Noname is back. After a 2 quiet years and, relative to the social media era, relative media silence, Noname dropped her debut album Room 25 last Friday. If you haven’t heard it yet, close this blog, go listen and come back. Or shit read this first and see what you’ve been missing.
In another era, Noname would be a poet, likely penning notebooks full of feelings and musings on the world around her only to die poor and have her art discovered posthumously as she’s labeled one of the great observers and minds of her time. Instead, she’s the young lady who brought her poetic flow to the cypher and had the boys laughing at her clever bars and announcing “ohh shit shorty can spit”. With a flow that damn near makes you feel good inside, Noname gives us those feelings and musings on the world around her over mostly relaxing beats. She opens the album with “Self” which establishes 2 important things about Noname in it’s 95 seconds.
“Maybe this the album you listen to in your car. When you driving home late at night. Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches.”
“Fucked your rapper homie, now his ass is making better music. My pussy teachin ninth-grade English. My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism in conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus. And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?”
1. Room 25 will be best served for those quiet moments when you’re reflecting, thinking and processing your life, your world and your feelings.
2. Noname ain’t come to play with you niggas. Since Telefone her confidence has grown and her content has matured. Not only is Noname now more willing to talk about her relationships, sex and the quality of her pussy, but she’s flexing on us with it. “My pussy teachin ninth-grade English” is probably the best bar about quality pussy this decade.
Noname sets the tone, albeit gently, and doesn’t let up throughout the remaining 10 songs. She expands her rapping chops on the next 2 tracks, “Blaxploitation” and “Prayer Song” by upping the tempo and spitting bars with the speed of her Chicago predecessors. As per usual Noname doesn’t let up on the political thoughts but with the special quality coming from the Midwest right now, it never sounds forced. Across those 2 tracks she calls out Hillary Clinton, the police, niggas who have left their neighborhoods to go play black with the hipsters and muses on the general state of black people, and at no point does Noname give off the vibe that she was trying to make “conscious” songs or put people on to some knowledge only she has. She’s just a conscious woman rapping about what she sees and those observations involve shades of consciousness.
After telling us how she feels on the world, Noname redirects the album back to self and a new topic for her, sex and relationships. On Telefone we got very vague references, if any, to Noname’s romantic/sexual partners. She approached discussing love and sex with the hesitance of a young person unsure of what to share but knowing they don’t want to overshare. However, on Room 25 she speaks quite candidly about both with the comfort and maturity of a woman in her mid-20s with nothing to lose in owning her heart and her sexuality. On “Window” and “Montego Bae” we’re given the highs and lows of self-aware sex without love and the freedom of sex and intimacy without consequence, a unique sound and hook from fellow Chicago woman on the rise Ravyn Lenae and most importantly, a great dichotomy of bars between Window:
“So you really don’t think about me? And you really don’t miss me? The way I lullaby your brokenness, believe me I’m Ripley The way you struggling to love yourself, believe me that’s karma. You want a nasty bitch, psychiatrist that cook like your mama. And all you got was me-me-me. But I love you even though we’re not meant to be, I still love you”
and Montego Bae:
“Reading Toni Morrison in a nigga canoe. Cause a bitch really bout her freedom, cause a bitch suckin dick in the new Adidas. And yes and yes, I’m problematic too. And yes and yes, I lick ’em up, oh yes I really do.”
From “Ace”, my personal favorite song (because Noname+Smino+Saba is the greatest hip hop combo of the last 5 years, see the following songs for evidence: Amphetamine, Shadow Man, World in My Hands and Church/Liquor Store) through “With You” Noname continues flexing her skills and friendships with an assortment of features from Hip Hop’s newest cool kids (the young artists from the Midwest’s Zero Fatigue and Chicago’s hip hop scene like Saba, Smino, Ravyn Lenae and Phoelix) and bars ranging from those woke reflections on the United States to the quality of vegan food to the state of hip hop and the influence of labels on the art. She brings the album to a close with “no name”, a brief verse over a slow beat, riding her thin line between spoken word piece and rap song featuring an almost gospel-esque outro from Yaw and Adam Ness true to Noname’s roots. She only raps for about 75-80 seconds of the 4 minute song but in that we’re given a glimpse at why she goes by the moniker, Noname. Like the intro it’s slow and reflective, with a beat that falls right in line with the theme of “something you listen to in your car when you driving home late at night really questioning…”. As the beat fades out instrument by instrument (voices included), the album feels appropriately done.
Across the entirety of the album, Noname always raps like she’s enjoying what she does, even when she raps about darker topics or her own pain, a unique characteristic that makes her flow not only quality, but a pleasure to hear. You can physically hear her smile, and in some cases a laugh, as she finishes some verses because, in the words of her Chicago hip hop comrade Chance, she’s just having fun with it. Noname is an artist in the purest sense. She’s not just a rapper or a hip hop act making money in a career, but an artist who, if hip hop never existed, would still be expressing the deepest confines of her mind with her words and a pen. The best summary of her career comes from her own lips on “Ace”:
“Labels got these niggas just doing it for the clout, I’m just writing my darkest secrets like wait and just hear me out”
Noname has continued to grow as an artist and her content has matured with her. Whether a casual remark about her pussy or capitalism, nothing ever feels forced. Noname isn’t marketing sex or consciousness, she’s marketing the authenticity of Fatimah Warner. Room 25 is part 2 of what will hopefully be a long career for Noname, and a discography that is setting up to go down as all time, not only among female emcees (which she has mentioned she hates as a qualifier) but among emcees of all sorts from the millennial era and most importantly among the Midwest’s poetic crop of young kids following in the footsteps of the *old* Kanye. Noname stands firmly in the upper echelon of whatever subgroup of hip hop you decide to place her in.
And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?
*Fun fact: I waxed eloquent about her last summer during the first round of Cardi v. Nicki because I believe her to be the real heir to the throne of queen of rap (read here: https://turtlewithapen.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/the-noname-you-need-to-know/). In an act of pure coincidence Room 25 dropped about a week after Cardi v. Nicki round 2 and the infamous flying shoe.*