It’s hard to narrow down Princess Nokia’s sound, and she thrives off this. Throughout her rise to fame, she’s been comfortable diving into nostalgic ’90s boom bap, sunny neo-soul, goofy trap instrumentals, and even startlingly raw emo rap. 2018’s A Girl Cried Red was a bold pivot to the messy teenage angst you admittedly expect from an artist wearing an oversized Slipknot hoody on the cover. It wasn’t great. Her nasal singing voice and scant approach to song writing weren’t enough to carry a short mixtape. The left-field direction might have been only exciting in premise, but that was still enough to keep us hyped for whatever she would do next. When Nokia was already capable of writing something like ‘Bart Simpson’, a dud wasn’t enough to count her out.
Now, the New York cult hero has come back with a project that happily emphasises the various sides of her persona. Released together as sister albums, Everything is Beautiful and Everything Sucks explore the multitudes of a young, emotion-driven talent, and the various moods that duality would suggest. At least on paper. The pessimistic record is a collection of barebones brag raps with a twisted Halloween aesthetic. The optimistic one relies on bright piano leads, horns, and the cheesy gospel style Chance the Rapper fans will be familiar with. As you’d expect from an artist so unapologetic about herself, both albums rely on her personality, and a cheerleader approach to confidence and self-worth.
“I dance, I rap, I sing/I do so many things” she casually says on ‘Happy Place’, her blasé delivery typical for the album’s central theme of enjoying your own company. Nokia is right. She is doing a lot. But little of it connects beyond the surface. That’s because you’ve heard all of these ideas before, done with more eccentricity and guts. The buoyant funk backing on ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ sounds like a watered-down version of a sound Anderson Paak. nailed years ago, and it doesn’t help that Nokia has little to say other than talk about what she’s going to eat for breakfast.
The beats on Sucks are half-hearted and dated, especially ‘Practice’, which is a toothless go at the kinds of toy piano lines that have been floating around Soundcloud for half a decade. Nokia is still a competent and entertaining rapper, but most of her lines feel like wallpaper on the basic two-minute cuts which make up the album.
To be fair, Sucks is meant to be dumb fun. That much is apparent from titles like ‘Welcome to the Circus’ and ‘Crazyhouse’. It makes it all the more frustrating that little of Nokia’s edge or eccentricity makes into the songs themselves. ‘Harley Quinn’ is a rare exception, where she opts for a chilling whispered delivery that emphasises the rasp and grit of her vocal. You can hear the years of tobacco and weed smoke lodged in her lungs. Her attitude is enough to carry even the most basic of lines – like where she repeats “fuck you” five times. She’s the bad guy. Duh.
You’d think that Beautiful would be the thoughtful and introspective counterpart to this villain album. But it’s just as slight, like on ‘Gemini’, where she tells us some info about her zodiac sign you could probably get from five minutes on an Instagram #mindfulness tag. Or ‘Wavy’, where (you guessed it) she says she’s getting wavy quite a lot.
These albums are fine, breezy listens, but when we’ve heard Princess Nokia come through with a fully fleshed personality in the past, it’s hard not to feel that the music here is faceless.
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