tamils’ laborers and farmers. In Jaffna, we had electricity. Eelam, my father’s group, came out of that. They’d been abroad, knew international politics, theology, and had a manifesto. They were into non-violent protest. But the Tigers wouldn’t have it. Their kids, moms, and grandparents were butchered. They had no arms or ammunition. They had sticks, stones, and knives, objects used to cut fish. My dad’s group was outnumbered. That’s how the Tigers became the biggest representatives of the Sri Lankan struggle.”

Happily, M.I.A. has overcome many arduously complex and frightening circumstances to develop into one of the choicest young artists in contemporary music. She’s candid, intelligent, liberated, opinionated, strong-headed, and raw – a proven commodity in a wearily wired world.