By: Frances Molina
The setting is Harlem 2025. Holographic butterflies hover above a colorful bedroom scene where four women, each adorned in neon and glitter, sleep beside one another. The record begins, a sort of techno pop lullaby, poorly produced but catchy all the same. The four women stir and awaken, giggling and chatting with other over their retro cellphones and Tamagotchi toys. The girl at the center of the group, blue butterfly clips in her hair and diamonds around her eyes, starts to sing along to the melody. She pouts the words with a practiced cool, breaking every once and awhile to smile and laugh with her friends. This is Princess Nokia. I fell in love.
The next time I saw Princess Nokia it was the premiere of her video for “Tomboy,” a record released in 2016, nearly two years after “Nokia.” Here was a more mature but distinctly similar woman: bare-faced, dressed in baggy street clothes, standing at the center of an inner-city basketball court, flanked by her friends. The beat of the music is mid-tempo, almost militant, with the fierce growl of car engines murmuring somewhere in the background. The beat breaks with the sound of a blade slicing the air and you hear her shout, with a voice full of bravado: “Who that is, hoe?/ That girl is a tomboy, that girl is a tomboy, that girl is a tomboy!”
I fell in love all over again.
Princess Nokia aka Destiny Frasqueri is a poet, a mystic, a model and a rapper. Like many of our great contemporary prophets of art and culture, she was born and bred in New York City. As a young girl, she had already mastered the streets and subway lines that shuttled her back and forth between Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side. In interviews, Destiny is quite candid about her childhood and her past, even the ugliest parts. She speaks honestly about her time in foster care, in abusive households, and toxic relationships; about finding herself as a woman, as a black and brown feminist, dealing with drug abuse and depression.
You can hear the faint melodies of this pain in her music, the sadness and the loneliness of a poor brown kid from the Bronx who found shelter in her comic books and fantasy worlds. But it is an unapologetically joyful and fiercely feminist energy that invigorates both her voice and her sound. This energy is most vividly experienced with her debut album 1992, released in 2016, a body of music that celebrates her past, her present, and her future.
To clarify, 1992 is only her debut EP. In the last three years, Destiny has produced a number of records and mixtapes including Metallic Butterfly and Honeysuckle. She was recording and performing under the stage name Wavvy Spice back in 2012 when she released “Bitch I’m Posh,” the club track that would officially put her on the music map. Record labels immediately clamored to sign her and - according to Destiny - to try to commodify the vibe of yet another young internet artist. In her FADER documentary, she described the pressure she felt after this initial exposure as a “nightmare.” Since then, she has been determined to remain an independent artist, a choice she feels has empowered her “DIY approach.”
This choice to remain independent has also given her the freedom to pursue her own side projects such as her podcast, “Smart Girl Club.” The podcast started as an afternoon radio slot, a place where Destiny could talk openly about what interested her: feminism, holistic health and beauty, curandismo (a traditionally indigenous system of healing), magic, poetry, music, and her community in New York. It was developed as a “safe space for brown women to be radical.” When 1992 took off and she started touring across America and Europe, she transferred her podcasts over to her Soundcloud page, making them widely available to her growing fanbase of listeners. It was one of these podcasts that introduced me to “urban feminism,” the concept that arguably serves as the artistic foundation of her music and her art.
Her album 1992 is a declaration of urban feminism, a branch of feminism she fashioned from her experiences growing up in poverty. She defines urban feminism as “a tangible form of feminism that is accessible to inner-city ghetto women, who do not have access to the institutionalized forms of feminism;” a movement built for the “oppressed ghetto woman” who “believes she deserves to be free.” Destiny developed the concept of urban feminism, she says, “because there were no black girls in the Riot Grrrl documentary”.
As a girl growing up in the ‘90s, she connected with the politics of third wave feminism, but was bothered by the obvious lack of inclusion. Urban feminism was her attempt at trying to bridge the gap between two worlds: the radical feminist politics she loved and the reality of life in the ghetto she lived. 1992 could arguably be called a collection of Riot Grrrl anthems for women and queer people of color, who can now find safety and acceptance in a radical space that was not intended for them. But make no mistake: there is a little something for everyone on this album. This is music for the black and brown feminist and for the working woman; for the NYC tough kids and for the self-proclaimed brujas; for the losers, the nerds, and the loners.
I asked a few of my friends to talk about how Princess Nokia and her music has impacted them as young feminists, artists, and women of color. This is what they had to say:
“In her song “Tomboy,” the chorus “My little titties and my fat belly” really speaks to me. Growing up I had extreme body dysmorphia and people would comment on my small chest and large stomach. Obviously at this age, I’ve grown to the point where I don’t let people get to me and can fend for myself. Now whenever someone says something about me, it just rolls off my shoulders. I love how sure of herself Princess Nokia is. She doesn’t give a fuck.” – Isabella Lemos
“I first heard Destiny’s music this past summer when my friend introduced me to “Tomboy” and then to “Apple Pie.” At first, I was a little bit thrown off because “Tomboy” is so in your face and wonderful and I didn’t know how to react to it – but I knew that I loved it. One of my favorite things about Destiny is that she is so unapologetic and accepting of WOC, which I really need right now…I don’t think I can articulate how helpful she has been to me. I also really love her spiritual beliefs. She’s made me more interested to practice curandismo and brujeria as a means to learn about my indigenous heritage. She is the source of all that is good in this world.” - Pamela Del Valle
As for myself, I would have to agree with Pamela. I don’t know if I can articulate all that I love and admire about Destiny Frasqueri or the incredible impact of her music. These few paragraphs, composed with love and respect, are for now the very least I can do to say thank you to Princess Nokia.
Currently, Destiny is currently touring Europe and will return to the United States to perform at FYF Fest and the 2017 Afropunk festival. For more updates and fire selfies, follow her on Instagram @princessnokia. To listen to 1992 and Smart Girl Club Radio, click here.