Q&A: Princess Nokia On 1992 Deluxe, Working With Film, And The Power Of Reinvention
“Hello, baby, how are you doing,” Princess Nokia greets me on the phone. Her voice is tender and genuine. She has been touring for the last year and a half and remains ridiculously busy, but in this rare free moment she’s chatting about 1992 Deluxe, Rough Trade’s expanded re-release of last year’s breakout mixtape 1992. Even through the phone she comes across as an innovator, business mogul, and badass as she articulates her art and vision.
Destiny Frasqueri has gone by a few names in her musical career including her birth name, an imagined sixth Spice Girl called Wavy Spice, and her most well-known moniker, Princess Nokia. Born and raised in New York City, the 25-year-old began releasing music as Wavy Spice on SoundCloud in 2012. She’s been writing music and releasing videos consistently since then, highlighted by 2014’s Princess Nokia full-length Metallic Butterfly and last year’s 1992. The new deluxe version of that release features an additional eight tracks that are consistent with Nokia’s admiration for NYC (“ABCs Of New York” and “Brick City”) and ’90s nostalgia (“Goth Kid”).
Frasqueri’s music scans as mostly autobiographical, but at times it’s only ostensibly so, as she explores alternative and even fantasy versions of herself. She’s a proud Afro-Puerto Rican woman that showcases the intersectionality of her identity, exposing that we can be more than a 2-D representation of ourselves. Her shows are a safe space for LGBTQ+, women, and people of color. Her music is a safe haven for the spectrum of identity, as she embraces every aspect of herself even if society systematically tries to silence that beauty. From dissing white supremacy and xenophobia in “ABCs Of New York” to institutionalized misogyny on “Receipts,” Princess Nokia is a voice against inequality and prejudice amidst a background of hard-hitting trap triplets and pointed electronic drumbeats.
Her rap persona is a pristine and colorful embodiment of the city she comes from. From her beats to her content, Nokia is as diverse as the city blocks that stretch from the Bronx to LES. Read our Q&A below.
STEREOGUM: When you put out the 1992 Deluxe, did you already know what songs you wanted to add or what tweaks you wanted to make?
PRINCESS NOKIA: I made the eight new songs directly after I recorded 1992. 1992 the original version only was available on a personal website of mine. It wasn’t available on any streaming services or anything, and I just really wanted to put out 1992 again with a proper release. I thought why save it for another project? It was the same material that I wrote when I did the album. It only added to it and gave it a definite fullness.
STEREOGUM: Did you produce your new tracks?
PRINCESS NOKIA: No, actually I get a lot people that send me beats. I had a lot of beats on my computer, and I just used those. I have my engineer Benjamin Julia, who did a lot of engineering on the first album. I had him come to my house, and I recorded the entire second half of Deluxe in my room with a friend and a home mic. It was really cool. It was really easy.
STEREOGUM: I was curious how the new and old songs interact for you. Were the new songs inspired by the older tracks or were they already written?
PRINCESS NOKIA: Not inspired by the older tracks, I just write rhymes. I wrote poetry in my notebook. They’re all just poetry in my notebooks from a perspective of a New York City high school kid who drank a lot of beer and smoked a lot of weed, had a lot of fun, and went to a lot of rock concerts. I just observed everything around me. All the songs come from a really unique, individualistic, youthful place. It’s about being a misfit. It’s about being different. It has the vein of classic hip-hop. It has a uniqueness to it, certainly.
STEREOGUM: Because you’re touring a lot, and I get the sense that you schedule is really busy. Is your music going to be inspired by that same perspective?
PRINCESS NOKIA: I think it always is. I think the person that I am in 1992 is still who I am now. The music that I will continue to make will certainly draw upon those experiences of being a loner, of being an emo goth kid, of being a New York City aficionado, of being a witch, a feminist, a brown radical woman. I think those things are still very relevant in my life. A lot of things have changed: my entire demographic, my spectrum, my success, my entire life. My coexistence with the music is different, but I am still the same person. I still very much deal — not deal, but experience the life that I narrated in 1992. It’s not different.
STEREOGUM: It’s amazing to look at your catalogue and career in the sense that you’ve had so many different sounds and representations of your identity. What have you learned over the years about how you present yourself and what you put out into the world musically and visually?
PRINCESS NOKIA: I think that the power of reinvention is very important. I understand the power of reinvention and how it can allow an artist or someone to not be confined into one specific sound or idea or time in music. I feel like I’ve had a really great time just being able to make all the music that I’ve always liked to make and listen to and expressing it in different ways. It don’t work for everybody, but I love reinvention. I love being able to create, and recreate, and draw upon many inspirations. I think that’s probably the biggest part of my musical career and identity that I can be so interchangeable. It’s exhausting to be honest with you, I exhaust myself sometimes.
STEREOGUM: Do you ever lose track?
PRINCESS NOKIA: No, I don’t really lose track. There’s a whole bunch of bits of me everywhere in my life.
STEREOGUM: Do you have specific artists that inspire you for that chameleonlike skin?
PRINCESS NOKIA: Yeah! I like a lot of older rock ‘n’ roll artists, like legends like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie. They really influenced me to be very, very androgynous and very commanding, and very very — I wouldn’t say odd, but I would say eccentric. Those types of people have always been like, “Oh my god they’re so awesome.”
STEREOGUM: You made a short film for your song “Flava.” Could you elaborate on the thought process that went into the song and its visuals?
PRINCESS NOKIA: The song “Flava” is one of the funner, shorter songs on the album, which I like having fun with. I like making that kind of young music. It’s fun to be a bit silly with it. The lyrics are not too off-kilter. They’re super, super gaudy, but still very relevant to my life. [She begins to rap] ‘Little instances like eating duck in Paris and eating Rösti in Switzerland and talking to my financial advisor.’ I try to take those visually rich parts of my life and go oh wow this is the life that I live. They’re not just me saying them because they sound good. They’re personal. My writing is my observations from my life. They get translated into that type of sound. It’s not always me, though, but I like to have fun with it.
With the short film, I’m a director. I’m a very serious film director. I take that very seriously about my life. I directed 15 music videos in the last four years. I’m a big — I just love creating film. I love creating cinematic narrative. I wanted to make a short film that went with my album and spoke from the beauty and the narrative of urban women and self-love and empowerment and cultural appropriation. The women in my life are always my muses. I’m always trying to put in this lens of the woman that I am raised with, that I live with, that I coexist with, that lives in my neighborhood. It’s a very strong piece that had a lot of very strong beautiful women. It was such a joy to make. I was so happy during that shoot.
STEREOGUM: Who were the three women you were walking around with in the video?
PRINCESS NOKIA: One of them is actress Maya Monès. The other two are two friends of mine from down the block.
STEREOGUM: You obviously are going to continue working with visuals?
PRINCESS NOKIA: Eventually I want to direct my own film. I work within a film team with Milah Libin, who was my co-director, and her brother Travis Libin. Me and the Libins have been making video or film for some time. We’re working on short films together as well.
STEREOGUM: Since it is the topic of many of your songs, I was curious how your experience of New York has changed, if at all, along with your rise in notoriety and popularity?
PRINCESS NOKIA: I certainly do want to continue to write about New York. No matter how much New York changes, it will still always be a big part of me. I try not to let the changing of New York take away my poetry and the way that I honor it.
1992 Deluxe is out now via Rough Trade. Purchase or stream it here.