Beyond her undoubted talent, Princess Nokia‘s greatest strength is her versatility. Predominantly a rapper, currently enjoying a come-up on the back of her breakthrough ‘1992 Deluxe’ album last year, Destiny Frasqueri is also an artist, activist, model, podcaster and icon-in-waiting. Her music shape-shifts too, with the 25-year-old New Yorker shedding numerous aliases while veering freely between Euro-house, straight-up funk and experimental, multilingual noise-rap via her best Lana Del Rey impression. So, when Frasqueri recently announced that she would be releasing an “emo mixtape” under her Princess Nokia moniker, nobody was in the least bit surprised.
Sure, we’re accustomed to the colliding worlds of emo and hip-hop by this point, from Kanye and Drake popularising a more navel-gazing style of lyricism to the angst-ridden music of the late Lil Peep and, more recently and less successfully, Lil Xan. But this project doesn’t seem like an opportunistic attempt to capitalise on the current emo-rap boom, nor does it come off as gimmickry. Frasqueri has long worn her love of emo, pop-punk and rock as a badge of honour, often depicting herself as the kind of outsider that such music naturally speaks to. See the Hot Topic-styled cover for ‘A Girl Cried Red’ and know that there’s no hint of irony.
“I never fit in anywhere,” Frasqueri told NME last year. “I’ve got so many personalities eatin’ me up inside. And I think that’s the basis of the music and my whole identity: not caring about not fitting in, y’know?” On ‘A Girl Cried Red’’s opening track ‘’Flowers & Rope’, Frasqueri sings “Play all the records that we love the most,” and, likewise, her entire tape plays like a love letter to her less-trodden influences. Citing bands ranging from Blink-182 and Fall Out Boy to Silverstein and Pierce The Veil as direct references, ‘A Girl Cried Red’ is the first time we’ve actively heard this side of Frasqueri’s varied tastes bleed into her work.
Disillusioned by the social media “façade” of everyone having their shit together, Frasqueri has said she wanted ‘A Girl Cried Red’ to instead be about “falling apart and being a fucking mess”. True to her word, over the course of eight tracks, Destiny explores some quintessential emo themes: heartache, loneliness, detachment, nihilism and, of course, scatter-gunned anger. “Smash my heart in pieces, it looks so good on the floor” is a line she repeats on exactly half of the tracks, a motif that serves as her own Papa Roach-esque mantra.
While most of Frasqueri’s lyrics here are direct, inward-looking and perhaps unrelentingly melodramatic, there are still some moments of respite. Her sense of humour can’t help but shine through as she laments on ‘Morphine’, “Ain’t nobody that can save me, ain’t nobody that console me,” before delivering the dry, wry punchline: “I’m an emo little boy and I want someone to hold me”.
“It’s not just a little touch of [emo] or it blended into hip-hop, it’s real alternative music,” Frasqueri recently told Dazed of the mixtape. And, on some of the songs, Frasqueri’s right. ‘Look Up Kid’ is a Goldfinger-esque, alt-punk anthem that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Tony Hawk’s soundtrack, while her ‘Interlude’ instrumental could be an unreleased Modest Mouse riff.
‘Your Eyes Are Bleeding’ is without doubt the highlight of the whole collection, with Frasqueri’s vocals drawn out and unabashedly snooty, like an autotuned Tom DeLonge. Closing track ‘Little Angel’, meanwhile, gives the impression of downtempo Paramore.
Frasqueri’s assertion of ‘A Girl Cried Red’ not being an emo-rap hybrid isn’t completely accurate, though. ‘For The Night’ and ‘Morphine’ (which are by no means bad tracks) are musically more indebted to club-rap, while ‘At The Top’ similarly glides over a skittering trap beat. Even the subject matter of the latter lends itself more to hip-hop tropes, as Frasqueri flexes: “It get lonely at the top and I do it by myself, I got everything I want without anybody’s help”.
Enjoyable, fiendishly moreish, while also somewhat disjointed, ‘A Girl Cried Red’ is most rewarding for what it tells us about Princess Nokia, both as an artist and a person – showcasing an alternate side of an open yet abstruse enigma.