Evan Dale // Dec 30, 2018
Where last year shined the brash indefinability of the transcendentalist movement of artists who exist neither within the confines of traditional genre nor the boundaries of expectation, this year a window was opened for those who attack their art forms in pure tradition. Multi-dimensional artists are now the expectation. If you can’t rap, sing, play, and produce, you’re going to have a hard time making it, and even if you do all those things, you’re going to have a hard time standing out. In effect, everyone has become so talented that there is less room for the most talented to shine simply by being so talented. Instead, 2018 allowed for something of an admiration for specificity where purist musicians so firmly gifted at their particular craft took the year by storm.
Of course, music was largely still propelled forward by the experimentalists, the transcendentalists, and the multi-dimensionalists. ASAP Rocky and Travis Scoot shook the world of popular hip-hop with two very different approaches to unapologetic risk-taking. The result? A world of music forever changed for the better by the strength of raw creativity. Newcomers from SAINt JHN to Innanet James to Jay Prince hammered home the idea of the artist who knows no limits to range, exercising each and every lane of their talent and implementing their unique approaches to their broad bases in incredibly innovative and influential projects. Others still like JMSN, Anderson .Paak, and The Internet paid homage to music’s illustrious past – namely the eras of Motown, soul, funk, and golden age R&B – to create some of the finest projects of the year boasting enlightened retro-futuristic soundscapes that not only span styling, but epochs as well.
In culture’s endless sense of cyclical circularity, stylings, genres, and eras were all snapped at the neck, belonging to the now in equal measure as the past and the future. Influence knows no bounds and music moves forward rooted in neither the here nor there. The only consistency is the inconsistency of art. And yet, through it all, music delivered another incredible calendar.
With more people with more access to more music and more opportunity to create it on their own, music has been perpetually tossed into a whirlwind of endless creativity, and with it comes innovation and influence from every corner of the globe. On one side of the motor that moves forward the culture are the risk-takers, the fluid, and the shuffling. On the other side exist the perfectionists, the concrete, and the technical. At any given moment, an artist from either school is capable of creating a project so particularly stand-out that it becomes deserving of the title: Best Project of The Year. And this year, that title just happened to call home to the unwavering perfectionism of hip-hop at its purest.
Rhythm & Poetry finds a new definition when the poetic aspect is so handily crafted. And that new definition was written by Chicago’s modern queen of lyricism, Noname. No one in 2018 did their job better. Setting out to follow up her acclaimed 2016 album, Telefone was no small task. Noname’s debut project was far and away one of the best of its own year, and far too often do artists come up short after such illustrious beginnings. But Noname went the other direction. Taking her unparalleled knack for spitting a blinding stream of spoken-word-inspired lyrcism and merging it with the expectation of modern artists to bring a certain level of relatable energy, Noname turned her sophomore project, Room 25 into the most well-balanced project of the year.
Not only does Room 25 very legitimately make the case that by the purest standards of skill, Noname may very well be the most talented rapper alive, it also shines her in a more-than-adept modernist light that she is every bit as gifted in creating something that goes beyond the reaches of her poetic penmanship.
Room 25 isn’t a long project. Not by a long shot. But through 11 tracks and 34 minutes, if by nothing other than the bold, extremely thorough technique of her delivery, Noname is able to say more than anyone else. From start to finish, the project is also incredibly diverse. If one consistency exists – and it certainly does – it’s Noname’s lyrical dynamism and impossibly effortless flow. Every single track is marked first and foremost by her penmanship, and that specific writing ability went completely unparalleled in 2018.
Holding true to the storied past of her home city, Chicago’s illustrious history as the capital of the conscious hip-hop movement, Noname uses that lyrical prowess to tackle a collection of socio-political issues while at the same time addressing a lot of personal problems that occupy her and others in the modern time. Love, lust, and loss play a particularly strong role and even bring to the forefront sexism that she’s had to overcome as a female rapper. In the opening track, Self, she runs through a stream of conscious type of pattern that consistently returns to the line, ‘y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?’
It would seem the doubt has long motivated her to become one of the most talented, poetic rappers of her time, and maybe, of all time.
Room 25 is also a beautiful exhibition of Chicago’s collective spirit. A particularly close relationship seems to hang over the young generation of Chicago hip-hop artists, always cross-collaborating with one another and bolstering their specific projects at an unmatched lyrical and conscious pace. Soulstress, Ravyn Lenae graces Montego Bae. Smino and Saba provide their unique approaches to Ace. Acclaimed Chicago lyricist Phoelix makes his presence felt on Window and Part of Me. Adam Ness does the same on Prayer Song and no name. And Benjamin Earl Turner drops a soulful, meaningful, funky verse on Part of Me.
Altogether, the features on Room 25 do an amazing job of building onto the world that Noname is able to construct – a world of bold ideology and lyrical perfectionism that feels particularly unmatched amongst a smattering of melodically-focused hip-hop artists. Room 25 is a classic, timeless album that in so many ways will propel forward the engine of hip-hop and music at large, rooting in the styling’s history and adhering to the pillars of hip-hop and rap’s foundations.
See our Comprehensive List of 2018's Best Projects here: