by dj sap & DJ Hari
New York City rapper and Rough Trade signee Princess Nokia, born Destiny Frasqueri, returned to Berkeley’s UC Theatre on the night of March 3rd. One of the most highly anticipated acts on the bill for 2019’s Noise Pop festival, a crowd of hundreds of mostly young, diverse concertgoers stand around an empty stage awaiting the 26-year old to start her set.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Since the release of 2017’s 1992 Deluxe, Frasqueri has gained a cult following, especially among teenagers and twenty-somethings for her lyrics about Bart Simpson, Mortal Kombat, and growing up as a sexually fluid, Puerto Rican womxn of color in New York City. Releasing her emo-inspired mixtape A Girl Cried Red in 2018, she sparked a sense of nostalgia within the members of her fanbase who have memories of listening to Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance in their formative middle school years. Her lyrical themes in this mixtape were some of her most vulnerable, dealing with themes of heartache and loneliness. And in 2019, Frasqueri re-released her self-released first project, Metallic Butterfly, a 90s-inspired trip-hop, neo-soul, rap pastiche that garnered attention within the indie community. This followed by Frasqueri taking to Instagram to subtly call out commercial pop star Ariana Grande on plagiarism for the similarities between 1992’s “Mine” and Grande’s new single, “7 rings”.
She prances out with two dancers sporting neon green, jumping right into cuts from 1992, starting with “Tomboy”, a standout track that all audience members immediately joined in on rapping along to. Audience members traded off bars and refrains including the always iconic “Who dat is hoe” and repeatedly chanting “Wit my little tiddies and my fat belly,” the cries of body positivity creating a positive feedback loop of positive energy. From there, Frasqueri elevated the audience into “Kitana”, her Mortal Kombat-inspired anthem of empowerment, taking a breather to remind the audience the three rules of her show, which was that 1) the concert is a womxn-prioritized safe space, 2) it is a person-of-color-prioritized space, and 3) it is a queer-prioritized space. These were three rules that resonated with the audience of predominantly young, female and gender non-conforming people of color, who found solidarity in Princess Nokia’s ethos of subversion and representation in today’s post-Trump zeitgeist.
A brief costume change, and Nokia and her dancers don all white for “Brujas”, 1992’s call to Frasqueri’s Puerto Rican and Yoruban ancestry, a statement on powerful, mystiful women that addresses stereotypes of African witchcraft and how it is more than what people of European origin have portrayed it as.
Donning the neon green, once again, Frasqueri performs “Mine” to the collective chanting of “Iss mine, I bought it” by the audience. She then tells the audience “I heard my song on the radio the other day.” This referring to her accusation of Ariana Grande’s plagiarism of “Mine” on “7 rings”. She says for everyone to leave the issue in the past, but not to neglect the fact that she’d rather be speaking up about the issue that womxn of color have faced time and time again. The fact is that many trends within minority communities have been neglected in mainstream culture until having been appropriated by white artists, Grande finding controversy as a white artist over her “weave” reference in “7 rings”. Frasqueri emphasizes that the song is about beautiful women and their individuality, and that she’s spoken her truth about the Grande controversy and that she’d leave it at that.
Donning a pair of sweats she begins “ABC’s of New York”, a love letter to her hometown that gave the audience room to dance and breathe to. She talks about New York and about how that song is about how art imitates life. “Livin’ in the city you can’t be a xenophobe/This the melting pot, and the soup is never cold,” she raps, immediately after the song referencing the viral video of her in 2017 when she threw a cup of hot soup at a racist subway patron, an event she tweeted about stating “This bigot called a group of teenage boys ‘niggers’ on the train so I stood up and slapped him and everybody on the train backed me up…I be damned if I let some drunk bigot call a group of young teenage boys racist names and allow him to get away with it.”
Princess Nokia finds time and time again moments of solidarity with her fans, many of which she had recognized from previous trips to the UC Theatre. While performing cuts from A Girl Cried Red she did it largely a cappella, stating how the songs she wrote on that album, including “Look Up Kid” were vulnerable to her and how she wanted to further resonate with audience members and fans who they themselves have had thoughts of loneliness and sadness, noting several particular fans who have direct messaged her on social media about how they’ve had suicidal thoughts and how they saw hope in her music. She moves onto “Your Eyes are Bleeding”, a song she states is about abandonment, dedicating the song to anyone in the audience who has felt they have lost a loved one.
A few cuts off of Metallic Butterfly are performed, which gets people moving faster again to the backdrop of 90s anime, one last time before Frasqueri winds the night down. She gets down from the stage to give hugs to as many fans as she can. She shouts out fans she remembers, she compliments peoples’ t-shirts.
“I had a long flight, and an even longer day,” Frasqueri regrets to tell the audience, “I hope you understand.” She ends the night by deeming “love to be the biggest principal.”
At the end of the night, audience members left the venue with large smiles and a few tears in their eyes. One could say the concert left you wanting more. In a time where concerts can easily run overly long and draining, what more could someone want from a concert than to want more for the next time? In the end it wasn’t an end to a show, rather a goodbye for now from Princess Nokia.
More memorable moments & videos:
- Comparing the streaks in her hair to that of 2003-era porn star Jenna Jameson and girls in G-Unit Music videos.
- Projected footage included after school specials, telenovelas, anime, and her own music videos.
- Air-humping during her performance of “Bart Simpson”.
- Humming the tune of “Sweetest Taboo” by Sade
- “Can someone please tell Logic I’m in love with him.”
Special thanks to Noise Pop and the UC Theatre
dj sap hosts Ankle Biters, Mondays 1-2 pm.
DJ Hari hosts End of the World, Wednesdays 8-10 pm.