M.I.A.'s taste for eclectic borrowings is on full display in "Paper Planes." The song's first, and most obvious, sonic building block is a looped sample from the opening of The Clash's 1982 social protest anthem, "Straight To Hell." The two songs begin almost identically, although M.I.A. thickens the bassline, turns up the drumbeat, and adds a little bit of extra percussion rattling around the bottom end of the mix to fatten up the sound. But despite those changes, there can be no mistaking the heavy debt "Paper Planes" owes to "Straight to Hell" for its basic musical architecture; eighty percent of "Paper Planes" is "Straight To Hell."
Moving beyond the obvious (if effective) sampling of The Clash, "Paper Planes" also borrows the melody for its chorus—that's the bit with the kids, gunshots, and cash registers—from what may seem a more unlikely source: "Rump Shaker," the raunchy 1992 hit from the group Wreckz-N-Effect. The lyrics change—from the original nonsensical-but-still-sketchy-sounding "All I wanna do is zoom a zoom zoom zoom / And a poom poom / Just shake your rump" to "All I wanna do is [blam blam blam blam] / And a [ka-ching] / And take your money." M.I.A.'s reworking of the melody makes for an interesting adaptive reuse of one of the more memorable (if lyrically stupid) hip-hop hooks of the early 1990s.
If an unholy marriage of "Straight To Hell" and "Rump Shaker" provides "Paper Planes" with its basic architecture, the song's dense sound is fleshed out with several layers of rich production. The Clash's straightforward drumbeat gives way to a syncopated hip-hop rhythm, with an extra layer of fingers snapping to the beat added for good measure. A children's choir sings the chorus, the kids' cherubic voices interrupted by the infamous sound effects of gunshots and cash registers.
So that's "Paper Planes", then: where '70s British punk meets '90s New Jack Swing, and both run headlong into singing kids, snapping fingers, ringing cash registers and crashing gunshots… all over an irresistibly danceable beat, of course.