One of the concerts I was most looking forward to in 2020 was Princess Nokia opening for punk legends Bikini Kill. I loved the pairing of the two artists, and the fact that Bikini Kill were touring with an artist who was musically very different from them but philosophically linked. While the concert was cancelled due to COVID-19, Burger Records (the label putting on the concert) collapsed last spring in the wake of multiple allegations that the label was fostering an environment where underage girls were sexually assaulted, sexually coerced, and groomed by adult men.
There is a horrible irony that Princess Nokia and Bikini Kill, both of whom deal with sexual assault in their music and strive to create spaces where women and survivors can feel safe and seen, were going to be part of a music festival that was allegedly doing the exact opposite. As an aside, if you see something say something. None of the alleged abuse could have gone on for so long had there not been many self-defined good guys that may not have been actively engaged in the heinous activity but were enabling it and choosing to ignore the obvious warning signs.
While the combination of a hip-hop artist and feminist punk band might seem odd on the surface, there has always been a punk energy to Princess Nokia’s music. “Everything Sucks” continues that trend. It is a 24 minute album of angsty songs released in tandem with the more polished “Everything Is Beautiful.” It starts off with the raucous “Harley Quinn.” Named after the comic book anti-hero, the song has the subtlety of Harley’s mallet and a chorus of “Fuck you/and fuck you/and fuck you!”
Much of the record follows that template: grimy raps over rowdy beats. Nokia brags about being gross, stealing your boyfriend, and basically being the baddest b in the playground. The album was recorded quickly with owwwls manning the boards. While it has an immediacy and energy, there is also a sameness that creeps in. Thankfully she shifts gears on several tracks.
“Fee Fi Foe” rides a flute loop and harnesses Nokia’s badass energy into a more focused presentation. The bass sounds huge, and she sounds controlled and confident in her rapping. “I Like Him” is a genuine club banger, and Princess Nokia’s glammed up image in the video for the song shows an artist who is poised to break through to the mainstream.
The last three songs are more introspective. “Woes” sounds like Soundcloud rap, and “Just A Kid” is a starkly personal recounting of going through foster care and abuse.
Listening to “Everything Sucks” I was acutely aware that I was not its target demographic. So much of the album is about teen angst and adolescent rebellion. I almost wished I had heard it when I was 17, because that seems like the perfect age for this cocktail of attitude and vulnerability. That said, there is still a lot to enjoy on “Everything Sucks,” even if you aren’t trying to cop cigarettes at the local mall.