First announced in 2013, Noname (formerly Noname Gypsy) delivers a stellar performance on her debut project Telefone. From her recent collaborations with burgeoning artists, theMind and Jamila Woods, to her significant contributions to fellow Chicago emcee Chance The Rapper’s albums Acid Rap and Coloring Book. We’ve seen, somewhat through the grapevine, our heroine evolve conceptually. With every single and every feature, Noname invited us deeper and deeper into her world. Dealing with broken relationships to dealing with the expectations of being a black woman in America, she seems to have a lot on her mind and she’s given us a call to let off some steam. On Telefone fans finally get the introduction to the elusive poet that they’ve been waiting for.
The Chicago rapper pairs her bubbly, poetic flow over equally as bubbly instrumentation. Electric organs and chimes accompany unique and enticing acoustic drumming. Filling in the gaps left between Noname’s awry delivery. The first half of the record is cheery and heartening. The intro to the album “Yesterday” opens with a dreamy guitar riff over an organ and what sounds like a digital xylophone, setting the stage for what’s to come. Then, the drums break. Noname, with the very first line, alerts us that she’s concerned with something more than benefiting financially from success and being on the cover of the biggest magazines. She goes on to say “The dreams of granny in mansion and happy/ The little things I need to save my soul.” Simply the well being of her grandmother, and safe to say the rest of her family are the “little” things that she needs to save her soul. Something refreshing to hear out of the ever so present “money over everything, money on my mind” mentality that pervades the hip hop culture.
The first feature is theMind on “Sunny Duet” and it’s just that. A bright offering from these two. I find it interesting when they both lend their talent to the same record. As far as Chicago goes, Noname and the theMind are probably the most coveted collaborators due to their flexibility and talent that can instantly enhance a record. Both of the artists’ cadences compliment each other beautifully. And the instrumental is warmer than catching sun rays at the pool.
Noname reminisces about her childhood and growing up in Chicago on “Diddy Bop” In a time where the Black American household still has yet to shake the stigma of incompetence and insensibility, Noname’s memory of ice cream on her front porch to running home because her mother was concerned for her safety, illustrates a very important aspect of not just Fatimah Warner’s childhood, but one of many black children across the country. Despite the adversities, plenty of black mothers and fathers succeeded in their own way, with their own methods, raising a generation of leaders and innovators. Who are now using their own tactics and guile to help their brothers and sisters who have been mislead and/or forgotten.
That’s something special about Noname and her music. She has the ability to interpret and express the restlessness and unease that riddle this generation in a way that not many can. It’s authentic and the lyrics don’t seem forced. At times it’s like she’s having a conversation with herself, trying to validate decisions or send out encouragement to where it’s needed. And we’re lucky enough to sit in on that conversation, attentive when she speaks.
The latter half of the album takes on a more thoughtful and reflective direction and we see Noname quickly switch gears. “Freedom Interlude” features a clip at the end of the song of Nina Simone talking about what freedom is to her, in an interview with Peter Rodis from Nina: A Historical Perspective. Which Miss Simone ultimately sums up and says freedom to her is “no fear!” Nina hit it right on the head. Fear hinders our confidence, it’s what keeps us recluse in our shells hiding our gifts from the world. Courage on the other hand can motivate and inspire. It can bring people together because we all desire those answers. Noname displays an understanding of our culture similar to many of the progressive artists in Chicago. In that staying true to ourselves, loving one another, and uniting together we can move forward. And it starts with getting people the right message.
With lines like “Bill Cosby ain’t the god we made him” and “What a pretty lady in the valley of the shadows/ I’m thinking she lost a battle/ I’m thinking she found the bottle.” Noname is expressing her feelings on issues like women’s rights and the apologetic behavior that often divides the public on responsibility and conviction.
Noname continues to address hot topics, in “Casket Pretty“ she sings “All of my niggas is casket pretty/ Ain’t no one safe in this happy city/ I hope you make it home.” Living in Chicago is bittersweet, the violence is out of control and only witnessing it first-hand do you really understand the duality that comes with living in city like this. When instead of saying goodbye to your friends and family, you say ‘be safe’ and are really thinking ‘I hope you make it home,’ those sorts of things start to normalize. Artists take a snapshot of our culture at a certain point in time, the good, the bad, and the ugly, then translate it into their preferred medium. This opens up those issues at the time for discussion, allowing for more interpretation, more point of views. Artists like Noname continue to push the envelope with song construction and content. Making music with a purpose is still vital in these times and as long as we have artists like Noname who are intelligent, strong-minded, and creative expressing our feelings in ways that speak to everybody, we can continue to prosper.