Princess Nokia is Back with a Vengeance
Entering the arena like karma incarnate
New York City native Princess Nokia (Destiny Frasqueri) has cut a renegade path through rap these past five or so years, combining the styles of Lil B, Beyoncé, and Bikini Kill on her way to creating her own lane. There was a detour into disco there for a second. But lately she’s all about a stuffed-nose Shyne-esque flow, bringing back masculine NYC rap from the turn of the millennium and shoving it into hipster music festivals. Hearing that style from a hardline feminist Afro-Latina feels like justice. She takes it by birthright, and while she’s still growing as a technician, she definitely knows what she’s doing. In lieu of the vague lyrical shadow boxing endemic to the style, her aim is more specific: targeting dudes taking up too much space with their misogynist views and questionable talent and urging girls to the front at her shows.
Her breakthrough album 1992, released last year, featured the body-positive “Tomboy”—which made an anthem of “with my little titties and my fat belly / I’ll steal your man if you’re finna let me.” It is now her signature song. Perhaps as a way to extend its life, she is re-releasing the album as 1992 Deluxe with eight new tracks, a fall-season bonus pack with a gothic twist, fit for smashing pumpkins and smashing the patriarchy.
“Goth” mentions her upbringing in foster homes where she was abused and narrowly escaped with nothing but desperate hope. She made it, but a dark attitude remains that she draws confidence from, promising “I’m goth as fuck / even when I’m not in black / gothic is the pain you feel and not the clothes on your back.” Right now goth style is popular, with Lil Uzi Vert wearing bat wings on his album art and Lil Peep and the Gothboiclique making a mainstream play from the underground. Nokia promises she’s the gothest of them all: “Wednesday Addams to you basic-ass hoes / Marilyn Manson to you corny-ass bros.”
“Flava” contains a lengthy spoken word intro about how women, especially women of color, can expect to have their styles stolen right in front of their eyes and sold for profit. Such is the exploitative and racist world we live in, where culture gatekeepers are mostly white and male and steal all their best ideas from minorities. “Flava” is about protection of women’s intellectual property, bodies—their whole beings. The video displays tenderness and power through sisterhood, including trans women—which until we get more popular trans artists, is one of the reasons Nokia rules. She uses her ally privilege as a cis woman to bring trans women into the spotlight.
“Receipts” drips with knowledge gained from persisting through the continual festival of manliness that is rap. Nokia is annoyed to the point of not having it anymore, done with performing on bills where she is the only woman, positioned as the opener when she should be headlining: “I’m an old school hoe / With a new school flow / I refuse to be supporting / Got my own damn show.”
“Chinese Slippers” is a bittersweet party jam from the POV of broke, marginalized, depressed people just trying to get through to tomorrow. With a demented chorus taken from a children’s song evangelizing fast food, the stakes are clear: dominant culture is a killer.
Princess Nokia came up in music with men, Metro Zu and Wiki, but now is very much doing things on her own terms. Without a male figure to vouch for her, she has spoken in interviews about being mentally ill and struggling to keep herself healthy. We even made a video with her about some of her self-care techniques. But how much do we really care about the mental states of rappers who are women? Right now we have male rappers exploring their psyches on shows like The Therapist on VICELAND, and JAY-Z’s 4:44 clearly contains themes you don’t get to without psychotherapy or at least learning about it. But rap is not becoming a more accepting place for understanding depression, mental illness, and psychology in general unless it extends to all people. Of course we started with men first. We live in a misogynist world. In groups of men, “crazy bitch” is a common way to write off a woman—as if “craziness” is part of being a woman. It comes from men’s fear that their privilege is unearned and can be taken away from them. And it can. And that’s exactly what Princess Nokia is trying to do at the moment, entering the arena like karma incarnate.