The Paper Planes star was born in Hounslow, West London, but her family relocated to Sri Lanka when she was a baby and her father became a political activist and founding member of the Eelam Revolutionary Organisation of Students.
M.I.A., real name Mathangi Arulpragasam, has long been an advocate for misplaced citizens and in April (16) she faced backlash over comments she made about the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement in the U.S., set up to raise awareness about the police brutality many African-Americans face.
In an article for The Evening Standard, she asked, "Is Beyonce or Kendrick Lamar going to say Muslim Lives Matter?" The 40-year-old was subsequently dropped as the headliner for the Afropunk festival in London, but she insists it was something she needed to comment on.
"I feel like I'm the only outsider at this point, as a musician, who can even say this because there isn't anyone else," she tells Billboard magazine. "Where is the other immigrant who is going to say it? You can see my skin tone. It's not like I haven't suffered any of the s**t with race or being persecuted that everybody is talking about."
"That kid who has just come over is going to go through all the things I went through, only this time it's a Syrian and not a Tamil," she continues. "If that whole journey is another 10 years to make another me, that's a long time to wait for someone to come and talk about it."
The rapper's new and reportedly last album, A.I.M., also tackles the issues she most cares about.
"A.I.M. is about the survivor," she says. "I've realised there's no point in me constantly complaining. I've got to turn around and look at what happens (to you) once you survive something..."
"I was shot at (during my childhood)," she continues. "Bombed for being a Tamil... Seven of us slept in a room... I realised I need music to help me. That's when I started writing."