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Princess Nokia

Princess Nokia

Photo by Milah Libin

Live in Portland February 20, 2018 | Wonder Ballroom

There’s a part of every rapper that’s still lost in the ‘90s, whether it’s the music or the memories, or some combination of both, floating back somewhere in that golden age haze. Princess Nokia is no exception, and though the reminiscent mode is hardly new, her studio debut, 1992 Deluxe, gives a new voice to a classic hip-hop concept. The album, released through Rough Trade Records, is an expansion of a 2016 mixtape, entitled simply 1992, her third self-released project since 2014.

1992 Deluxe speaks many tongues, a testament to Princess Nokia’s background as a multiracial woman from New York, as well as an MC who’s been honing her craft for the better part of a decade, just on the edge of the cultural eye. The album is in many ways a demonstration of her vocal chops, going from husky, heavily-accented braggadocio on tracks like “G.O.A.T.,” to a high-pitched trap delivery on “Kitana,” and “Brujas,” to a laid-back ode to New York’s underground on “Green Line,” “ABCs of New York” and Saggy Denim.” The latter boasts the album’s only feature, fellow New Yorker and frequent collaborator Wiki, of RATKING.

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The collection of voices, though varied, cluster around themes of femininity, otherness, identity and confidence, and though Nokia often gives us her best boastful facade, there are plenty of moments where the front breaks down to reveal a much more complex humanity behind the polished surface. “Tomboy” is a rare moment where we get both–a meditation on problematically common perceptions about body image and sexuality in rap, done in the trap banger style that typically espouses exactly those problematic images and attitudes. The song gets at the overarching message on 1992 Deluxe, which is Princess Nokia owning herself, controlling her image by repping the whole of it as hard as she can. It’s there on the cover for you to see, her on the court in the baggy sweats under an XXL NYC shirt. She’s holding the ball, looking at you, and she’s smiling.