Everything Is Beautiful/Everything Sucks (Princess Nokia Inc)
One album which takes a look at the world and comes away reasonably optimistic, fairly happy and sparking up musically (without giving up a sceptical eye on things). Another album which finds things less amusing, hardly fair and grips harder musically (while scattering its approach like its targets). One person.
These two albums, released separately but essentially the one package, make up a solid return on the promise of the 2017 debut album from Princess Nokia (New Yorker Destiny Frasqueri), 1992: Deluxe. She may not be the finished article yet but she’s a seriously engaging contributor.
In less than an hour of music, that splits (not quite evenly) between the tense and urgent Everything Sucks and the considerably more relaxed and flowing Everything Is Beautiful, Frasqueri takes on a sonically and emotionally ambitious exercise. They don’t seem like contrast, more like the understandable dichotomy of someone living in a world where sense is not the first order of business.
Yes, they could have been strung together, maybe intercutting between light and dark, but maybe she figured constant changes of direction – socially, musically and politically - could induce whiplash in even the most Zen-like individual.
And Frasqueri is no Zen monk. As she explains in the opening track of Everything Sucks – helpfully named Harley Quinn for anyone who has watched Suicide Squad or Birds Of Prey and knows the lay of this land - “I’m disrespectful, offensive and I’ve got nothing to prove”. And in case you missed the message she adds “Fuck you, fuck your mama and daddy, fuck your siblings too, fuck your aunty and uncle and fuck your cousins and crew.”
On that particular disc, which is a hectic 10 songs in 24 minutes (Everything Is Beautiful practically luxuriates at 31 minutes but sneaks in an extra two songs) she is inclined to disturb your equilibrium with snaky guitar lines that fray the ends of your nerves and snapping/growling noises, and chill with the looming presence of intimidatory basslines and thin air percussion. And that’s true even when the storyline is more lust than bastardy, as in I Like Him.
The sleazy keyboard in Fee Fi Foe is not exactly balanced by the synthesised flute, that high punctuation instead working in combination to bring an echo of Wu Tang Clan’s oriental obsession. But there’s even less at play in Practice which is tinned percussion and an ultra simple five note piano motif.
Her delivery here can lean towards a slurred disaffection, in Woes, but she’s clipped and pointed in Gross (“I got stains on my teeth and my clothes”) as if defying you to object. In Crazy House (which has a shout out to Lorena Bobbitt and her snippy scissors) there’s a studied innocence delivering less than innocent lines, but in Balenciaga she sounds nonchalantly experienced.
Even though things do get emotionally complicated at points, Everything Is Beautiful by comparison is like the good twin tagged in to allow the bad twin to sit out and stew.
The sounds are richer: the keyboards in particular warmer and bigger like the Stevie Wonder feel of Soul Food y Adobo; the guitar of Blessings bringing some easy jazz; the choir and brass of Sugar Honey Iced Tea (S.H.I.T) testifying and swinging around some of the toughest lines (about domestic violence and freedom); and bonus bits, such as the occasional ting of a triangle, offered almost as gifts.
Not that it stops Sunday Best putting some real shading on matters, the basis bass a kind of nighttime companion to the long chords of the organ.
On this disc Frasqueri’s rapping is more consistent, though not ever really settling into a formula. She’s clearer, dancing through the lines more than stamping them down. She’s also occasionally amused, sometimes outright happy and very often unashamedly pop.
And she starts with not just a childhood reference in the buoyant funk of Green Eggs & Ham, but a cheery “I thank my parents for the life they gave me/Have you told your parents that you loved them lately?/I look like my mama in the 1980s/If I been there well please forgive me/I remember when my granny used to hate me”.
Which is, well, sweet, isn’t it?