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Princess Nokia - A Girl Cried Red (Album Review)

Thursday, 26 April 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Photo: Alberto Vargas

There's something immensely likeable about east coast rap whizz Princess Nokia, at least at first glance. She's a strong role model for young women in hip hop, known for advocating a feminist ethos and calling out racism, homophobia and body shaming at every opportunity. Her label debut, '1992 Deluxe', though inconsistent, was colourful and abstract, with each track exhibiting a different aspect of her fascinating personality.

While she presents herself as playful and easy-going, her range of influences and musicality are those of someone who has studied extensively. Compare her dazed vocal delivery on the single Dragons to the double time rap patterns used on Tomboy and it's like night and day. When she's not drawing from ‘90s house or contemporary R&B, she's raving about her love of punk – something made more evident by her decision to release albums on independent rock label Rough Trade Records.

In that sense, it's unsurprising that Nokia has chosen to pay homage to her teenage obsessions on a full blown project. But the purpose of 'A Girl Cried Red' shouldn't be misconstrued.

It would be easy enough to assume that a rap project that flirts with the disparate style of emo-rock would be in the same vein as backpacker-friendly artists like Sage Francis or Grieves. Nokia's touchstones are more on the nose: think Avril Lavigne set to atmospheric trap.

This mix isn't as obviously toxic as might be assumed – at least beat-wise. There's something strangely alluring about the production, mostly handled by New York's Tony Seltzer, while Phony Ppl guitarist Elijah Rawk drops in a few well tailored guitar lines into the bassy brew. These instrumentals might not be as vivid or expertly crafted as something a team like Blue Sky Black Death might put together, but they give the tracks a coherent tone at least.

But then there are Nokia's vocals. It's quite possible there's an element of satire to her delivery here, but whether she's singing (For the Night, Flowers and Rope) or rapping (At the Top), she sounds nasal and off-key. Whether it's meant to be comical or not, the vocal progressions she uses are basic and repetitive to a point where it's embarrassing.

It's hard not to appreciate her gall to some extent as she chimes in with the same torturous refrain on each track: “Smash my heart into pieces / It looks so good on the floor.” Her tongue is firmly embedded in her cheek when she wails on Your Eyes are Bleeding that her “little heart is bleeding” and “the world will pay the cost”.

But if these clichés stem from genuine affection for the genre, she could have made greater effort to reference its better attributes. Instead, we're left with a muddled pastiche that isn't particularly witty and lacks all of the charm and colour of her previous record. In terms of making a statement, it's a project in keeping with Nokia's unshackled approach, but as an ambitious musical crossover it's a disconcertingly poor effort.

Princess Nokia Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Mon August 20 2018 - LONDON O2 Forum Kentish Town
Tue August 21 2018 - LEEDS Belgrave Music Hall

Click here to compare & buy Princess Nokia Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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