Tokischa: Personal, Political, Popola

Tokischa: Personal, Political, Popola

Story by E.R. Pulgar / Photography by Augusto Silva Alliegro / Styling by Stephanie Perez / Hair by Sean Michael Bennett / Makeup by Mical Klip

Popola entered the waiting room. Tokischa Altagracia Peralta logs onto Zoom audio while on her way to a river in Constanza, a municipality in the Cordillera Central region of the Dominican Republic. She is on a three-day vacation after the European leg of her world tour and is soon heading back out on the road. Before that, she needed a recharge. As she speaks between signal lags, Popola — the Dominican slang word for vagina, which the rapper has incorporated into her name and image — is center stage on the laptop screen, green border flashing to the rhythm of her voice.

"I’m supposedly on a break right now, but sometimes you only half-rest" she tells PAPER. "I just got back from my European tour two or three days ago and came to the countryside for three days to chill after a month or so. This week, I head to Mexico for two more shows and then close out the tour in the U.S."

At this point in her career, Tokischa is no stranger to jet lag — or to turning arenas into a teteo. Her New York debut at Terminal 5 in March sold out in around 30 minutes (and really got the crowd going.) Last she was in town during Pride, the openly bisexual rapper swapped spit with Madonna, who brought her onstage as a surprise guest during a dembow-injected performance of "Hung Up." This internet-breaking moment doesn’t come even remotely close to what we’ve come to expect from her. Tokischa’s unabashed sexuality and ability to cut through the bullshit to the core of the issue — all while throwing it back unapologetically — ensure that, much like the Queen of Pop who has taken an interest in her, she is also no stranger to controversy.

Tokischa has landed herself in hot water before, for better or worse. The provocative artist stirs the pot almost instinctively, from striking a pose in lingerie in front of a religious mural in the La Vega province of the Dominican Republic (and incurring a fine) to using her music as a platform to call out injustices within the government (see her verse on this overtly-political remix of "Rosado"). This devil-may-care attitude has sometimes translated to problematic takes, including a defense of dembow artist Rochy RD, recently released after accusations of sexual assault of an underage girl and her half-justification of J. Balvin’s concept for their collaboration "Perra,", which saw Black women being walked on leashes.

Where she can be raunchy and careless, her unapologetic directness belies an honesty that strives to fight for her people and a tenderness that may not be obvious at first glance. We can most see this contrast in her latest singles: "Sistema de Patio," a roiling dembow that features snarling verses from compatriot rapper Treinticiete about drug deals, sleeping with teachers and day-to-day life in the Dominican hood (the video is a giant street party replete with motorcycles and twerking) and "Hola," her second feature with Eladio Carrión, which explores a love affair gone wrong.

Aside from touring the world and tonguing pop culture legends, Tokischa has been spotted in the studio with corrido king Natanael Cano, and has been quietly working toward her debut. After establishing a solid reputation as a feature who — through honest lyrics delivered with a jarring, Lolita-esque lilt — delivers a knockout verse, the controversial performer from Los Frailes looks ready to step fully into a limelight she always knew she was destined for.

Glove top and skirt: Mugler, Belt top and boots: Barragán, Jewelry: Panconesi x Charlotte Knowles

PAPER spoke with the polarizing Dominican rapper to dish about her new album, balancing personal with political, and finding freedom and acceptance in the queer community abroad.

I wanted to ask you about "Hola," which you just released. It’s your second single with Eladio Carrión. Compared to "Twerk," it’s a lot more sentimental.

We linked up, went to the studio and just started talking about these kinds of situations. We went in that direction and started thinking about when relationships turn toxic.

It's amazing that you can get that sentimental and self-reflective, especially when you’re known for making really explicit, sexy party music. Do you feel like it comes naturally to you? As a Pisces, you must be really sentimental.

It’s art at the end of the day. Fun is a part of life, but sentimentality is a very, very, very important part of life.

Would you say you’re a sentimental person?

Very much so.

What makes you sentimental?

Nature, my partner, music, food.

The yummy parts of life! Going back to collaborations, I know you have some very different things cooking right now, from being in Mexico City with Natanael Cano to teasing a track with Madonna. Will those songs ever see the light of day or are you just experimenting right now?

Everything is coming out eventually. I love making music and working all the time, and a lot of times people like to see work in the present. A lot of what I work on is for the future.

