Princess Nokia’s rerelease of her 2014 debut album is vital to understanding the artist as she stands today, Music Editor Letty Gardner writes
In 2014 Princess Nokia released her debut album Metallic Butterfly, that was, until recently, unavailable to stream on most platforms. However, the album is now free to stream, courtesy of Rough Trade Records, and its availability to a larger audience allows us, once again, to re-evaluate the artist.
Metallic Butterfly is rife with a chaotic clash of influence and energy. Coming in at only 35 minutes across 12 tracks, each track is a concentrated exploration into its own secluded world, the work being a collage of differences. From trip-hop and RnB to jungle and grime the project darts about, covering as much ground as it can, sounding very much like Destiny Frasqueri is trying to find a sound in amongst all these genres that so excite her early on in her career. The album is unsure of itself, only certain in the fact that it wants to explore. The cyber sounds of A Girl Cried Red now seem to have much more foundation, after sounding so distant from 2017 NY rap album 1992 Deluxe. On Twitter Frasqueri described the record as ‘My genesis, my beginning, and the first time I introduced myself to the world as Princess Nokia’, depicting this record as a space within which Frasqueri could work out who Princess Nokia was, and how she sounded.
What the rerelease of this record has flagged up, for me, is the importance of the ordering of an artist’s oeuvre to our understanding of them. My first listen of Princess Nokia being the drawled tomboyish bars of ‘Saggy Denim’ on 1992 created an impression that this was Princess Nokia but pairing Metallic Butterfly with A Girl Cried Red depicts her as a much more varied artist, taking influence from early 2000s emo, alt-rock, and cyber punk. Princess Nokia’s records all seem to be nostalgic for an aesthetic of a time whilst still being current and new, and although Metallic Butterfly is four years old it treads popular territory in today’s sonic and aesthetic world.
Produced by owwwlsss, who has since regularly collaborated with Princess Nokia, the record is fun, explorative, exciting. Tracks such as ‘Bikini Weather/ Corazon en Afrika’ and ‘Versace Hottie’ are so far removed from 90s trip-hop inspired ‘Anomaly’ and ‘Biohazard Butterfly’ that they seem to belong to different projects, whilst ‘Earth Is My Playground’ plays with an electrifying, high-pitched, K-pop autotune and videogame sound. Stand out tracks include ‘Seraphims’, where Nokia pairs a slow, feminine voice over chaotic breakbeat, and ‘Cybiko’, which matches abrasive backing with Nokia’s tales of ‘a cyber girl/ escaping out the matrix world’.
Princess Nokia has never fit neatly into a genre-box, and as much as listeners may urge her to be the laidback NY rapper of 1992 Deluxe or the ‘goth as fuck’ girl of A Girl Cried Red, what Metallic Butterfly proves to us is that Nokia is both none and all of these things, and so many more, enticed by how she can take sounds that she is influenced by, and turn them into her own.