While Princess Nokia (Destiny Frasqueri) is often thought to bring a feminist edge to the generally male dominated hip hop genre, 1992 Deluxe (2017) is not an album solely dedicated to deconstructing gender-based social stratification. In “Tomboy” and “Saggy Denim,” where Nokia tackles issues of femininity and gender stereotypes, she remains true to herself. Rather than using her sexuality as a tool for combatting the male gaze, like historically-coined feminist rappers Lil’ Kim and Eve, she promotes herself as having “little titties and [a] phat belly.” While this may be a message of nonconformity, as she doesn’t assert her female dominance through sex or her ass, it is also simply a bold statement of comfort with her own physicality.
Tracks like “Kitana,” “Tomboy,” and “Brujas” embody a range of different identities. Nokia’s Puerto-Rican, African, and Harlem roots frequently mingle over the course of a single bar. Her position as an urban intersectional feminist is strengthened as she draws on moments from her past.
Nokia provides listeners with a narrative of her daily life, with songs such as “Green Line” and “ABCs of New York” documenting her Brooklyn habitat, and others like “Brujas” providing glimpses of her Puerto Rican influences. This provides cultural context to her music, juxtaposing typical-New York references prevalent in the genre with a Central American background that is reminiscent of hip hop’s Jamaican origins.
In a documentary entitled Destiny, Frasqueri discusses her childhood in the Bronx, and her time spent in the foster care system after her mother died of AIDS when she was only 10. In “Bart Simpson,” Nokia refers to herself as an “inner city orphan” and “A nerdy girl with nymphomaniac tendencies / Reading comics in forbidden planet” to escape the craziness of her abusive foster home. At 16, she left her home behind with nothing but some loose change and her Nokia cell phone at 75 per cent battery. Princess Nokia was born that year in an attempt to take command of her own future in the face of dismal circumstances.
After listening to the album several times through, I came to appreciate her as a socially-conscious artist. With underlying currents of racial tension, class divisions, and distrust of authority in her music, Princess Nokia’s real-world connections to her lyrics are readily apparent. However, she presents it in a briefer framework with an awareness of her young age, rather than narrating an extended personal journey, such as in Tyler, The Creator’s Flower Boy (2017) or a long-standing historical problem, as addressed in Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly (2015). In 1992 Deluxe, Nokia is an “old school hoe with a new school flow,” taking the more traditional elements of hip-hop songs and interjecting her personal ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude that has Plateau hipsters and Metro riders alike turning up the volume on this new release.
In familiarizing myself with her past and repeatedly listening to the mixtape, I was really drawn to her self-made, assertive, and independent style. Nokia chose to self-record and produce her mixtapes because she wanted nothing to do with the high demand and pressure of the music industry. Her newer raps, such as “G.O.A.T.,” “Brick City,” and “Flava,” unapologetically focus on empowerment and embracing every aspect of yourself.
I’m so excited that Princess Nokia is gaining attention on the mainstage for her artistry and hard-hitting authenticity. As far as role models go, she is certainly tough to beat.