Set Your Ringtone to Princess Nokia’s Cyber R&B

Photo Credit: Alberto Vargas

Photo Credit: Alberto Vargas

(Crossposted from MTV Iggy, 5/23/2014.)

Name: Princess Nokia

Where She’s From:  New York, NY

When She Started: 2010

Genre:  Electronic/Alt R&B

For fans of: Mykki BlancoAzealia BanksZebra KatzHatsune Miku

Sounds like: The soundtrack to The Fifth Element 2: Lost in the Harlem Galaxy

Formerly known as the Versace-clad, take-no-shit earth girl Wavy Spice, NYC artist and club goddess Destiny Nicole Frasqueri has fashioned a more cosmic alter ego: Princess Nokia. Like a cyber-archangel, Princess Nokia seems to be dispatched from the 22nd century, delivering food for thought in the form of techno-laden R&B. Produced with the help of NYC producer OWWWLS, Princess Nokia’s latest LP, Metallic Butterfly, is an experimental, but well-rounded collage of sounds both old and new. Though its feel is futuristic — as in, post-apocalyptic Neo Tokyo — the album rocket launches itself deeply into the past, spanning three decades worth of pop culture references, including sound clips from Dragon Ball Z and 1982 film The Dark Crystal. In other words, Metallic Butterfly is basically a musical manifestation of Tumblr — for the socially conscious and easily distracted “Real ’90s Kids.”

If you’ve been living off the grid for the last 10 years, you might miss the references. In the Game of Thrones-inspired song “Dragons,” Princess Nokia plays the role of Daenerys Targaryen, purring serenely to her lover Khal Drogo against soft blasts of drum and bass. In “Cybiko” she descends from her divine stance in the clouds and emerges as a typical 2000s teen who regales her Xanga readers with the “Confessions of a Cyber-Girl.” And in “Nokia,” she elevates her pitch to a thin moan, matching that of her Harlem pop predecessor, Lumidee.  A generic 1999 Nokia ringtone chirps in the background, interrupting her flow — but no worry, the Princess anticipates this call. “I’m bored,” she says, “But I’m watching Taina. Whatchu up to?”

Apart from its constant throwbacks to the internet and television, Metallic Butterfly is aesthetically and conceptually complex, flitting between long-dormant genres like acid jazz and trip hop, and occasionally venturing into the territory of classic Afro-Caribbean music. It’s the latter that truly rounds the album out, making it less of a nostalgic gimmick and more of a deep cultural inquiry. Backed by the chants of indigenous people, the magical realism of “Young Girls” is a testament to her profound respect for women of color, who she describes as patrons of the earth. Meanwhile songs like “Bikini Weather Corazon En Afrika” and “Yaya” well with cultural orgullo, grounded by the sturdy bounce of the Dominican dem bow, uplifted by the swift pace of African drums, and then brought back home with basic trap beats. Calling out “Yaya,” or the Taino word for “Great Spirit,” she evokes a deep, mystical reverence in her voice — much in the style of 1960s soul-singing santera La Lupe in “Guaguanco Bembe” — and tailors it to fit within her cyber world, where people still honor their roots with their eyes set on the future.

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