Story and photos by Mayda del Valle
Armed with a microphone and a stick of sage, Princess Nokia cast a spell on everyone at her sold out LA show at The Echo. After baptizing the audience with a bottle of water and jumping off stage to crowd surf during her first song, the anthem Tomboy, she stood poised at the edge of the stage dressed in a white sports bra and baggy pants, proclaiming “These are the rules of the show: ladies to the front, all you ally brothers get to the back. That’s right, this is a brown queer space. We don’t do none of that misogynist shit.” And with that the crowd cheered in response, and the women present claimed the space we usually have to elbow and shove our way past men at concerts to stand in. It might be this unapologetic claiming of space for marginalized identities that has led to Nokia’s growing popularity on the underground scene, and the sold out European tour she just returned from.
While some may be hearing about Nokia (born Destiny Frasqueri), for the first time with her most recent mixtape 1992, the New York bred artist has been making noise on the underground scene since 2010, with her first single Destiny released under the moniker Wavy Spice when she was only 18. She went on to release a club inspired track Bitch I’m Posh which garnered some attention and a series of record deal offers, all of which she declined. Admittedly, Frasqueri says that while she had the presence and artistic voice that most A&R’s thirst for, her technical skills weren’t at the level she would have liked them to be. So she decided to remain independent, rejecting the pressures and exploitation that are often associated with the commercial music world, choosing instead to develop her craft and forge her aesthetic identity on her own terms.
And the choice has thus far paid off. Her full length debut project Metallic Butterfly, saw Frasqueri shape shift into the artist we now know as Princess Nokia. Heavily influenced by DrumNBass and NYC house, Butterfly was an ode to Afro-futurism, anime, comic books, love and Frasqueri’s now signature afro-indigenous urban feminism. The project earned Nokia invitations to Harvard University and a performance at the 2014 Afropunk festival. She quickly followed it in 2015 with Honeysuckle, a 70’s funk and disco inspired album where she transformed into Destiny, a rough-around-the edges-but-sweet-as-honey soul queen who waxes poetic ala Gil Scott Heron on the track Brown Girl Blues. “We are the melanin/ we are the gods/ we are royal/ they want to shoot us off” she chants.
It’s the ease with which Frasqueri slips in and out of identities and musical influences that makes her so interesting. She leaves nothing at the door and no label is sufficient: Nuyorican, African, Taina, Bruja, Queer, The Supreme, Ghetto, Tomboy, Bronx Bred, Harlemite, Santera, Goth, Bitch, Nerd, Rapper, Singer, Punk, House, Hip-Hop, Funk, Soul, Trap, Drum-n-Bass; Frasqueri proudly and defiantly embodies all of these simultaneously, while giving a middle finger to anyone who tries to put her or her music in a box. With 1992, Frasqueri manages to reinvent herself once again while firmly establishing herself as a spitter. It’s a love letter to 90’s NYC hip-hop and the city is as present as Destiny is, becoming the sonic canvas she paints her coming of age story on. Lyrically, she traverses familiar themes with a much sharper pen, and more nuanced perspectives but it’s not a departure from her previous work, rather a natural evolution that seems to synthesize her identities and influences.
The November 30th show at The Echo finally gave LA a chance to experience this rising artist. The well marketed singles Tomboy and Brujas were highlights of the show, and the “I don’t give a fuck” anthem Kitana had the entire audience fists in the air and jumping. Frasqueri’s shape shifting bruja super powers were at full peak when she twerked, dropped into a split, only to light her stick of sage and smudge the audience minutes later. And while men were invited to be witness, this space was obviously meant to be a celebratory and healing one for sisters when she invited as many woman as could fit on the stage to dance and sweat it out.
While Frasqueri may still be growing technically as an artist and performer, it’s the lack of pretense that endears her to her rapidly growing audience. She claims all of herself: Little titties, fat belly, baggy denim, eczema and all; and she loves it. And she invites her fans to do the same. Indeed she demands it. Sauntering across the stage with all her Puerto Rican braggadocio she said,” I could be as weird and awkward as I want. You don’t have to fuck with me if you don’t want to. Leave your ego at the door.”
Mayda del Valle is a Chicago born LA based artist, educator, and activist. Her interdisciplinary work embodies themes of diaspora, identity, hybridity and healing. You can learn more at www.maydadelvalle.com