Princess Nokia in Conversation with Ashnikko

Princess Nokia speaks to Ashnikko about new single 'It's Not My Fault', paying homage to Jennifer Lopez, breaking free from stereotypes and how she protects her energy.

PHOTOGRAPHY John Liwag
INTERVIEW Ashnikko
WORDS Tori West

As Princess Nokia releases her latest video ‘It’s Not My Fault’ – a homage to her lifelong inspiration, J Lo – Ashnikko sits with the New York-based rapper to discuss how she protects her energy, the importance of personal growth and the past experiences that have shaped her sound. 

Ashnikko: This is the first time I’ve ever interviewed someone, I’m so nervous! Oh my god! So the theme of the BRICKS upcoming print issue is Make Noise. So what are you currently making noise about? What are you fired up about, good or bad? 

Princess Nokia: What am I making noise about? I really believe that I spent a few years recovering from a lot of relationship trauma and emotional abuse from former partners and friends and from the general public. I totally felt very enclosed and very hurt and attacked, and it made me go inward for someone who is actually so bold and fun. I become a different version of myself. I became a version of myself that I didn’t recognise because I had been so hurt. I’ve been carrying so much pain. I feel like when people attacked me online or bullied me, it made me very nervous. I spent a really long time being depressed and I’ve since worked through that. 

How I’m making noise now is that I’ve been able to analyse all of that and realise that temporarily, to no fault of my own, I allowed my power to be taken from me and I’m taking back my power. I’m not apologising for anything and I’m not apologising for my trauma and I’m not apologising for my voice, I’m not apologising for my existence. I don’t feel those ways anymore, I feel very empowered, I feel very happy. I feel like my old self again.

I realise that those are just internalised reflections of things that have nothing to do with me. So I’m making noise by working on an EP. It’s going to be just so strong and so amazing and making a body of music that helps me with therapy and through my creativity, that’s what I’m being loud about. I’m being loud about what I deserve, how I deserve to be happy, how I deserve to feel, how I deserve to use my voice again, and I wrote a lot of journal entries where I said I felt very voiceless. It’s about to be very loud – like a battle cry, it’s unapologetic. 

Ashnikko: I love that. It’s so strange, I feel like we’re in the most vulnerable career? We should have a longer conversation about this when we meet up in person eventually, but how do you not let people diminish your shine? Many people have opinions about you. How do you protect your energy? Because this is something that I really struggle with. When you hear so many opinions about yourself, there’s a lot of mess, especially in my head, finding your true voice within that is really difficult. Sometimes I just feel my shine is being diminished by just random people on the fucking Internet. 

Princess Nokia: It’s a very crazy position to be in. The access that people have to us, I think that people sometimes over abuse their right to have an opinion. I think that we have these accessible rights of sharing our thoughts and sharing our creativity online, but I think that people have not been raised right and they use this tool without realising there’s a difference between your subconscious inner dialogue and what you share with the world. Sometimes, I think people don’t have the emotional maturity to separate the two. That’s not a great thing. I think that’s a testament not even to artistry or celebrity, but just general life. People don’t know how to keep things to themselves, which they sometimes should. 

For me, I have a few rules. I protect my energy from the outside public by limiting my access to the outside world. I’ll be honest with you, I’m not a ‘mixing’ person. I’m a very friendly person, and I don’t have anything bad to say about this industry but I’m just so separate from it and I am very aware of that. I’m always hanging out with my own group of friends, just doing my own thing. And in a way, I feel like I’m not jaded by my peers or my colleagues. I  really feel like I choose to live in the world in my own way and that’s really healthy for me because it keeps me out of people’s business. I do that purposely because I don’t want to be a part of it. It’s a lot and it can be very draining. I’m a woman of colour and I’m also a rapper, so it’s a miracle that my name doesn’t get dragged through blogs or brought up in those types of urban places because it’s very toxic. It’s a toxic world. 

I don’t use Twitter because it’s a toxic place. I’ve been noticing that celebrities have been deactivating their Twitter a lot recently. It’s a really toxic platform and it’s causing a lot of mental illness for a lot of artists. I don’t want to be a part of a platform that contributes to me suffering from mental illness and trauma that has been helping make other people suffer from mental illness and trauma. I don’t think that’s right. 

I think that the over-accessibility has reached a very new toxic high. I just don’t think anybody should be subjected to that. As human beings, we’re beautiful, sensitive, strong creatures, and we’re not perfect. I don’t feel like people’s mistakes and idiosyncrasies need to be hyper-stylised to embarrass them. I think it’s a tool of humiliation. I don’t read the comments. I don’t go on comments. And I also haven’t searched my name for three years straight… I don’t want to see it. It’s a good thing to realise [music] is my work. If I was in an office and work was stressing me out, I’d leave at five o’clock and I just forget about it. But because we’re artists, we’re always ‘on’. 

I love Jennifer Lopez because she reminds me of my mom. They are around the same age, Jennifer’s a few years younger than my mother. New York was having a really hard time when they were growing up with the AIDS and crack epidemic. New York was a really wild place, and being a young person there, you could get caught up in the streets. 

Princess Nokia

Ashnikko: I need to take a page out of your book because I slip back into it as an act of almost self-harm. 

Princess Nokia: Of course, you want to be mindful of your art as a creative. You want to know, like, how you’re feeding your fans and what people make of it. It’s an honest thing. I think that’s OK to be curious about, how you’re being perceived. Just know that you don’t have to give a fuck about what anyone thinks.

Ashnikko: What you said about accessibility – it’s like you wouldn’t demand the same accessibility from your friends that you do from an artist on the Internet. So why are you expecting a random person on the Internet to be held to such impossible standards? I also wanted to ask, how have you found the past year of not performing? Have you found anything that makes you feel the same rush that you get from going out or playing a show? 

