‘God Told Me to Be a Disruptor’: Princess Nokia Talks Getting Vulnerable and Not Worrying About Being ‘TikTok-Able’ on New Album
The New York City culture creator uncovers the psyche of her genre-defying music and why her latest album is the first time she freely dives into the topic of love.
Speaking in a calm, almost sleepy tone, Princess Nokia sums up her ethos.
“That’s really what it is, in a nutshell: I’m just a music lover,” she concludes within the first few minutes of talking to Billboard. “Like in Almost Famous – I’m like Lester Bangs.”
It’s important to note that the New York City native singer and rapper compares herself not to the rock ‘n rollers featured throughout that 2000 cult-classic film, but the disruptive music journalist who studied the acts and even urged a young Cameron Crowe not to befriend them. (Nokia later adds that she, too, doesn’t have a ton of deep friendships with fellow artists). “I find myself writing about music more than I find myself writing music [itself],” she continues.
It adds up, once you hear the self-professed music student’s catalog — each project living on its own distinct genre island, with the sufficient through-line being the multidisciplinary princess herself. “There are so many different types of Princess Nokia fans, because there’s so many different types of Princess Nokia music,” she says.
Before taking on the Princess Nokia pseudonym, the Arista signee (born Destiny Nicole Frasqueri) went by both Wavy Spice and her given first name, releasing danceable jungle tracks like “B—h I’m Posh” and the Puerto Rican love letter, “Yaya.” Even a decade ago, the self-titled “disruptor” knew she would never be confined, releasing cyber-pop flavors on her debut album, 2014’s Metallic Butterfly, alongside hard-hitting raps on “The Butterfly Knife Prequel.”
After making the switch to her “alter ego” Princess Nokia, the avid music student released five new albums, from the rap rhythms of 2016’s 1992 Deluxe to 2020’s punk-infused Everything Sucks. While she hasn’t had a ton of chart hits, Princess Nokia’s name continues to reverberate throughout the underground, with cuts like her 2020 mega-inclusive single “I Like Him” racking up nearly 200,000 TikTok creates and becoming the singer’s first single to earn an RIAA gold certification.
Today, Princess Nokia finds herself fascinated with grief. Her latest offering, i love you but this is goodbye (just released this Tuesday, March 14), takes an intimate look at the journey from heartbreak to self-love, through an amalgamation of her multidimensional selves: cyber-pop, drill, punk, hip-hop and dance music. “I wrote you this album for my closure,” she repeats six times, mantra-style, on the EP’s opening track. But even in an industry painfully bending itself outside of genre confines, the 30-year-old artist’s grab-bag project could still be considered uncomfortably experimental for tried and true label strategy.
“[Labels] know they’re signing up for a genre-defying artist who has a very devoted niche fan base that is going to stay with them ‘till the end of time, because that’s what the message of my music is,” she says, plainly pointing to the heart of her boundary-blurring success. “I hope the vulnerable parts and the emotional parts resonate with people, because love is emotional,” she explains. “But I hope the takeaway is that we all be happy with ourselves no matter what.”
Below, the singer and rapper talks with Billboard about her latest project, and the ways her views on love and relationships have changed over the years.
This new project, i love you but this is goodbye — it’s sort of like the stages of a breakup.
Exactly. I even wrote in my journal, it’s similar to the seven stages of grief. It’s about discernment with love, and taking the inspiration and the guise of love and being able to walk away from toxic or unfortunate circumstances. It’s dedicated to my dignity and my boundaries. I wasn’t trying to hop on any trends. I wasn’t trying to be at the zeitgeist of a sound. I wasn’t trying to make it TikTok-able. Not that I have anything against those things.
I think it’s cool how it encompasses so many different sounds, while remaining cohesive. Where do you think that cohesion comes from?
I think the cohesion comes from my understanding of music composition and producing. I had a hand in composing and co-producing a lot of this music, because there was a sound that I was specifically going for. I wanted to take inspiration from music I like and music that’s already popular now — and also dialed back to my roots, which is drum, bass, jungle and electronica. I’m grateful that people understand that music now, or that it crossed over from Europe to New York and to the states. It’s something that I’ve been drawing inspiration from for almost a decade.
Every song is a part of the Princess Nokia discography. And there’s ’90s alt-rock, U.K. garage, techno, and contemporary Spanish with New York drill made by Tweek Tune himself — he’s the guy that made “City of Gods.”
