Princess Nokia

"I am moved by innocence, it always cheers me up."
Interview & Portrait by Milah Libin

Goth witch, hacker angel, mother goddess, sensual tomboy… these are only a few of the unexpected combinations that describe Princess Nokia. Since the splash release of her video “Bitch I’m Posh”, the last two years have seen Princess Nokia's rapid growth as both a live and recording artist, as seen with the release of her debut EP Metallic Butterfly, made in collaboration with the producer Owwwls. The founder of the art and culture collective Smart Girl Club, and host of a weekly radio show on Know-Wave, Princess Nokia wants to engage and empower women of all shapes, sizes, colors, and orientations. You can catch her at 3 in the morning, on stage in front of screaming, sparkling club kids, or in Central Park on a Saturday afternoon feeding the ducks with her father. She truly is an anomaly.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in East Harlem, on the Lower East Side, and in the Bronx. That’s where I've currently been residing for the past 4 years: the South Bronx.
Your music is clearly inspired by strong women, particularly women of color.
Unfortunately, I've never had inspiring woman in my personal life to look up to. Perhaps that’s why I admire and value so many female public figures. With that gap in my life, I looked to authors to fill that void and characters I could relate to.
Like who?
Young heroines such as Harriet the Spy, Matilda, and Mildred Hubble of The Worst Witch. As a child, I read Anne Frank and I was moved. Then it was Sandra Cisneros (The House On Mango Street), Esmeralda Santiago (When I was Puerto Rican), Maya Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings), and Julia Alvarez (En El Tiempo De La Mariposa) who taught me how to be woman. I read and memorized their works feverishly. Their stories and perspectives as strong, non-conforming women of color taught me courage and resilience.|
Can you tell me a specific moment when you felt strongly aligned with your sisters?
I am often deeply overwhelmed with this feeling of sisterhood . I feel it immensely when I do my radio show, Smart Girl Club, at Know Wave, and I know there is a large group of women listening in and taking part of the discussion.
What exactly is Smart Girl Club? It goes beyond the Radio Show.
Smart Girl Club is a female-based production studio for Princess NOKIA projects. I work with teams of exceptional women who collaborate and help me build my vision.

Smart Girls Club, Know-Wave, 2014

Where do you see it going?
Taking its roots from DIY, I see the collective reaching out to woman on a large scale, making feminism and female camaraderie through the arts more accessible to all types of women, of all ages and groups. A summer camp, a holistic school, a recording studio... all safe spaces for women to work and cohabit amongst each other.
Like the "Young Girls" video that we just shot.
Yes! We had about 20 women and children, and it was one of the most beautiful experiences of sisterhood and female solidarity that I've ever had.
I feel like you also see a lot of female solidarity at your shows.
The other night, I performed a gig in London, and the pandemonium coming from this female audience was ridiculous. I never had so many young woman in one space singing my music, crying and screaming for me. One girl gave me a hand-written letter and a gift.
How did you learn to make music?
With my brother and sister in elementary school. We all played instruments and practiced and goofed around a lot at the house.. I really liked singing, so I joined the school choir in fifth grade.
What about performing live?
I did have a lot of experience performing live in plays, school concerts, and being a Go Go dancer, so I really had no fear of going into performing and doing live shows.
How do you prepare for a show?
At this point, I try to remain calm and quiet before all of my shows, and not exert my energy.. I take a disco nap.
How do you feel playing with a live band?
I don't play with a live band. I tried it once and it was terrible. It wasn't their fault, it was mine. OWWWLS puts so much artistry and energy into making the beats, and it wouldn't be honoring him correctly if i didn't incorporate the original instrumentals in the set. In the near future, I would love to start incorporating several live factors into the studio process.

Princess Nokia, Cybiko, 2014

What’s it like working with Owwwls?
Making music with Chris has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my entire life. That guy is my best friend. We’re always cracking jokes and talking about pop divas. We watch Mazzy Star and Portishead live sessions and he watches skate videos while I write lyrics. He has this body of music, and I throw ideas around until we find the right one. Then we record. I always hang around for a bit because I'm painfully meticulous about everything, but he doesn't mind. We take what we do seriously.
I know you have a very strong and powerful relationship with your father– can you talk a bit about that?
My father celebrated my uniqueness, and now so do I. This is why I am so adamant about control, expression, and my personal freedom. I don't feel like I have to change or impress anyone to move farther vocationally. There isn't a gap missing. I don't put myself in compromising situations for approval from higher powers such as labels and mainstream expectations.Because of my father's unconditional and sweet love, I really think that I have been saved from the dark side of music.
What creative obstacles have you encountered?
I've had multiple people try to change my aesthetic or sound, censor me, or water my image down in the past. Obviously I wasn't having it, so I no longer have relationships with these people and became more talented and more successful than they anticipated. My art and my career speaks for itself.
Where does your dream performance take place?
I would say a futuristic night club in Heaven, with my Mom sitting front row with God or Tupac as her date.
Would you start your own family in the future?
I believe that I am more keen on the role of a mother than a wife, truthfully. Having a beautiful family is a dream of mine. I love children, and I love the idea of raising them. So whatever God allows, I'll happily have.
Who do you want to cosplay as for the next Comic Con?
I was gonna be Princess Chichi, but now I'm on the fence and I might change it... I'm painfully indecisive.
What is your go-to comfort movie?
Anything Miyazaki. I've probably watched Spirited Away and Ponyo a billion times. I am moved by the innocence, it always cheers me up.

Princess Nokia, Dragons, 2014

From Sex Magazine #9 Fall 2014
Labelled Music