Rapper Destiny Frasqueri has always embraced her outsider status. ‘1992 Deluxe’ – the shiny reissued version of her breakout tape as Princess Nokia – was all personality. Oddball anthems like ‘Tomboy’ and ‘Different’ were proud, messy declarations of self. Every bar taught its audience something about her. She had the dexterity to detail the abuse she faced at foster homes right after shouting out Marilyn Manson, and have it come off as completely natural.
On ‘A Girl Cried Red’, she fully dives into her alt-ambitions, with a short collection of rap/pop-punk hybrids influenced by the genre’s depressive mood and self-loathing/self-obsession characteristics. There’s no doubt that she emulates the downtrodden vibe of her influences, but in sticking so closely to the post-emo blueprint we’ve heard incessantly on Soundcloud, Nokia somehow disappears from her own project.
The rich personality of ‘1992’ is gone, replaced with bare melodies and blunt, shallow lyricism. That’s not a terrible thing on paper – Nokia does cold very well, and her ear for a good hook has carried many of her previous songs, but it’s supported by a garbled squawk of a singing voice that, to these ears, grates immediately. Nokia…isn’t Elliott Smith. While beats have never been the star on a Nokia project, without strong stories to keep her performance afloat, their shortcomings are revealed much quicker.
“Tear my heart into pieces/It looks better on the floor” she bleats throughout the tape, but instead of a sturdy theme of heartbreak, it all feels like a stunning lack of ideas. It’s a sharp change of pace for an artist that kept her last project captivating and fresh across its hour-long runtime.
‘A Girl Cried Red’ will likely become a cult classic for a small portion of Nokia fans, and judging from the album cover, Frasqueri is already expecting backlash. Whether it’s a one-off passion project or the next phase of Nokia, it’s easy to feel that the mixtape doesn’t showcase her strengths.