“Lo siento,” that’s probably my favorite song on the project.
Thank you. That’s actually the song that made this project. It was a cathartic process. I made ilybtig after I was leaving a tumultuous chapter in my life. Instead of holding it in, going back to the promises I made to myself of saying goodbye, I decided to write something from the heart and make something of substance. I had made all this music that I was sitting on, but it didn’t tell a story. But when I made “lo siento,” I saw potential for a record or a project no matter how short it was.
How does your personal music taste translate to what you create?
I just love so many forms of music that it translates into my personality. I do like to affirm my free will in making music, and that is confusing to certain people. But that’s the ethos of Princess Nokia. I can embody any musicality that I want, because it’s my autonomy to do so. And I have the dominion to do so. And that’s a very powerful and privileged and special thing that I am very grateful for.
Did you ever face pushback when it came to not adhering to one specific thing?
Yes, it always has. Sometimes from new fans. It’s always followed me my whole life. From the beginning of my career to even this very day. Every day, there is internal pushback, because I don’t want to feel like I’m confusing people. But then I realized, like — I’m not a confusing person. I’m the most square person, wholesome, happy go lucky person I know. But there’s never pushback where I’m making music; The producers I’m working with, my management, my label. Sometimes maybe my peers don’t understand me.
Did you struggle with that?
No, I always was comfortable with it — up until now. Now I suffer from imposter syndrome, as I think anyone would, being in the public eye. But I realized — and I made peace with it a long time ago — that I am meant to disrupt algorithms [and] societal and cultural norms. That was my premise, that’s what God told me to do. To be a disruptor. I am proud of all the music that I’ve made. And I really love the path that I chose — that chose me. It’s one that is a little bit more misunderstood, but it is completely of my own dominion.
What came to form your perspective on love?
I’m still figuring that out. But I know that it comes from a very godly, peaceful, unconditional and admirable place. I decided to use the [subject] of love, because I’ve never used that before. I have so many projects but I’ve never been vulnerable emotionally. I’ve never used the subject of relationships or love or heartbreak ever as a theme or motif ever — because I’ve always been conditioned to be a survivalist, a strong person, a leader. I never wanted to be clichéd. I always felt too emotionally vulnerable to share that part of my life with the world. I felt like I ain’t got nothing else to say — I done said “bitch” a billion times or talked about how great and grandiose I am. I’ve talked about everything under the sun that was going on in my soul or my heart or what I’m dealing with as a person.
Why is it important for you to do that publicly?
Because I’ve always adult-ified myself out of survival, making myself seem like a very strong person — which I am, but I’m also very fragile and vulnerable and I’ve been through some wild shit that people would have no idea of in any capacity. I felt like I can’t put out any music without putting my heart on the table. And I’m not trying to romanticize or hyper-sensualize anything, I’m really just trying to be vulnerable and honest about love. And love of oneself, even though centered around romantic love. There is a climax that happens at the end where it’s about loving myself again.
If you could give a piece of advice to your younger self about relationships, what would it be?
To never accept the bare minimum. And not to care about relationships. I’ve been dating seriously since I was 14 years old. And I wish I was in drama club. I wish I was in AP English. I wish I was in chess, wish I was fencing. I wish that I had more love.
I was an abused child. So I used intimacy and relationships as escapism because I wasn’t receiving love and empowerment and my house. My dad loves me very much and is a wonderful person in my life, but I didn’t get to live with him until I was 16. I didn’t have formative love, parent love. I was engaging in a lot of very mature love at a very early age. And I really wish that I would have started dating much further along in life. I want my childhood back, I want those sleepovers, I want that wholesomeness. I want and I deserved that.
Is not having that part of what inspires your love for Y2K that we see in your branding?
I call it my second adolescence. In New York, being fly was the universal language of our people. Unfortunately, for me, I wasn’t allowed to be cool. I wasn’t allowed to take part in the modern subculture that my peers engaged in. And I wanted to so bad, but I wasn’t allowed to wear the things that all my friends were wearing. I felt like the loser in school that everybody made fun of. Who had a Jansport backpack and fake Skechers. It really did f—g suck.
When I was around 17, I was like, “I am allowed to do anything I want now — I’m going to wear the things that I wanted to wear during those time periods. I’m going to start using that inspiration as my way of getting my adolescence back.” Whether it’s hip-hop, rock, rap, I think [the early 2000s] was an incredible time for artistic direction in pop culture.