WRITTEN BY LILY SPERRY '19
As the title of one of her first mixtapes suggests, Princess Nokia is as metamorphic as a butterfly. She is a club kid, a feminist, a gamer, a radio show host, a poet, a New York native; she is Destiny Frasqueri, with or without the oversized jeans or spider tattoo to prove it. But perhaps most of all, Princess Nokia isn’t cool—or, at least, she never wanted to be.
“I came into this…because people like me, they aren’t appreciated,” she said in a recent Refinery29 feature. “People don’t love you unless you’re cool. So I just wanted to be the epitome of not cool, and make that cool.”
Clad in dirty sneakers, baggy pants and gold jewelry, Frasqueri clearly embodies this mentality in the music video for “Tomboy,” her well-received single from earlier this year. In one of the first releases under the “Princess Nokia” name, she uninhibitedly sings of her “little titties and fat belly,” of the importance of body positivity and empowering fellow girls and femmes to celebrate themselves in light of unrealistic expectations and censorship of women’s bodies. Her previous work—some of it under the name of “Wavy Spice” (including a feature on RATKING’s “Puerto Rican Judo”), some under her first name, “Destiny”—reads a bit different, relying primarily on soft vocals and warm tribal beats to broach topics of female identity and individuality. Frasqueri still maintains these dynamics in her more recent music, but her rap flow commands an audience like no other, propelling her songs to an anthem-like status typically reserved for artists knee-deep in the industry who are signed, high school-educated and well into their twenties. Frasqueri is none of these things, but combine some Pitchfork and Vice features with a Calvin Klein ad campaign, a viral single with a worldwide tour and, just like that, the ever-so-intangible “cool” becomes inevitable.
I can’t remember exactly when I first found out about Princess Nokia, but I do remember what I was doing: riding in my friend’s car, head out the window, hair tousled by a summer highway breeze. The song was “Tomboy,” and I was hooked; within that very first listen, I was already singing along to all the words—that’s how unapologetically resonant Frasqueri’s music is.
Listening to her latest release, “1992,” brings on this same type of euphoria consistent with finding something that’s simultaneously brand new and familiar; it already feels so incredibly well-loved and lived in that it evokes the kind of respect and appreciation of some of the music industry’s greatest classics. Not entirely distant from her previous work, the nine tracks pluck samples from tribal rhythms to Harlem soundbites, featuring the likes of RATKING’s Wiki (a longtime collaborator and friend) and a host of both well-known and underground producers—including award-winning Sound M.O.B. and Bobby Johnson (yes, the OG). It’s a powerful yet concise work, an ode to New York City that manages to feel neither trite nor forced, a celebration of womanhood that manages to be simultaneously inclusive and empowering.
From an objective standpoint, “1992” could easily feel disjointed. The work features nine different producers, various samples that could be seen as incompatible, and a definite divide in content (“Bart Simpson,” “Green Line” and “Tweety Bird Freestyle” pluck sounds from 90s Harlem, while “Kitana,” “Brujas” and “Mine” celebrate the strength in tight-knight communities of women of color). Lyrics illuminate the dualities and conflicts of her native Harlem world, a place of great cultural significance situated in a city oft only interested in the wealthy and white. Even the song names themselves don’t seem to have any common overlap, broaching topics from witchcraft to cartoons that might read confused when stripped of context but somehow work when presented together. But perhaps it is this internal tension that conveys the complexities of growing up as a woman of color in New York City the best; if each track was perfectly polished and delivered without sharp-tongued emotion, Princess Nokia would not be Princess Nokia.
In an interview with Impose Magazine just after the release of her first mixtape under the name of “Princess Nokia,” Frasqueri seemed a bit disconnected. “I want to be a multifaceted artist, not just a musician, but an intellectual woman,” she said. “I have my life enriched by all these wonderful things that sometimes you lose sight of when you’re really fast and you’re traveling a lot and you’re focused with an image and an aesthetic. And that’s not who I want to be.”
Judging from “1992,” she’s certainly on the right track.
“1992” is available for free on princessnokia.org and Soundcloud.