Review: Princess Nokia in Bristol

Maria Paradinas looks back on Princess Nokia’s explosive Bristol show at The Small Horse Social Club.

Afro-Nuyorican feminist musician Destiny Frasqueri, who performs under the stage name “Princess Nokia” has a sound that is firmly placed in the digital age. However, her multifaceted character and variety of style transcend the restrictions of time or place. Developing “Princess Nokia” on informal internet platforms such as Tumblr, Soundcloud and Instagram has allowed her to have complete artistic autonomy and be free of the shackles of record companies. This girl doesn’t just rap and sing about being an independent female- she’s the real shit.

I was first struck by Nokia in the Youtube video of her 2014 track “Dragons” that blended upbeat electro hip-hop with sensitive, dreamy vocals. These were spread on a romantic and sentimental video that will make you nostalgic for Saturday morning cartoons and Nintendo video games.

Destiny’s fluidity and range is perhaps her most striking attribute. Her style refuses to be pinned down. At times she’s the sloppy and androgynous New York comic book nerd, at others the gentle and supremely feminine “patron of the earth”, and at others the metallic cyber princess. She perhaps embodies all that it means to be a female in the modern age: rigorous exploration into all the avenues of the self and subsequent uncompromised, unapologetic expression of this adventure.

My first encounter with Destiny was a complete surprise in the toilets of the venue. She was commenting with endearment on another girls ‘fat belly’ and confessed “I saw your belly and was like ‘I have that! I’ve had it ever since I was a child’”. Her track Tomboy from the album 1992 is a dedicated to her “small titties and fat belly”; this is a reclaiming of personal sexuality and disregard for the mainstream media’s idea of what constitutes as sexy and what doesn’t. She makes eczema cool. During this intimate exchange in the toilets she told us “I’m just trying to be the next Kathleen Hanna” (the front woman of American 90s punk band Bikini Kill). On stage she adopted the methods of Hanna instructing the girls to come to the front and the boys to stay back.

She starts her set in a way that has become characteristic of her- rude, raw and raucous. Destiny shouts at the sound engineers to turn her microphone up, spits, and dabs herself with napkins – it’s awe-inspiring.

She begins with ‘Bart Simpson’, an ode to her deviant youth. Her set passes through the entire spectrum of her musical conquests as Princess Nokia, including a Spanish rap honouring  her Taíno, Yoruba and Afro-Latino heritage. Her music is undeniably imbued in feminist activist politics. The track ‘mine’ empowers black women who wear wigs, weaves and extensions particularly resonant in the line “see how I stunt / in my lace front” and schools those who ask if their hair is real with: “please do not ask me or any black or brown woman if our hair is real or not…don’t fuckin’ ask. It’s very rude…we bought it, it’s ours”. Nokia’s feminism encompasses ‘Womanism’; this term is defined as a social theory pertaining to the oppression and struggle of women of colour. In other words ‘black feminism’.

Nokia speaks to the mostly female audience:

“I know there’s a lot of girls at Uni out there, I know here’s a lot of girls, like eighteen-nineteen, coming up, finding themselves in the world. Trust me, I don’t want to be eighteen or nineteen ever again. The beauty of being a woman is growing. The beauty of being a woman is evolution. So if you’re not happy with yourselves or if you don’t feel great at the moment honestly, honey, the evolution is coming.”

Destiny is essential to modern hip-hop and occupies a space, musically, that was previously uninhabited. Rude yet benevolent, aggressive yet gentle, she expresses the myriad dimensions of the modern female and does so unapologetically.

Princess Nokia’s new album 1992 is available for free download here: 

Photography by Joy Molan and Maria Paradinas

Video by Maria Paradinas

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