When you hear the words “NY is bringing hip-hop back,” who are the first artists that come to mind? Dave East? ASAP Ferg? Don Q? What about Princess Nokia?
Hailing from the Eastside of Harlem is a 24-year old Afro Latina by the name of Princess Nokia, who is tackling a male dominated genre head-on. The creative has been on the scene since 2010, switching her style up along the way from tracks like “Dragons” to “Apple Pie,” but after the release of her album 1992, she’s slowly, but surely, solidifying her place in hip-hop. It’s time to get familiar with this comic book loving bruja.
It was the summer of 2016 when I first caught wind of Princess Nokia. Her single, “Tomboy,” had become my anthem every time I hit the streets with my typical jersey and sneaker aesthetic. Her interviews with publications like The Snobette, showed me that she wasn’t some sort of industry plant or another pretty girl hiding behind a major producer. In fact, she was the complete opposite. She was smart, tough, authentic and could rap her ass off. But there was something deeper about the uptown rapper that went beyond her lyrics. It was her attitude that made her striking.
As one of the headliners of 2016’s Afro Latino Festival in Brooklyn, the unsigned artist had one rule: ladies to the front. Princess Nokia often refers to her concerts as a safe space for all black and brown women, and that’s exactly what they are. As a founder of the urban feminist collective, Smart Girls Club, she finds it very important for women and non-binary color to have these spaces available. Her shows—which are always sold out—are filled with powerful affirmations as she transitions from song to song. It’s as if the crowd gives Nokia energy and she gives it right back to us.
With a chorus like, “I step in this bitch and I do what I want/I don’t give a damn and I don’t give a fuck” on her anthem “Kitana,” it’s easy to place the artist, formerly known as Wavy Spice, in the “carefree rapper” box, but that would be lazy. Princess Nokia’s sound is just as eclectic and ever changing as she is. After starting off with an alternative hip-hop/club sound with songs like, “Versace Hottie,” the Nuyorican has grown and her album, which also doubles as a love letter to New York, proves just that. “I just used to go to all my old neighborhoods and I would write for five, six hours,” she said in her Fader documentary, which debuted back in November 2016.
“I'm that Black a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba/And my people come from Africa diaspora, Cuba”
While on “Bart Simpson,” she vividly describes growing up in foster care under the care of an abusive woman.
"Scribbling on doodle paper/Trying hard to pay attention/But I have no real direction/ o I say, "yo, fuck this lesson"/Spark the leaf, my back is stressing/Who I am and where I'm headed/Cutting school and acting crazy/Foster care done got me crazy/Living with a crazy lady"
As her own manager and booking agent, Princess Nokia is currently holding it down and hitting stages in the U.S. before heading overseas to embark on the second leg of her European tour. Before dropping new music later this year, the rapper will be performing at this year's Afropunk.