Princess Nokia: Last week, I was a guest star on one of my favourite shows for a mock concert. They had all these extras, it was like a mini rave! It made me cry. It made everyone feel really emotional. It just made me remember everything I loved about growing up in the nightlife scene, performing at gay parties and being downtown, hitting the stage and just having this incredible audience. It made me feel so, so happy! 

I can’t wait to get back to that feeling. I’ve been performing for a really long time, I was on tour non-stop for years but it’s actually been really healthy for me to take a break. I had a year of touring and it did a lot of good for my body, but I really think I would have had a physical or mental breakdown – not that I was being pushed, but just because of all my commitments after so many years of turmoil. So I’m actually a little grateful that I have a year to rest because I’ve put out music projects every year since 2014. I’ve had space to breathe and what I’m about to do next is going to be stronger and so good. 

I really look at Jennifer as this beautiful ray of light that, despite all of that chaotic marginalisation that was happening in New York, this woman had such ambition and dreams to leave and to make something of herself and to not get caught up by what was going on.

Princess Nokia

Ashnikko: That’s beautiful. I just wanted to ask you the story behind your J Lo references? Why you’ve taken J Lo as your inspiration for your ‘It’s Not My Fault’ video. 

Princess Nokia: So I paid homage to her lightly in ‘I Like Him’ because I love the early noughties music videos with tech in them, like a flip phone or a Sidekick or actually going on the Internet. It’s just my absolute favourite. 

But in my new video ‘It’s Not My Fault’, I did a side-by-side homage of J Lo’s ‘If You Had My Love.’ It’s a recreation for Lopez as she’s one of my favourite entertainers of all time. I think there’s a very emotional connection that I have to her because I am also a New York City Puerto Rican girl that came from the slums and made something of herself. But I love Jennifer Lopez because she reminds me of my mom. They are around the same age, Jennifer’s a few years younger than my mother. New York was having a really hard time when they were growing up with the AIDS and crack epidemic. New York was a really wild place, and being a young person there, you could get caught up in the streets. 

I really look at Jennifer as this beautiful ray of light that, despite all of that chaotic marginalisation that was happening in New York, this woman had such ambition and dreams to leave and to make something of herself and to not get caught up by what was going on. Unfortunately, my mom was not that lucky. I lost her in 1995. 

My mom had a really rough upbringing and some people made it out and some people didn’t. Jennifer Lopez reminds me of what my mom could have done with her life and what my mom wanted to do with her life. I think that’s a big testament to her resilience and resistance. Jennifer is very emotional to me. When I look at her, I see my mom and I think of a woman who made it out. It really shows me someone who fought, really fought against their environmental setting. 

The purpose of Princess Nokia is to encourage people of colour to not apologise for liking a certain type of music or talking a certain type of way. It’s all about being yourself and liking everything you want and identifying with everything that you do. That’s the beauty of it, and that’s my inspiration.

Princess Nokia

Ashnikko: That’s so beautiful. You are such an inspiration to the new generation. You’re such a beautiful spirit. You’re extremely creative with your sound too. I have to ask you where your musical inspiration comes from. I know that this is a question that you and I both get asked all the time, but I want to know what unexpected places that aren’t music or other musicians? 

Princess Nokia: Movies for sure! My top 20 favourite movies or even my top 10 favourite movies are some of the biggest influences in my life, and without those movies and those textures of cinematography, I don’t think I would be the artist that I am today. Films like The Royal Tenenbaums, Almost Famous, Dazed and Confused, Daughters of the Dust, Rushmore, First Wives Club, The Birdcage, Paris is Burning – I just have this tableau of my favourite movies that have really inspired me as a person. I grew up wearing tie-dye shirts in fourth grade and my computer teacher told me that I look like a Deadhead as in like, The Grateful Dead. And then later that night, I went to go discover The Grateful Dead online. It wasn’t too much of their music. But that night I got into Pink Floyd, I got into Mamas and the Papas. 

The night I discovered Woodstock changed my life – just the hippie movement, understanding non-conformity and these groups of people that just didn’t believe in confinement. They were just happy, funny, loose and fluid. That really changed my life, and I identify with that more than anything. I’m a free spirit because I discovered these things as a little girl and it’s the reason why I’ve done different albums throughout the years, or why I stayed independent for so long, or why I just really didn’t care. Like, what if it changed anything or what people thought of me was like I’m a hippie? Rock ‘n’ roll and ‘free love’ has really been the guiding force of why I do the things that I do. 

The night I discovered Woodstock changed my life – just the hippie movement, understanding non-conformity and these groups of people that just didn’t believe in confinement. Rock ‘n’ roll and ‘free love’ has really been the guiding force of why I do the things that I do.

Princess Nokia

I like bringing that into the hip-hop world and the urban world because when you are a person of colour, you’re expected to be a certain way. When you’re different, you’re considered weird. The purpose of Princess Nokia is to encourage people of colour to not apologise for liking a certain type of music or talking a certain type of way. It’s all about being yourself and liking everything you want and identifying with everything that you do. That’s the beauty of it, and that’s my inspiration. 

Ashnikko: You’re such a hippie and I love, love your art! I’ve said it in interviews and I know you know this, but I have been listening to your music since I was like 16 years old on Tumblr. Like you were my girl! I was like, she is everything I aspire to be!

Princess Nokia: I love you so much. And just know I love you so much! Thank you for doing this interview. It was such an honour and a pleasure. And I can’t wait to take you out. I’m going to really take you out and we’ll have a good time! 

Princess Nokia, It’s Not My Fault, is out today.

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