Princess Nokia, an Artist Making a Career All Her Own

Princess Nokia, an Artist Making a Career All Her Own

V & D K N Y present Princess Nokia, one of New York’s best kept secrets who can speak for an entire underground

V & D K N Y present Princess Nokia, one of New York’s best kept secrets who can speak for an entire underground

Photography: CHAD MOORE

Styling: Havana Laffitte

Text: Whitney Mallett

This story appears in V103, on newsstands September 1, available for pre-order here.

“New York is my biggest inspiration, my biggest love affair,” gushes Princess Nokia. Her latest project, 1992 (the year she was born), is an ode to growing up between Harlem and the Lower East Side in EP form. “It’s everything to do with being an androgynous ’90s tomboy in big, ripped corduroy pants taking the train from the Bronx to Brooklyn in second grade with eczema and fucked up hair, doing witchcraft at recess,” she says in one breath. “I always joke around that I’m a mix of Woody Allen and Rosie Perez, and I think that’s what the album sounds like.”

At 24, the Afro-Nuyorican artist has already metamorphosed into a few different versions of herself, performing first as Wavy Spice and later as Destiny, her given name. She’s produced a prismatic body of work, at times singing honey-sweet lullabies and at others spitting sassy rhymes. She’s tried on CocoRosie–like rhythms; she’s manifested as a sea punk cyber goddess, a pan-indigenous ingénue, and, most recently, a sporty MC. Explaining the latest iteration, she says, “I really was inspired by athletics, comfort, strength—but not, like, that weird endurance–and–strength cliché.” To make the point, her voice slips from a lilting Puerto Rican accent to Midwestern American, then she glides right back, to say, “I hate that.”

CLOTHING DKNY JEWELRY HER OWN

In the first single off of 1992, the addictive “Tomboy,” Princess Nokia rhymes about “my little titties and my fat belly” over a cacophonous club beat. “I just love being a fucking rapper,” she exclaims. “I didn’t like it at first. That’s why I sang and was an experimental artist, but now I feel my whole identity as an artist has changed.” She notes that androgyny gives her access to privileges usually reserved for male performers: perhaps dressing like a tomboy is something to be earned. “I have the luxury of wearing sweatpants and a ponytail. I can just show up, rip a stage, and get paid exceptionally well for it,” she says. “The fact that I have that much power, that’s a part of my new project. The audacity, the bravado, and the hedonism, they are things not usually allowed to women. Now, I’m just, like, smoking weed in every venue because they let men do it.”

Princess Nokia co-founded the collective Smart Girl Club, along with Milah Libin, and hosts a radio show promoting healthy lifestyles and urban feminism. She’s also involved with the all-girl Latina and POC skate crew Brujas. “I have roots in activism and roots in punk community building,” she says. Inspired by artists and activists who came before her, like James Baldwin and Angela Davis, Princess Nokia is invested in creating inclusive, welcoming spaces in the city.

“Whether it’s the music, the workshops, or the radio show,” she says, “I want everyone to feel that it’s fucking cool—it’s the coolest thing in New York—but it isn’t exclusive.” Princess Nokia is totally self-managed, leveraging a grassroots fan base and robust social media following to book gigs, and playing venues as diverse as a warehouse rave and the Brooklyn Museum. “I’m gonna die and people will know I did this by myself,” she says, defiantly. “I managed a fucking lovely career, by myself.”

Credits:

Makeup Maud Laceppe (Streeters)  Hair Kei Terada (Julian Watson Agency)  Manicure Holly Falcone (Kate Ryan)  Set design Orly Anan  Photo assistant Adam Levett  Stylist assistants Rochelle Adam and Jay Hussa   Makeup assistant Aya Watanabe  Hair assistant Mario Sisneros  Retouching Vision On  Location Root Studios

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