Illustration by Tanya Bearson
“And y’all still thought a b*tch couldn’t rap, huh?” Noname spits emphatically on the opening track entitled “Self” of her recently released album Room 25. These abrasive lyrics set up an eclectic follow-up to her widely successful debut mixtape Telefone. While the album is undoubtedly full of lyrical genius and important ideas, Noname’s melodic and sleepy flow fails in some ways to convey the importance of the messages she is trying to emphasize. This album has the lyrics of a powerful feminist, yet the sound of a soothing lullaby. Indeed, Noname even refers to her rapping style as “lullaby rap.” Staying awake throughout the album was a genuine struggle, and it’s hard to look past the fact that after listening to one or two songs the album begins to meld into one albeit smooth, yet mostly similar song. If you can stay awake throughout the whole album, however, and pay close attention the lyrics, then you will most likely find yourself pleasantly surprised at how quietly Noname delivers such calculated and loud concepts through ingenious lyrics.
Fatimah Nyeema Warner, known publicly by stage name Noname or previously Noname Gypsy, is a female rapper hailing from Chicago. While obsessed with spoken word poetry as a child and through adolescence, Noname didn’t find her calling in rap music until much later in life than many of the artists we know of today. Instead of finding her way into the rap game through listening to rap, she actually found her path through slam poetry. “I started watching a lot of old Def Poetry Jam videos on YouTube and got really obsessed with it” she expressed in a recent interview with The Fader. This led her to begin competing in local open mics and slam poetry competitions. Shortly thereafter, Noname began collaborating with acclaimed Chicago rappers such as Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins. Her first true claim to fame was on the popular mixtape Acid Rap released by Chance the Rapper where she was featured on “Lost” as Noname Gypsy. From there her career began to take off, and she has now truly established herself in the game with her first studio album being released.
Room 25 has a lot going on, and clearly solidifies Noname’s talent and taste for music making. She combines playful banter with incredibly well articulated lyrics, and delivers deep messages through relatable concepts such as “Your momma at the table cryin/All her hair gone/Feeling fishy finding chemo/Smoking seaweed for calm/These Disney movies too close” on “Don’t forget about me” and “Africa’s never dead, Africa’s always dying/No more apples or oranges, only pickles and pacifists/Twitter ranting for martyrdom unified as capitalists” on “Regal.” The album produces a smooth, dreamy, far away sort of sound, as if Noname is simply living in a different world as she raps, and this is where her work begins to contradict herself. While the majority of the album is nicely juxtaposed by “Blaxploitation” and “Montego Bae,” which are both much needed transitions from the general vibe of the album, the overall feel fails to accentuate the importance of what Noname is rapping about. Unless you are a Noname fan and know what to look for while listening to her music, this is a very easy album to go through once while doing some sort of busy work and never come back to again. The lyrics only speak to the listener if they are purposely listening for them. This is not to say that Noname should change her style, But it’s easy to see Noname’s soft voice being drowned out by pointless mumble rap that seem to dominate the rap game today. If Noname wants to be heard by this generation, it’s doubtful that albums like Room 25 will do the job. Yet maybe she isn’t trying to speak to our generation, in fact maybe she isn’t speaking to anyone at all, as suggested on her opening track “Self”; “Maybe this the album you listen to in your car/When you driving home late at night…/Nah actually this is for me.” Maybe this album is nothing more then Noname using her style to express her opinions, and leaving it up to us if we want to listen or not.