Noname | Room 25
Evan Dale // June 7, 2020
The poetic stage has always been ripe for social statement. The very framework of its structure which allows for less words, requires that any words written, spoken drive directed focus and meaning into the work. At its inception, rap – rhythm & poetry – birthed a new stage from the marginalized black community where poetry could transcend the pages of novella. And in its modern setting, at the most direct intersection of poetry, rap, spoken word, and social statement exists Noname and her 2018 masterpiece, Room 25.
Truthfully, her entire canon belongs to the same delineation. Everything the Chicago rapper touches – from her 2016 debut, Telefone, to her countless features across the Chicago soundscape and beyond, to Room 25 itself – are driven by an undeniable adherence to discussing the systematic social, politic, gender, and racial strife from which she as a person has emerged. As a black woman, most of her music directly addresses the marginalization of her roots, and subsequently outlines how all marginalized by modern society can overcome, move forward, and ultimately shock the system. And now, amidst the increasing wave of global civil rights activism, as her powerful statements on the need for revolution ring anthemic through twitter and beyond, a return to her music soundtracks this moment at the door of attainable grandiose societal change.
Through Room 25’s short intro alone, the minute-and-a-half long Self, Noname goes on a lyrical tear unapparelled by any of her hip-hop peers both in terms of her ability to rap and in terms of the depth of meaning with which she does so. It’s an all too effortless exhibition of a skillset that marries spoken word poetry with a palatable, wide-ranging hip-hop sound, all the while diving in on a swatch of different thematic touch points to come at greater detail throughout the album: God (whichever one you root for), the disparity of female rappers, colonization, marginalization, racism, drug use, drug abuse, and sex. For more than a half-hour in Self’s wake, Noname never settles and never slows, continuing the barrage of lyrical and thematic intensity established in its opener, explored at depth and with detail afterword. And to do so, she invites a vibrant collection of featuring names also hellbent on making their necessary voices heard in full truth.
Adam Ness, Phoelix, Ravyn Lenae, Smino, Saba, and Benjamin Earl Turner round out the Chicago-exclusive or Chicago-adjacent playbill of outspoken, activist-oriented artists turned community leaders that, too, make their voice heard on Room 25. But none of the detract from the fact that the project is purely Noname, and subsequently, purely motivated by her lack of desire for spotlight; instead driven by her need for a pedestal to speak her truths – the truths of the black community, of women, and of black women specifically.
The resulting album is the one we labeled the best of 2018, for both its courageous socio-political, gender, and racial study, and for its bold crossroad of spoken word poetry with modern hip-hop. It’s an exploration of blackness on many scales, the two most predominant of which are the systematic oppression of Noname’s people and the overcoming exultation of her people’s art and music. It’s a collection of poems; a collection of raps; a collection of brash social statement; a call for revolution that though rooted in both civil rights activism and music of the past, is a purely modern display of where both the fight for Black equality and its accompanying art are headed under a modern light.
There are no projects of its same outspoken weight and musical stewardship in the modern cloth. There are no projects more applicable to the ongoing fight for racial justice, and ultimately revolutionary reform of society at large.