A study in multiplicities.
Opening: “Who dat, who dat, who dat / The bitch is back!” Princess Nokia proclaims on Everything Sucks' opening track “Harley Quinn,” but anyone who has been following the 27-year-old rapper since their last major release in 2017 knows they never really left. In the time between 1992 Deluxe and their latest albums, Nokia has debuted their own Apple Beats 1 Radio Show, starred in the indie movie Angelfish, dropped an emo-rap mixtape called A Girl Cried Red, and graced the stages of Coachella, Lollapalooza, and Primavera Sound Festival. Their energy is massive and kinetic, drawing listeners into a highly curated world that’s equal parts raucous and balanced, pissed-off, and open-hearted.
The rapper’s latest releases, two concurrent albums unblushingly titled Everything Sucks and Everything is Beautiful, invite their audience into the psyche of their creator, and this intimacy pays off. In Everything Sucks, Princess Nokia thrashes against the walls that confine them; in Everything is Beautiful, they break them down and embrace freedom. From vibrant, youthful track titles (“Just a Kid” and “Fee Fi Foe”) to the Rookie Mag-esque high school portraits on each album cover, Nokia’s latest project is a return to the self and a celebration of the inner child - and they’re happy to take you along for the journey.
If 1992 was a look into Nokia's microcosmic youth, Everything Sucks/ Everything is Beautiful breaks the glass to get a wider, wilder look around. Everything Sucks was the first to drop, the black streak in the Princess’s rainbow. Admittedly, the record’s first half finds Nokia relying heavily on tried-and-true “cute but psycho” tropes - “Welcome to the Circus” and “Crazy House” come across more gimmicky than genuinely commanding. But the further the record progresses, the further Princess Nokia removes their foggy veil; even in their weakest moments, they know their own power. Standout track “I Like Him” sees the rapper like an Amazonian goddess exerting her power over a pussy-whipped man - “I'm taking a shower, he makin' the bed / When I leave the city, I leave him on read.” In the accompanying music video for “Balenciaga,” they parade the streets shedding layer after layer of designer clothing in a performance of metamorphosis. No two tracks are the same. In Everything Sucks, the artist snarls and hisses over thick, distorted basslines and sizzling hi-hats, providing a testament to teenage angst and their troubled youth. Album closer “Just A Kid” is a chink in Nokia’s armor, a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment of vulnerability. Their lyrics read like confessionals, stories of a foster mother’s abuse rapped over a disarmingly haunting synth line - “I was abused and I was aware / She told me to lie and say that I had fell / Damn, I got marks on my face.” It’s a moment that’s sure to stay with the listener long after the album ends.
If Everything Sucks proves that Princess Nokia can bring the storm, Everything is Beautiful proves they sure can bring the sunshine, too. Dropped later on the preceding album’s release day, Everything is Beautiful is a celebration of all things, well, beautiful. Nokia’s light shines brighter than ever on this project, trading caustic verses and trap 808s for jittery e-pianos, big band brass, and acoustic guitar - an instrument we’ve scarcely heard since pre-Metallic Butterfly. Where the swarming aggression of Everything Sucks can feel claustrophobic, the spacious melodies of Beautiful feel like soaking in summer warmth. Princess Nokia pays tribute to their childhood with highlights like “Green Eggs and Ham”, a soulful ode to a hopeful morning. Later on, “Wash and Sets” details the trials of an unwelcome coming-of-age. On “Gemini”, one of the project’s hardest bangers, the self-proclaimed “horoscope ho” examines their flaws and strengths through the lens of astrology: “Informative, creative, and everybody hates it / Imagination colorful and I just entertain it.” Affirmations of self-love that once appeared as glimmers on 1992 now shine like beacons in a black sky - Nokia’s rhymes are honeyed and intoxicating on “Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T.)”, a standout proclamation of authenticity. Healing from past trauma is a lifelong uphill battle, and Princess Nokia treads it with grace and power. When they speak of their journey towards accepting change on the album’s penultimate track, you feel inclined to listen carefully, because this artist understands something many have yet to learn - the multitudes of the self.
Everything Sucks/Everything is Beautiful is a study in these multitudes. The two albums, though connected, are separate projects; one is a movement of joy, and the other pain. Don’t be fooled, though, by these seemingly polar opposites. Nokia knows that war and peace are intrinsically connected. In these projects, we find the artist blurring lines between worlds and erasing false dichotomies of happy/sad, warrior/healer, peace/chaos. There are no concrete walls in Princess Nokia’s world. “Woes,” a woozy, trap-laced standout from Everything Sucks, perhaps encapsulates the album’s thesis statement most clearly in the line “I'm the highest one in the room / This is for the highs, for the lows, for the blues.” Whether hailing back to 1992 with warm, crackly odes to youth, or sailing above the past in cool, breezy tones, there’s no doubt about it - Princess Nokia is learning to be free. ✰
Cadence Baker is a sixteen-year-old writer and musician from Los Angeles, California. You can find her on Instagram at @cadenceegrace.