In the video for her single "G.O.A.T.," Princess Nokia reclines in a sporty red Polaris Slingshot, her penetrating eyes aimed straight at the camera. Gold grills glitter on her bottom teeth and a Yankees fitted is perched atop her dainty curls. Her demeanour is arrogant, her throaty rhymes are declarative statements: "I changed rap forever, man / It's me who had the biggest plan / Ain't no average bitch, I've been the man / I've been the G.O.A.T., eatin' off the land." The comment section for this Youtube video has been disabled and it feels somewhat symbolic: Princess Nokia has declared herself the Greatest of All Time — and there's no room for debate.
"Everybody wants to act like I ain't a big deal when I am. I'm one of the most successful, relevant and influential rappers of my generation," the New York native tells Exclaim! "I don't have songs on the radio, I never had no celebrity co-sign. I've written all of my songs, I directed all my videos. Every part of what I've done for music, from the visuals to the business, I did it. And I'm really proud of that."
Nokia, born Destiny Frasqueri, has much to celebrate. Emboldened by the success of her 2016 album, 1992, an international summer tour and a recent distribution deal with Rough Trade Records, she is gearing up to release 1992 Deluxe in September. A revamp of last year's effort, it will feature eight new tracks, more grit and more braggadocio than the original.
"The flavour is different. In the original 1992, I tried to stay away from [talking about my] success. But I was like 'Let me talk my shit in 1992 Deluxe!" says Nokia. "It's me glorifying the places I've been, the things that I've seen, the experiences I've had. I travelled and toured, made a life for myself. So that subject matter is in Deluxe."
Nokia's idea of success ventures beyond touring the world and selling out shows. The true triumph for her is being a woman in hip-hop, building her career and shaping her image on her own terms. She talks about embracing all of her layers: her Puerto Rican and Afro-Indigenous roots, her womanhood, her New York influences, her spirituality, and how earlier in her career, she felt pressure to forsake parts of herself in order to become the next female rapper du jour. Hip-hop chisels narrow, suffocating spaces for women, but Nokia refuses to contort herself to fit an assigned aesthetic.
"When I started out rapping, I became very frightened by the idea that people were trying to pigeonhole me. That's usually what happens to most female rappers. They fit in a box and there's a prototype or person they're compared to," Nokia says. "The people that wanted to be involved in my career early on wanted me to be one way. And that made me uncomfortable. I was always so many different things, all at once: a little hood, a little punk, a little grunge, a little glam, a little gay. I have a whole bunch of flavours. Early on, people had qualms with how I identified and what I wanted to be. Now, I have solidified myself in my career and no one is confused anymore. I have tried really hard to maintain the beauty in my multifaceted identity. And most people get it and I'm really glad."
Embracing uniqueness is the core message in Nokia's art. 1992 Deluxe, she says, will continue painting the picture of what it's like to be an outcast and a misfit, but in a celebratory way that highlights the beauty of being different. And although she tried not to boast on the original, this time around, she's collecting all her props.
"When you see a young girl, you want to be the first person to introduce her to the world. You want to be 'the one,' the reason why she's successful. [But] I don't want to give anyone the opportunity to say they were responsible for my career or that they made me," says Nokia. "I worked hard for this shit. I made something out of it. So excuse me if I want to brag."
Princess Nokia plays the Velvet Underground in Toronto on August 20 and Club Soda in Montreal on August 28. Check out the video for "G.O.A.T." below.