In her recent album, 1992, Princess Nokia’s identity as a 28-year-old Afro-Nuyorican (a name for Puerto Ricans living in New York) shines through as she references neighborhood staples, ‘90s pop-culture figures, cultural traditions, and the trials of living amidst violence and an unstable home and family situation. Princess Nokia keeps her lyrics real: “I lie a lot from getting beaten and put off food / I’m not eating / Eczema so bad I’m bleeding, but I smile and keep it cheesin’.” She doesn’t sugarcoat or glorify. Instead, she celebrates the messy and difficult parts of her life.
Princess Nokia’s songs typically start with a burst of energy and manage to get increasingly more exuberant by the last line. It’s the kind of music you get ready to in the morning, preparing to be productive and fierce and powerful.
The first song in the album, “Bart Simpson,” lands us in Nokia’s school days. This fast-paced anthem seems to celebrate the fact that Nokia is no longer in school, that the days of “getting picked last for gym,” being late, and “switching schools every fall” are over. Throughout her challenging school days, she found escape in comic books and cartoons and the power of her own imagination.
While “Bart Simpson” touches on the miseries of school, “Green Line,” is a love song to New York in the nineties. Listening to the lyrics, it is clear that Nokia is paying homage to what home is to her, from “Patises for the eats” to “Casablancas for the meats / La Tropenzas for the bread / Went to Hajis got a philly cheese instead.” It’s a world that the listener doesn’t necessarily know, but can feel through Nokia’s nostalgic words.
In “Tweety Bird Freestyle,” Nokia’s voice carries strikingly over a fuzzy beat. At the end, the music cuts out and she continues, strongly, until she’s suddenly gone, leaving the listener simmering on her final words: “I just take what I was given / Pray to God that I’m forgiven.” These lines reveal the other side of Nokia’s fearless, bounding attitude: a side that is full of gratitude and self-reflection and a trust in a greater power.
“Tomboy” and “Brujas” are arguably Nokia’s most well-known songs from 1992. Both are spirited proclamations of self-love and self-decolonization. In “Brujas”, she says: “I’m that Black Native American, I vanquish all evil / I’m that Black a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba/ And my ancestors Nigerian, my grandmas was brujas / And I come from an island and it’s called Puerto Rico / And it’s one of the smallest but it got the most people.” She says it with a power as if convincing someone, forcing them to listen, forcing them to give her the space to be heard. The mystical, haunting instrumental backs Nokia’s rapid cry of liberation and pride for where she comes from. She warns us, “Don’t you f*ck with my energy,” in “Brujas” while celebrating her “little titties and fat belly” in “Tomboy”. This album, teeming with messages like these, simultaneously rejects beauty standards and encourages women everywhere to embrace their glamour, radiance, and female energy.Princess Nokia’s music is multi-layered and vibrant, as she herself is. It is eclectic and at times chaotic, but it vibrantly expresses the journey she has been on and all that she has learned.