By now, you've most likely seen the clip of Princess Nokia throwing soup on a racist riding the L-train in New York. It shouldn’t take a viral video to get us talking about one of New York’s brightest talents, but now is as good a time as any to catch up on this self-assured wonder.
With a bold identity in tow, the 25-year-old, born Destiny Frasqueri, loves to complicate your expectations. However, she didn’t get that way overnight. Seven years ago, Nokia began her recording career under the name Wavy Spice, releasing a handful of rowdy, club-ready tracks. The bright swagger of her Wavy Spice persona followed as her icy and emotionally trepid debut mixtape, Metallic Butterfly, released under the Princess Nokia moniker, landed in 2014. Records like “Biohazard Butterfly” showcased Nokia's flair for the eclectic, while the project's cover art is a display of all her inspirations, from electronica to anime and the jazzy leaps in between.
Metallic Butterfly encapsulates all of the endearing pitfalls of an ambitious debut. Tracks are more married to their concepts than they are polished in their execution, and Princess Nokia experiments with the range of her voice to mixed success. None of this matters, though. None of these blemishes stay with you. Instead, you walk away from listening to the tape beaming because Nokia’s confidence is infectious. For every incomplete thought on the project, she brings a level of self-awareness that is nearly unheard of in hip-hop.
Fast forward three years, Nokia's unabashed sense of self is as alive as ever on the more focused 1992 and its deluxe counterpart, a fleshed-out debut version of the thoughtfully janky EP. More mature than she was a few years ago, Princess Nokia’s music now works as something of a bait-and-switch, presenting listeners with a simple thought and developing it into something as monumental as the skyscrapers towering over her home city. This strategy is how Nokia makes meaning in spaces like hip-hop and America at large, spaces that aim to silence women unless they’re reading from one of the approved scripts.
The supposedly unorthodox moments on 1992 Deluxe speak volumes about our limited views of women. Take “Tomboy,” a song about women who have “little titties and [a] phat belly,” but who are still sexy enough to take home anyone in the room. Though it seems obvious, this declaration is groundbreaking when we consider how women are demanded to be seen as sexual objects first. For Princess Nokia, this is more than sex appeal, this is about human agency. She can do anything with her “little titties,” from booking gigs to casting spells. This is protest veiling under a catchy hook.
On 1992 Deluxe, Nokia proves that can take on any form and turn it into a rallying cry for herself and her people, and for anyone that can see themselves in her music and feel empowered. All at once, the album showcases her spoken word skills while recalling her club track past with a grimy New York sensibility. These styles are bonded by Nokia’s charisma and fearlessness. For the “Goth Kid,” for the nerdy high school fuck up (“Bart Simpson”), for the New Yorker of every letter of the alphabet (“ABCs of New York”), Princess Nokia is speaking up for you because she’s speaking up for herself.
Princess Nokia is everything and, by way of her music, she is able to extend her identify and community support to her fans. Princess Nokia is, among other things, queer, a “Bruja,” Yoruban, and Harlem in her flow and attitude. She embodies the essence of an artist, that is, she delivers her lived experiences in full and invites listeners to live in them alongside her. Her dedication to her lived experience is her resistance.
In both her music and in her myriad forms of protest—soup not always included—Princess Nokia rejects the notion that women should remain silent.