September 29, 2016

LP: Princess Nokia - 1992

Princess Nokia proves that she's the rap supreme on her latest mixtape.

You might remember the Nokia cellphone, a relic from the nineties that’s virtually unbreakable while more “advanced” phones crack from a single drop to the pavement. Like the classic phone, Destiny Frasqueri AKA Princess Nokia represents the unbreakable past, namely the New Yorker that remains even in the face of gentrification. After a debut that merged tribal chants and shiny electronica along with a recent '70s-inspired funk release, her new mixtape 1992 is the most straightforward hip-hop and rap record of her career. While past releases featured Frasqueri singing as well as rapping, 1992 solely showcases her rap chops. Frasqueri’s nerdy-yet-tough persona shines in a sound close to home; the classic hip-hop sound of the upper Manhattan and the Bronx. For people coming just for nostalgic kicks, there are references Missy Elliot, Blues Clues, and Dawson’s Creek. More importantly than name-checking TV shows, Frasqueri follows in the tradition of hip-hop’s inventors and innovators that use their voices to shout to their experiences in poverty-stricken urban jungles to a classist/racist/patriarchal world.

“Mine” is both an ode to weaves and a clapback to those who feel like it's acceptable to touch and exotify a woman of color’s hair. In today’s era where female rappers are encouraged by the media to be ultra-femme sexbots, there’s a rebellious edge to Frasqueri claiming her masculine identity on “Tomboy.” When she spits, “My little titties be booking cities.” she’s not just bragging that her body type is desirable - she’s implying that her talent is enough to support her, implicitly promising you the same thing. Throughout 1992, Frasqueri casts herself as a rebellious outcast fighting for her place. Over the classic boom-bap beat of “Bart Simpson,” she admits, “But I guess that’s what I do, make life difficult for me and you,” before going on to reminiscence about skipping school to read comics in NYC comic store Forbidden Planet while bleeding from her eczema. Far from making the city a dark place that adds to her troubles, for her it’s a lifeline of possibility that sustains her. “For $2.50 I can go wherever I want /  Even if they check my bags I’m hiding weed from the cops,” she raps on the chorus of “Green Line,” her personal ode to the 6 train.

Frasqueri's embrace of tropes like acting tough and smoking weed, coupled with her tales of quirkiness, ground her persona and make her both relatable and admirable. She has a knack for mixing this kind of “realness” long prized in rap with the fantastical narratives of the comic books she read growing up; this combination is showcased in the mixtape’s centerpiece, “Brujas." The track references her roots beyond NYC, highlighting her Afro-Rican heritage while bragging of her magical prowess in-between samples from American Horror Story: Coven. The sound of Angela Basset intoning, “Everything you got came from us” is especially chilling in today’s world where Marc Jacobs puts dreadlocks on white models without any regard for the hardships that the originators of that hairstyle are going through. Throughout 1992 the story is the same. Despite the world constantly trying to steal her #blackgirlmagic, Princess Nokia is clearly the Supreme.


Listen to Princess Nokia on soundcloud.

Mo Wilson is a writer who enjoys collecting posters and still has a CD player. You can find him on twitter @sadgayfriendx.