Princess Nokia’s music has always been experimental, eagerly floating between genres such as rap, soul, rock and house. But there’s also been a sense that, by drawing from such a vast melting pot of influences, the Harlem rapper’s albums are sometimes a little jarring or inconsistent.
Debut studio album ‘1992 Deluxe’ was a mostly potent love letter to New York City and the 27-year-old’s carefree life within the Big Apple, albeit one where the energy occasionally dipped. 2018 follow-up ‘A Girl Cried Red’, however, was a much more forgettable foray into emo rap. It’s clear Nokia - real name Destiny Frasqueri - has bags of potential, but she hasn’t yet delivered a truly knockout record. Yet this could all be about to change with the advent of her new album, due for release in 2020, which the singer insists represents the finest music of her career.
“It’s inspired by powerful women like Lauryn Hill, Hurricane G and Tracy Chapman, who each provided the soundtrack to my adolescence and helped me find myself,” she explains over the phone, whilst being driven into central London from Heathrow Airport. “I want this to be a coming of age album for young women. It’s gorgeous and has a lot of live instrumentation. It’s a real rap and neo-soul hybrid. Lyrically it is very personal and draws from everyday experiences like washing my grandmother’s feet or going grocery shopping. I would say it’s definitely my best music.”
First single ‘Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T)’ is a bouncy, empowering bop built around dismissive lyrics about Nokia’s enemies. “It’s the perfect getting ready to go out song,” she says of the track’s aims. “You know that kind of music you hear in the streets and suddenly you walk with more of an attitude in your step? That’s this song. I added a church element to it too, so this music has that gospel power, but not in a corny way.”
"I want this to be a coming of age album for young women."
The single also has a dark edge, with Nokia referencing throwing wine over a man who was domestically abusing her friend. Indeed, the musician has gained a reputation online as somewhat of a rap vigilante who stands up to social injustice, with a video of her throwing hot soup over a man she said was being racist on New York’s subway going viral. Nokia says it’s important that even though she might exhibit a calm demeanour, which is today accentuated by a voice that channels Erykah Badu at her most spiritual, there’s another more militant side to her too.
“I don’t like to put my hands on people unless it’s for a good cause, but best believe if you’re racist or violent towards women then I’m all in!” she exclaims. “On the single, I talk about punching a man who had thrown wine over my friend. I was defending her honour. As far as I’m concerned, I am a real gangster for doing that. Only old school people have honour and principles like that. I think that people count on brown women [like me] to save the world!"
Another cause Nokia, who identifies as bi-sexual, would like to see progress further is LGBT representation within hip hop, something the artist has long championed having worked with trans rap renegade Mykki Blanco. “You’ve got men wearing dresses and holding Chanel bags, painting their nails, so we can definitely see how gender fluidity is progressing,” she says. “But there’s still a long way to go too. Non-straight rappers could always use more love. We need to be put on bigger stages.”
“I’m living the best moments of my life right now."
Next year will see Nokia make her acting debut in drama Angelfish, a love story about an immigrant Puerto Rican family and an Irish family who are unexpectedly brought together. Her character Eva is part of a first generation immigrant family and Nokia says she channeled the experiences of her youth. “I’m second generation and always had a liberal artistic sensibility, but I knew a lot of first generation girls who had stricter families so were more shy around boys and didn’t raise their voices,” she says. “Their families were so traditional, and I wanted to show how that upbringing impacts Eva’s behaviour and her journey. She isn’t sassy like I can be, but she’s very reserved.”
Nokia, who has also firmly established herself as a model, says she will also channel the themes of her upcoming album into a new YouTube show. “I’m going to be the next Mr Rodgers!” she insists. “But I won’t be able to smoke any weed or they won’t let me around the kids.”
It’s an exciting time for Princess Nokia, who unexpectedly cuts off our interview because it’s time to go into an elevator. Maybe she’s just running late, but it’s also an apt metaphor for where the rapper currently finds her own career: ready to reach the next level. “I’m living the best moments of my life right now,” she concludes. “It’s time to give that energy back to my fans. I want to heal them with this new music."
Princess Nokia's new single 'Balenciaga' is out now via Platoon.