Afro-Latina rapper Princess Nokia on police brutality, identity and humor


Princess Nokia had two explicit rules at her concert at Brooklyn’s fourth annual Afro-Latino festival:

1) All the girls in the crowd need to be in the front.

2) Everyone in the audience needs to make sure it was a safe space for brown and black people.

The 24-year-old, whose real name is Destiny Frasqueri, is a staple in New York City’s underground rap scene. Her music is a strong message of female empowerment and a celebration of her black and brown identity. On Sunday, she told the black and brown men in the audience that in spite of the rampant killing of black bodies by the police, they are “valued, loved, and respected.” In May, Princess Nokia released a song called “Tomboy” from her EP 1992, that celebrates her “little titties and fat belly.” Last summer, she released an album under the name Destiny called “Honeysuckle” where she explores her Afro-Latina identity in the form of 1970s funk.

“My body, the way I’ve come to love my body is through humor. I deal with everything no matter how dark it is with humor. I just like to make fun of myself and glorify myself in every possible way that society tells me I’m not supposed to,” Frasqueri said.

We talked to the Afro-Caribbean rapper about her heritage, social activism, and learning to love her body through humor.

During your performance, you said that this isn’t a time for police brutality, but a time for white supremacy.

I think safe spaces are very important. It’s unfortunate that the sordid reality of the experience of our community is literally apprehended by people who base it off no experience at all. It’s really troubling and miseducating because you have this one group of people who surpassed privilege within American society by the tenfold and they are still trying to speak for the black experience as if they know. As if the words coming out of a black or brown mouth is not true or it does not have any knowledge to it, especially at a festival like this where it’s clearly based on the organization of diasporic and black pride within the Latin-American community which is a very secondary cultural aspect of our community.

There were these white girls behind me that snickered and said that’s not true. Is this why you think safe spaces are important?

That’s crazy. I love how you wrote that down. Girl, if I was with you I would have called them the fuck out. I would have been like: excuse me, why are you here? How dare you? Even the audacity to voice it when every single person here on an individual scale is being affected by this. What you would think would be a safe space like this there are still people who still take it upon themselves and think they have every right to be there. And they don’t.

It’s another form of silencing those who are often ignored.

If it’s not a white supremacy problem or a racism problem then why aren’t black policemen killing black men or any other group of minorities in as large masses as that or on a weekly basis? Or, how about that the research shows all that these men are connected to the Klan and various white supremacy groups that have been in dormancy for the last 40 years. Did you think they were just like gone? No. We had a lot of great liberal and progressive strides and leaders in America and they all fucking died, and then what happened? The white supremacy didn’t disappear. It’s like a disease that you have that may be dormant and then when it becomes activated it takes over your whole body. Well, that body is America and that disease is white supremacy. That’s how you can surmise the black genocide in America today.

In the midst of all of the tragic events that happened last week, you re-released a poem on SoundCloud called “Brown Girl Blues” from your album Honeysuckle. What was your goal with that project?

I really wanted to do this narrative and project that was foreshadowing of my identity as a Harlem Afro-Latino woman who grew up in Schomburg Plaza, who grew up loving Langston Hughes, who grew up loving disco and hip-hop and Motown, who grew up with a lot of blackness in my family and in my household. Black activism has always been apart of my life. I was really trying to summarize a woman who was in the middle of a time of racial unrest. I just reposted [the song] under Princess Nokia this year.

When did you write it?
I wrote it last year when I was crying in my room.  I cry a lot in my room, I’ve cried a lot for the past four years when the rise of police brutality and black murders began becoming really prominent, not even prominent but just publicized. I correlate that type of poetry with what the average person of color feels on a daily basis. No matter what subculture you’re from, no matter how you identify your blackness, no matter what they do in their lives, they are feeling something, they know that something is different.

Why is it important for artists to speak up?
We have to realize that our zeitgeist relies on entertainment and art. We are all artists no matter how mainstream or underground you are. We are a society that has built its back and labor on black labor and black culture, on brown labor and brown culture, on urban realism, on the struggle of the oppressed, of the slave, of the native, of the indigenous, so we all represent something that is far bigger than us. People listen to us a lot more than other people, and that gives us power and power is an infinite object. And whether you use that power for good or just otherwise it’s up to one’s self. But if you choose, use your power for the uplifting of others.

Not every artist uses their power for good, some choose stay silent during times of injustice.

If they don’t I don’t judge them for it. But I think essentially these are fucking troubling times. If you’re not speaking out then there’s something going on. If it’s not disturbing you, if you’re a black person speaking on this, if you’re an artist who has a voice and a platform speaking on this, not just speaking on it, trying to create something for people who need it. We need Woodstocks in the ghetto, we need celebrations because people are depressed and they need music and dancing and art, that’s what indigenous people have used as methods of feeling for the last thousands of years. I think artists should be trying to make environments for young people of color to feel good, to smile, to feel happy because that’s what you don’t see on the TV. Even at home, you don’t see it now because people don’t feel happy right now. I don’t think people understand the severity of oppression in America.

There was a documentary shown at the festival called Nana Dijo about identity and being Afro-Latino. How was identity taught in your household?

Well, my mother’s family is a very strong-looking, beautiful, genetically built Afro-Latina family. I’ve traced my ancestry. In Puerto Rico and in the Caribbean, diasporic descendants of West Africa are very common. My family are descendants of Yoruba in Nigeria. I think that all plays a cultural attribute in my family’s history, life and individual uniqueness. I’ve always picked up on that and I’ve always had that in my life. It’s probably one of the strongest parts of my life, I am a very strong Caribbean-African bitch, I carry that from my maternal line.

My daddy was always very pro-Black, my whole family was. I learned all of these deep personal parts of black culture that sometimes people don’t get to grow up with when you don’t have that consciousness in your household. Some people grow up with that, some people don’t, for me it was very incorporated. I literally grew up Afro-concious. I grew up wearing all white. I grew up with gun offerings [a Yoruba religious ritual] in the house. I grew up with brown women who told me that I was black. [They] told me I was a black Native American woman who was not a Puerto Rican. That I was not a spicy woman, that I am a strong native indigenous woman of color who came from negroes and savages.

Tahirah Hairston is a style writer from Detroit who likes Susan Miller, Rihanna’s friend’s Instagram accounts, ramen and ugly-but cute shoes.

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