ALBUM REVIEW: Princess Nokia – ‘A Girl Cried Red’
Photos – Alberto Vargas
For decades now, artists have been taking feminism and femininity into their own hands. Although that might be true, Destiny Nicole Frasqueri (aka Princess Nokia) is fusing firebrand confidence and intrigue in a way arguably not seen since Missy Elliot’s flare-up. Her breakout mixtape, 2016’s ‘1992’, built an identity on both firm-modernity and an assertion of heritage. But not only did she do this, in her debut Frasqueri utilised her passion for the hip-hop artform with the constant aim to reclaim & redefine femininity through a righteous scope whilst playing on and adapting degradations of womanhood, being confrontational and personal all in the process. In short, she has stamped a distinct mark allowing the musician to cover all bases and confound expectations.
‘A Girl Cried Red’ is the first release since that project. Described by Frasqueri as her ‘emo’ album, the 8-tracker revolves primarily around heartbreak, bitterness and loneliness. However, it’s not limited to these themes – just like her 2016 debut, the latest offering doesn’t shy away from opening up a wider, socio-political discussion without largely pursuing any ideology. On the whole, ‘A Girl Cried Red’ rejects the notions of healthy living and ‘urban feminism’ that Frasqueri ‘s Smart Girls Club podcast centres on in order to orbit around the breakdown of a relationship and the ensuing depression & eventual hope that stems from that scenario. In effect, it’s her most conservative effort yet, but that’s not to say that the album is anywhere close to what anyone was expecting.
Couple the album artwork – a smiling Frasqueri adorned in a Slipknot hoodie with middle finger aloft – and the almost teenagery romanticism of opener ‘Flowers And Rope’ and one would be forgiven for thinking the release is a bad caricature of the social subset. There are several moments on ‘A Girl Cried Red’ that seem to go beyond sonic experimentation and fall into silliness for a number of reasons. ‘Look Up Kid’ is an attempt at universal reassurance but syrupy lyricism and 2004-5 era lo-fi Jimmy Eat World baiting musicality make it unbearably cheesy. ‘Interlude’ is one minute of layered, palm-muted finger picking which again aims for the nostalgia of early Coheed And Cambria records and just comes off as out-of-date. Unfortunately, these moments seem far less adventurous than they do hackneyed.
There are a handful of moments of real profundity, though. On lead-off single ‘Your Eyes Are Bleeding’ Frasqueri sounds genuinely bitter, angry and alone, balancing the heartbreak over rolling southern hi-hats and reflective arpeggios with the dryness we’ve come to expect as she coos ‘I want to face my demons but denial makes me high’. ‘For The Night’ would fit seamlessly into the runtime of ‘1992’ – a smoky, deep-set R&B stepper, lyrically towing the line between braggadocious excess and emptiness as a replacement for love. Though, it’s closer ‘Little Angel’ that makes the biggest impact. A gorgeous ode and reference to equality, gender dysmorphia, male suicide and the shifting, more inclusive attitudes which seem to be gaining a stronger hold all the time within the Princess Nokia generation.
Despite setting its stall out early, ‘A Girl Cried Red’ is a confounding listen. When it lands those moments of power though, it’s another testament to just how diverse and engaged Nokia can be.