Princess Nokia Is Melding Gothic Punk With Her Afro-Indigenous Identity

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“Young people are the fearless voices of our ancestors.”

Fresh Finds is Teen Vogue’s franchise dedicated to highlighting the badass female artists, musicians, and filmmakers you need to know. A report by Eva Lewis for Teen Vogue.

My discovery of Destiny Frasqueri — aka Princess Nokia — coincides with my discovery of my own afro-indigenous identity. I first saw this term in her work, and it called to me. I’d always known of and felt connected to my indigenous ancestry, but I didn’t know what to call it. “Young Girls” was the first Princess Nokia video I watched. I saw brown girls and women of all size and shades, dancing, comfortably and freely. I saw myself in the movements of their bodies, in their laughs. I wanted to know what type of energy they shared in, and how that could be made accessible to me. I wanted to know where that level of “carefree” existed, and how I could cultivate it or myself and my people. As a result, I embarked on a journey of self discovery, which included keeping tabs on Princess Nokia and her work.

The “Young Girls” video premiered in January of 2015. Since then, Destiny has been up to a lot, from engaging young women and girls through her collective “Smart Girls Club”, to releasing her EP 1992. Within the next month, she will be re-releasing a deluxe edition of 1992 (with an additional eight songs), so ahead of that I spoke with her about the new songs, her general artistry, and her identity as an afro-indigenous woman.

 

Eva Lewis: At your Chicago concert, you mentioned some difficulties with 1992. Can you elaborate on those difficulties?

Destiny Frasqueri: When I originally created the mixtape, I put it out independently on my website, and I didn’t register any of the music legally. I had a lot of samples that weren’t cleared, [so] I had to pay artists off to use their original production. Legally, it just takes time to process it all.

EL: How did this experience influence the making of the deluxe edition of 1992?

DF: I think it made me understand the schematics of legalities and business more. I miss those independent days where I could literally not care about being sued, and just drop my music on the internet for free. Now that I’m doing worldwide distribution, I understand that it is just a part of it. I can’t be negative about it. It just delays it, and that is fine, there is nothing that I can do about it…As long as you’re open with your fanbase about it — and you’re doing other productive things in the meantime — you’re fine. I use the principles of gratitude, positivity, and consistency in my work a lot as a person, as an artist, and as a musician. When I really think about it, this is all I have — all I’ve ever worked hard for. I have no right to have an attitude that things don’t come out in the time I want it to. That’s just the way the universe wants things to be. It is out of my control. The best thing I can do is continue to cultivate myself as an artist, and cultivate what I’m doing as Princess Nokia simultaneously, so that I may continue to be successful, and I may continue to be relevant, and I may continue to empower the youth that support me.

EL: What separates this 1992 from the previous 1992?

DF: Nothing is different about the 1992 deluxe edition, except that there are eight new songs that didn’t get to make the first cut. It is a very similar narrative to the original.

EL: How do the 8 new songs change the narrative?

DF: They don’t, they just add to it… There is a song called “ABCs of New York”, where I do an A through Z picture book of New York City. I have songs like “Goth Kid”, which are super explorative of the Afropunk identity, afro-indigenous identity, to be Black, to be gothic, to not look gothic, but feel gothic, to be a young dark kid. There are some real fun car-banger songs. There are songs different in flavor, where I glorify my success, and glorify my love for materialism, which I do and I’m very open about. It’s about the entire subject matter of my work. I never refer to anyone as a ‘b*tch’, I never refer to anyone with aggression or violence. I just love shopping! I love money, I love fashion. I don’t talk about my minuscule issues with the outside world, because who cares? I try to keep my subject matter as light as possible. I am a human being, I am a showoff of a rapper, there is a little of that in there too. I talk about the money I have, and the tags I have, and that is fine! I earned that. I grew up lower-middle class. Everyone else does, so what about me? At the same time, it’s a very small part, there are songs like “Receipts”, where I say the entire male hip hop community should bow down to me because I’m doing things that are majestic in my field, but I don’t get that credit because I’m an alternative type of female. It’s called “Receipts” because I’m throwing out the facts, the things that I’ve done. The entire album is just pieces of me. I remember looking at these songs like “damn, I really want to put these out, but they sound so much like 1992, I don’t want to put out the same thing.” So now, one year after the initial release, I’ve just added them to the album, creating the deluxe edition.

