On the one hand, it’d feel condescending of me to label this tape “dumb fun”. The inclusion of “cute” wouldn’t help, nor “shallow”. God knows how earnest Destiny Frasqueri’s being when she smothers lines like “little angel, what more else can I do?” So the parody argument doesn’t do it for me. After all, Princess Nokia has always had an amateurish charm about her. And this – like 1992
– feels more pastiche than parody: an homage to Peep perhaps, though more likely his influences.
Still, A Girl Cried Red
is with little doubt a departure for Princess Nokia. Where on 1992
, she spat over piano-sprinkled boom bap, worshipping the New York of the ‘90s, here she stacks vocoded crooning atop bubbling synths and hi-hat triplets, bastardising the emo and indie rock of the same era. Consequently, we hear two extremes at play. On ‘Look Up Kid’ – the tape’s unabashed pop rock banger – Frasqueri finds herself harmonising over buried guitars and a shallow kick that propels the track, as an organ sound wobbles about, unsure of itself. An interlude of thinly-plucked guitars follows, fading into album highlight ‘Morphine’, which pursues a trend of emo- and trap-influenced r&b, the latter of these extremes.
It’s unsurprising that Nokia does angst rap so well. Behind – or indeed, at the forefront of – her incessant fronting on 1992
was a wealth of insecurity. Which isn’t to condescend. There’s something deeply intriguing and genuinely endearing about the bipolarity of Princess Nokia. Upon its release, however, I recall reading a comment asserting, with an admirable certainty, that A Girl Cried Red
was an intentional parody of the current state of mainstream hip hop: dominated by self-indulgent sadness, all the while incapable of escaping its shallow dick-measuring. Whoever wrote that was wrong, I think – A Girl Cried Red
is something more like a pastiche of Frasqueri’s youth – but I sympathise with the sentiment: there is a self-indulgence here that’s a little hard to swallow.
But A Girl Cried Red
does sound authentic. It’s authentic in that, despite a conscious effort to depart from her usual style, Princess Nokia sounds as much like herself as ever. And at the centre of that authenticity lies something profoundly impassioned – something I find hard not to latch onto.