December 26, 2008 at 10:00 PM EST

When M.I.A. was forced to cancel a festival appearance last year because she couldn’t get a U.S. visa, the British-born Sri Lankan rapper vented her frustration by writing a killer song about society’s fear of immigrants. She called it “Paper Planes” and released it on her 2007 CD, Kala. Though favored by critics, the Diplo-produced, Clash-sampling single didn’t peak at No. 4 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart until it was featured in the Pineapple Express trailer last summer. Rapper T.I. was so taken with it that he sampled it in a track called “Swagga Like Us”–which takes its title from her original lyrics–on his latest CD, Paper Trail, and he recruited Jay-Z, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne to pay tribute with him. Countless hip-hop remixes followed, including renditions by Jim Jones and Bun B. But the most fitting homage came from filmmaker Danny Boyle, who featured M.I.A.’s breakout hit in his movie Slumdog Millionaire, an Oscar-worthy drama about an orphan’s hard-knock life in Mumbai. The icing on the cake: “Paper Planes” has earned M.I.A. a Grammy nod for Record of the Year. Now that’s what I call sweet justice.

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