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Princess Nokia
1992 Deluxe The Quietus , September 22nd, 2017 11:44

The protean New Yorker extends her recent EP for her Rough Trade debut, writes Alice Kemp-Habib, and maintains her striking individualism

Princess Nokia’s debut album is oscillating, introspective and at times chaotic. It serves to complicate rather than explain or define the New York rapper’s own identity. She is an urban feminist, a ghetto bruja, an Afro-Latina, a New Yorker. She is all this and more. Released on Rough Trade records, 1992 Deluxe remasters and extends Princess Nokia’s 2016 EP with an additional seven songs. It is the zenith of half a decade of hype, during which the rapper has released three EPs under three names (Wavy Spice, Destiny and her current moniker).

1992 Deluxe confirms Princess Nokia’s versatility and wide-ranging musical education – the thematic range is matched by the eclecticism of the sonic influences here. On opening track 'Bart Simpson', she demonstrates masterful restraint and stamina, but on the confrontational 'Kitana' she spits fire over a hard-as-nails trap beat: “I step in this bitch and I do what I want / I don't give a damn and I don't give a fuck!”

She's most at home on tracks like 'Green Line', a wonderfully nostalgic ode to New York which runs like a stream of consciousness. Her bubbly tone and undulating flow echo that of Lisa 'Left Eye' Lopes, while the soft swell of horns and keys evoke late-90s neo-soul. Princess Nokia relaxes into the song and we as listeners exhale with her.

Although she casts herself as hip-hop’s rebel outlier (“When I’m featured in serious hip-hop blogs, the commentary is negative,” she said in a Guardian interview earlier this year), the legacy of East Coast rap is palpable in her music. Afrocentrism, Yoruba spirituality and black femininity are threaded throughout 1992 Deluxe, most discernibly on the standout track 'Brujas' in which she raps: “We is them ghetto witches / Speaking in tongue bitches / Fall on the floor / Got sage on the door.”

It is difficult to gauge whether the amateurish production adds to the album’s charm or acts as its major downfall. Princess Nokia is outspoken in her rejection of labels and the mainstream music industry, so the DIY sound is fitting. But on older tracks like 'Wish You Would' (her 2014 collaboration with Mykki Blanco), Brenman’s stellar production facilitates a more polished performance from Princess Nokia. She glides across the beat rather than fighting with it, as she does at points on 1992 Deluxe.

1992 Deluxe is a powerful starting point from which the “New York aficionado” can further hone and refine her sound. For longtime Princess Nokia fans, is is also the climax of a five-year crescendo and satisfying evidence that she has retained her powerful sense of self.

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