Far too often, self-discovery means defining yourself within the neat little boxes of social constructs. Find your color, find your side, find your binary, and presto – you’ll find yourself and have a clean thesis statement to offer the outside world. In the music industry, identity becomes even more of a categorization game, as artists are rendered into easily organized, digestible versions of themselves that audiences can swallow up like tiny, multi-colored pills.
This made Princess Nokia’s 1992 EP all the more astonishing when it dropped last September. The rapper and self-proclaimed blackarican bruja, whose real name is Destiny Frasqueri, didn’t give the world a simplified, easy-to-read sketch of herself. Instead, she revealed herself in all of her complex multitudes — loner, fighter, weirdo, skater, tomboy, witch, queer, Afro-Latina, survivor. The nine gritty tracks teetered between candid and caustic, and forcefully resisted tidy pigeonholing of any kind. The entire project was dedicated to a disappearing and gentrifying New York City, the playground responsible for producing the many sides of Princess Nokia.
Today, she’s released a deluxe edition of 1992, which includes remastered recordings of the album’s originals, as well as eight new tracks that flesh out the powerfully nuanced narrative she’s written for herself. The 16-song compendium aggregates sundry bits of her heritage and memories, like a jewelry box overflowing with ancient heirlooms and plastic childhood knick-knacks, and dives deeper into who the 25-year-old is now — five years after she got her start on SoundCloud under the moniker Wavy Spice.
In a world where women of color are constantly perceived as being too something — loud, sexual, aggressive, different — Princess Nokia refuses to mute any part of herself. She filled 1992 with brassy, in-your-face proclamations: On “Tomboy,” she owned her body, sexuality, and androgyny in one fell swoop; on “Kitana,” she unleashed her Mortal Kombat-inspired fighter’s spirit; on “Bruja” she channeled Taino and Yoruba spirituality. The songs have each helped raise her profile as a commanding new voice, an identity she unabashedly taps into on the bombastic “G.O.A.T.” She uses the throbbing track to extol her success and salute her influences, including Gangsta Boo, Princess Loco, and La Chat.
Even her experimentation with guttural new flows and rap braggadocio is unconventional: “Hate to burst your bubble, bitch/I’m that weird girl who’s running shit,” she trumpets in the first line of “G.O.A.T.” She takes pleasure in her weirdness; being a misfit who’s raking in money as a rapper is part of the bluster. In the same song, she references anime, skateboarding, moshpits, and Clueless. One of her most direct self-articulations happens over the dotty synths of “Different,” where she declares repeatedly, “I’m different, I’m different, I’m different, I’m different.” On the looming “Goth Kid,” she raps about Emily Strange and Wednesday Addams while hinting at some of her experiences with abuse in foster care.
Earlier this year, Princess Nokia told The Village Voice, “At the end of the day, I’m still a ‘hood bitch, no matter how punk I am.” Growing up poor in New York City remains central to her work and identity. On the deluxe edition of 1992, Princess Nokia picks the ruminations about her beloved home right back up with the laid-back, early Tribe Called Quest-style “ABCs of New York,” in which she pays homage to the city’s most intimate particulars, from bodegas to drag queens to the Young Lords. She imbues “Chinese Slippers” with the carefree spirit of a quintessential New York block party (“Everybody got a chair, flyer in the lobby/Got the speakers up, fire hydrant on”) while sprinkling lines from the playground chant “Kentucky Fried Chicken and a Pizza Hut” in the chorus. The nostalgic rhyme reflects both her vanishing childhood and a passing era in the city — even the title is a nod to the little mesh shoes once ubiquitous on the streets of Chinatown. She’s celebrating not just New York, but a way of life in brown and black communities that seems ephemeral amid skyrocketing rent and gentrification today.
At her live shows, Princess Nokia always calls women to the front of the venue, taking after a tradition initiated by riot grrrl vanguards Bikini Kill. She creates a safe space for women, especially women of color, under the refuge of her stage lights. The music on 1992 Deluxe is its own private safe space that reminds women, and other listeners, that they don’t need to downplay the parts of their personality that might be contradictory or confusing to society. While white supremacy and patriarchy are not new by any means, this message is especially important as a culture of fear built around these forces threatens to consume our communities. Princess Nokia’s music is an invitation to resist, and to be as weird and nonconforming as possible. As she embarks on another world tour, with sponsorships and co-signs in her rearview, Destiny is poised to bring that message of multitudes to the global stage.