2019 American Music Awards

Princess Nokia Talks Finding Independent Success, Embracing Queer Culture & Her Upcoming Projects

Alberto Vargas
Princess Nokia

There is no stopping the New York rapper Princess Nokia. At just 27, the star first found fame on Soundcloud, and has transitioned her career into a shining example of how to get ahead as an independent artist. “I have some really great new music coming out this summer, which I'm really excited about,” she tells Billboard. “I'm so excited because it only means that there has been such a growth and enhancement in my work and my creativity.”   

Her aspirations expand beyond music. Now partnered with Platoon, the company helping independent talent like Nokia distribute their art to a wider audience, the star is making the content she wants to make, how she wants to make it. "Platoon’s mission is to work with the most fearless creatives and to build the best distribution and services company for artists," Platoon CEO Denzyl Feigelson tells Billboard in a statement. "Working with Princess Nokia brings the best of our world together”   

Princess Nokia has just wrapped her first full-length feature film, is working on a YouTube series, has a number of books in the arsenal and is one of the faces of MAC Cosmetics' annual "Viva Glam" campaign. The star is also set to headline PrideFest, NYC Pride's annual street fair to celebrate Pride Month, on June 30 as a part of the first WorldPride event to take place on U.S. soil. “I literally have my hand in every aspect of the art world that you could imagine,” she says. “That's what I've always done. That's what I will always continue to do because I really love my work. It makes me happy. I don't have much in life but my work is what makes me alive.”  

Billboard spoke with Princess Nokia about creating feminist spaces at her performances, how queer culture inspired her from a young age and why she chose to work with Platoon after turning down multiple labels when her first single went viral

After “Bitch I’m Posh” went viral, you were approached by many labels who couldn’t wait to sign you, yet you turned them down because you weren’t ready. Why did you make that choice at the time?

I didn't think that I was creatively ready to take on that type of commitment. I made the right decision, I'll be very honest with you. I wasn't looking to be famous when I put out "Bitch I'm Posh," that was completely by accident. I really wish I had more confidence with what I wanted to do with my life, and who I was and where I was going. Because I'd be like some of these younger girls now, who have more of a hold on themselves and have a way better trajectory.

I was just a young kid trying to experiment. I had all this pressure, and I wasn't ready for it. I was very awkward. I didn't have any help. One day I just decided to just be really different, and go in a different direction that was expected of me. It's the best thing I ever did for myself.

You're now working with Platoon — what has your experience with the company been like?

I've been working on this wonderful new chapter where I found this great new distribution deal with Platoon while continuing to own all of my music, own all of my publishing, working with a really innovative and creative team of really quirky, open-minded, devoted and dedicated people on a team that really believes in me and loves what I do and supports it so much. I'm really proud to carry that motif in my life, being so independent. 

I'm going to empower myself as an independent artist that has such a mainstream following and continue to challenge stereotypes. I love breaking down those idiosyncrasies about music and business. I love holding the strength and the power. I'm very conscientious of who I do business with, with the kinds of decisions that I make. I think that it's just a great example in this new renaissance of music that this is what women can do now. This is what people can do now. I've always been adamant that I don't want anyone to control my music, but I think that with Platoon, they know who's boss and I know who's boss. We work together and we make things happen.

From a young age, you surrounded yourself with queer people and frequented queer establishments. What drew you to queer culture and what did you take from it in terms of your art?

Queer culture was introduced to me at a very early age. It was introduced to me with a semi-positive facet because no one in my family is remotely homophobic or closed-minded. We'd always had extended family that was queer and queer families that we knew. Then the identification of queerness was in my own self and the people around me came out at a very early age. I grew up in New York city where those types of introductions and normalities are quite common.

Growing up, I loved Boy George, George Michael, Annie Lennox, Queen, Freddie Mercury, Celine Dion, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross. I remember I had an aunt who collected Barbies, so I understood who Bob Mackie was from a really early age. It’s just something that was always around me. Through art, through culture, through music, through dance, through movies. I read Disco Bloodbath when I was 13. Everything that I could get my little hands on that was gay or queer, I did.

You're known for placing women in the front of your shows and men in the back, saying at a typical rap show, “It’s about men and their bravado.” How do you make this happen?

In order to ensure a safe place and to enable the type of energy and direction that I want to go into the show, I have to be very vocal about it. I grab the attention of the entire audience after my first song and I say, "Hey everyone. How y'all doing? This is the Princess Nokia Show. We've got a couple rules."

I think when you advocate for rules, principles and guidelines that should be followed through, they're really inundated. It's not guaranteeing 100 percent safety, but for a long time, I stopped my show and asked the women to come to the front, which is something that I've gotten from Kathleen Hanna in Bikini Kill.

I think that it’s an important thing for hip-hop and rap spaces that women were at the front of the shows instead of the back and sides or behind the stage. I grew up really wanting to glorify women in my spaces and make them the focal point, and ensure that they could see and feel protected and not be aggressively hurt in any type of way, unless it's of their own doing. I'm very friendly, I say what I want to happen in the show, and the people listen to me for the most part. We end up having a really safe, great show.

Outside of music, what else do you have coming down the pipeline?

I've been reading for different parts and doing a lot of auditions and things like that with one of my sisters. I'm currently in the works of doing a really great YouTube show and doing syndicated programming with that following. I'm really excited to eventually release the books that I've been writing and working on for some time. I've been photographing. I have photography books coming out. I literally have my hand in every aspect of the art world that you could imagine. That's what I've always done. That's what I will always continue to do because I really love my work. It makes me happy. I don't have much in life but my work is what makes me alive.

I love that I can have the privilege and the drive to be excited about all of those things at one time and be able to have the strength and confidence to say, "No, I don't want to just be a rapper. I don't want people to confuse me." No. Fuck that. Fuck the dynamics. Fuck the expectancy. We're going to break down these doors. We're going to break down these stereotypes and we're going to see a powerhouse of a woman who is expected to have a shelf life of 10 years where you're expected to be sexualized and materialistic. We're going to take that, we're going to re-marginalize that and we're going to empower her and make her a full-fledged queen, a businesswoman and an art fashionando. I take a lot of pride in that. I do.

I did everything relatively by myself for a long time with maybe the help of one or two people. That's almost unheard of, especially with someone in my position and stature. I said, "Okay. I conquered the underground and I did it to the best of my ability. Now I'm ready to accept help and formulate in a great business team and really be the star that I always knew I was going to be but was never rushed to be." Now I'm ready to be her. I got so much coming.

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