EL: On a different note, as an afro-indigenous girl, I greatly value your work, my connection to it, and your vocality on afro-indigenous identity. What made you really become comfortable with that identity, and what made you add it into your music?

DF: I started as a person a couple years ago, when making [my album] Metallic Butterfly. I started rediscovering and discovering things about myself, and this world, that really make sense. First and foremost, I’ve always identified as afro-indigenous. It was a big part of my identity growing up, and the people who raised me wanted to reinforce it. My foster mother, despite my feelings I have about her, was a very proud black, afro-indigenous, Puerto Rican woman.

I grew up in diverse spaces with white kids, and she wanted me to be as involved as I could be, without assimilating. I did not come from where they come from, I am my own person. I learned a lot about my identity from her. What I did as Princess Nokia, I wanted to take that strength, that inclusion, that familiarity and create it through a visual narrative. Even in Metallic Butterfly, I did songs like “Young Girls” and “Mi Corazon en Africa”. Being an afro-indigenous woman is a large part of me, to the core. I celebrate it more than anything. We are trying to heal from that colonization, that slavery that our country suffered from. How does one heal 500 years of whitewashing, and rape, genocide, disease, suffering? One claims the beauty of their ancestors. Young people are the fearless voices of our ancestors. We have the luxury to say ‘I am African, I am Native American, I am indigenous, I am all of these things that my grandparents were too mis-informed, too ashamed, too uneducated to claim’. Afro-indigenous identity has been swept under the rug for a long time. I’m comfortable with it. We cannot grow as a community if we don’t understand the very schematics of our roots. I try to honor and respect that, and create a beautiful tapestry that shows through my music.

EL: What are your thought on people not knowing afro-indigenous identity exists?

DF: When you come from a culture that is mixed race, tri-race, its different from your parents being a race that is multiracial, opposed to two different races coming together and making a biracial child. Caribbean people were never considered mixed race, or afro-indigenous, solely because it’s an ethnicity that gets mistaken. It’s not an actual ethnicity. Being Puerto Rican is different from being Spanish, Italian, Nigerian, or Somalian. Being Caribbean, or Puerto Rican, is a mixture of so many things.

EL: What would you say to people who are just now rediscovering afro-indigenous identity?

DF: Although I am a person and an artist who exemplifies afro-indigenous identity, I don’t want to be the spokesperson for rediscovering identity, because my identity and others can be very different. My intersections as a privileged, lighter-skinned afro-indigenous woman, differs from other people. I am really glad that my art has opened a conversation for young people to re-discover, and re-establish their afro-indigenous identity and culture. All I have ever wanted to do is speak my truth. What you see in “Brujas”, and “Mi Corazon en Africa”, is my truth. I am a Yoruba, Taino, Puerto Rican girl with really brown skin, full curly hair, and a spirit that does not quit. When I hear the drum and speech of my ancestors, I am compelled. I see it and i know it.

We didn’t have these conversations before, and now they exist. We didn’t have an afro-indigenous rapper to bring it to relevancy. Even so, I’d never want to overstep my boundaries and speak as though afro-indigenous identity is one identity.

We are people who have suffered. Our families have suffered so much defamation and shame, humiliation, colorization, we just finally feeling free. We are finally understanding large parts of our family history and culture. Young kids are feeling liberated with the fact that they are not just one thing that they have to personify. They can represent so much more than what they have been taught to know.

EL: Who would you say your art is for?

DF: I want to say my art is for everybody, because everybody likes it. I have a fan base with people of all types. I’m so grateful for that. With that being said, my art is for myself. I make my art to inspire myself and give myself value and substance. My art is for me, anyone who likes it, that’s great. I say it’s for my girls, for my community, for the youth, for my people, for the culture, for anyone who can appreciate it, but first, it is for myself.

EL: What can we expect from you in the future?

DF: Expect a lot of magic, a lot of love, a lot of great artistry and creativity. A lot of consistency and a continuation of what I have maintained. I can’t wait to have my music put out into the world, and perform and create.

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