Princess Nokia: Innovator of the Year

Destiny Frasqueri, better known as Princess Nokia, is not your typical “rapper”, in fact, I’d rather not restrict her to such a narrow label.  With two releases in 2018, one an ambitious new project and the other a re-issue of her first mixtape, she has shown her ability to not let labels define her and her art, making her one of the most interesting and promising musicians working.

1992 Deluxe, Princess Nokia’s stellar 2017 release, stuck mostly to a traditional New York hip-hop format- but with lyrics exuded her strong personality that allowed her to stand out in a crowded field.  In 2018, she released a more ambitious project: a mixtape, A Girl Cried Red.  Blending her existing hip-hop style with her most major musical influences: emo, nu-metal and pop punk of the 2000s.

It may seem strange to call a project that is essentially a modern version of nu-metal ambitious in 2018.  But for Princess Nokia, it is, because of who she is.  It’s not until you hear a project like this that you realize how closed the gate was for people like Princess Nokia to generate a career in this genre at the time- not only as a woman, but one of color, no less.  This music is so traditionally associated with being made by white men that it’s hard to think of a single band in that time that even included a man of color, or any women at all. 

However, the demographic of the creator is not always indicative of their fanbase, as Frasqueri remembered on her Beats 1 radio show:

A Girl Cried Red

“My experience is that white kids love hip-hop, and brown and black kids love rock music. And I think that the majority of all the goth kids, punk kids, ravers, emo kids, scene kids – the whole hardcore scene that existed in New York City – was all the kids in the hood, which is really beautiful, because you have all of these hood-ass kids going to shows, dressing in bondage clothes, dressing in those ways, in those aesthetics…That shows that brown kids – they carry emotion, they carry pain, they carry oppression and strife. And they carry so much that that music was an escapism.” 

Strip all knowledge of Slipknot, the band emblazoned on Red’s cover art, and look at the lyrics from their song “Duality” as they are on paper:

I have screamed until my veins collapsed 

I’ve waited last, my time’s elapsed 

Now, all I do is live with so much fate 

I’ve wished for this, I’ve bitched at that 

I’ve left behind this little fact: 

You cannot kill what you did not create 

To a teenager living through their own personal demons along with that of the world and its injustices, it’s hard to imagine lyrics like these not relating to the kids Frasqueri grew up with.

The same can be said of the fascination with Morrisey to Mexican-Americans.  Morrisey, a man who, on the outside, does not seem at all like a person relatable to a minority community in America.  The truth, however, is that despair and struggle is colorblind, and through music and lyricism the sentiment behind them can be vague enough that they can relate to anything as personal as heartbreak, or as wide as injustice. 

This is now Frasqueri’s first time addressing these issues and her influences, as they were possibly most prominent on her first releases as Princess Nokia in the mixtape Metallic Butterfly, just re-issued by her new label Rough Trade.  A blend of numerous genres, Frasqueri herself called the tape “ahead of its time” on Twitter.

Was she wrong?  Released in 2014, only four years ago, but still a time when overtly feminist rap did not exist in the mainstream, along with rap music concerning the counterculture that Princess Nokia always existed in.  

What really makes Destiny Frasqueri an innovator though, is her confidence and work ethic.  Her refusal to be anyone but herself shines through every single song, every piece of art she creates.  Her boldness and fierce independence makes her a role model for all of us, and we can only hope that her star continues to shine bright in 2019.

Stream A Girl Cried Red: Spotify / Apple Music
Stream Metallic Butterfly: Spotify / Apple Music
Cover Photo and A Girl Cried Red album cover by Alberto Vargas

Sara Loebig is the founder and editor-in-chief of Voice Piece.  She lives in Brooklyn, New York with three cats that do not belong to her.

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