I’ve been thinking a lot about "ESTILAZO," your collaboration with Marshmello. You really dive headfirst into the sounds of ballroom and queer underground. You’ve also been labeled a "queer firebrand" by some after recently connecting with the community abroad.

It's really new for me. I come from the Dominican hood and you don’t really see the queer community there, even now when you see more of it. When I started traveling, I went through places where there were a lot of drag queens and queer people, and I saw how the culture was thriving abroad. It was during Pride and I was on tour, and I had never seen that many Pride flags. You don’t see that in the Dominican Republic. I felt really happy, to be honest. I felt like a part of that, because the community accepted me in a really beautiful way and I identify with them in a big way. Growing up, I never felt like I belonged. I felt rejected and not accepted. That goes beyond my sexuality, but it was about belonging to a community and feeling like I belong to a community where the core values are love, respect, acceptance. That’s what I love and identify with the most.

You’ve been making music forever and officially started making a splash in 2018 with "Pícala." How has your artistic trajectory changed since becoming a global creative force?

I feel very proud and happy of the work I’ve done. All my hard work is bearing fruit.

You always wanted to be a big artist, no? I've read that no matter the medium — music, theater — you always wanted to be an artist. What would it have been if not music?

Art. I participated in everything: theater, dance... I always loved fashion. One thing I was never good at was makeup.

Bodysuit: Mugler, Dress: Terrence Zhou, Stockings: Vex Latex, Bracelet: Versace, Ring: Panconesi x Charlotte Knowles

Like doing other people’s makeup?

Doing my own makeup. It always looks like a disaster.

You’re a pretty polarizing artist. I’ve heard you described as both someone encouraging bad ethics and a feminist icon of sexual liberation. All of these opinions aside, I don’t think you’re too invested in shock value at the end of the day. I see you as an honest artist standing in her truth. I think of a song like "Desacato Escolar," which got you in trouble with the government in the Dominican Republic, but you maintained that you were narrating your experience and that of a lot of young Dominicans in the school system. A song like that or "Sistema de Patio" is more subtly political versus your verse in "Rosado," where you directly speak against these injustices. Would you say that, for you, the personal is political?

"Rosado" is a very political song. At that moment, my country was experiencing a change in government that the people were asking for. I was invited to contribute a verse to the track and it felt like a good moment to express everything I had felt but had never written a song about. For "Desacato Escolar," I would say it was a directly political song because of what I’m talking about. Education in my country isn’t good, per sé. It’s not a secret, but it’s also not talked about enough.

Was it upsetting to have backlash about the song being overtly sexual, with people coming for you about the way you spoke about this issue rather than talking about the issue itself?

I’m taken very politically, which is why I’ve gotten into so much trouble in the Dominican Republic. The government has tried to imprison me several times because I’m viewed as a menace to society. They've even banned me from specific places in my country. For them, [what I do] is pure debauchery and a very, very explicit form of expression, something that society could do without.

A woman freely expressing her sexuality in a conservative country is always frowned upon. Do you feel, as you’ve found worldwide acceptance, that you’re seeing changes on a local level to how you’re treated back home?

The public — the people, the fans — have always treated me well since I started, since before I was famous abroad. Before all the success, I was always treated with love here, and since I’ve started popping off people have really identified with me and treated me with more respect.

Your trajectory — the way you’ve found success by putting out singles and being a feature — reminds me of the ways Drake, Nicki Minaj, Bad Bunny and a lot of other rappers got their starts. When are you going to put an album out?

The album is going to take some time. We’ve started some conversations and thrown some ideas around, but it’s a process that needs a lot of time. Right now, we’re in a moment of touring and coming up. But yes, an album is coming and the album is going to be really hot.

Skirt (worn as dress): LRS, Headscarf handbag and Boots: Versace

This interview was translated from Spanish, edited and condensed for clarity.

Photography and production: Augusto Silva Alliegro
Styling: Stephanie Perez
Hair: Sean Michael Bennett
Makeup: Mical Klip
Photography assistants: Abigail Leuchter and Madeleine Thomas
Styling assistants: Endya Simone and Anabelle Hernandez
Production assistant: Alberto Santana
Location: Rosy’s Unisex Salon (Brooklyn, New York)