Noname is Focused on More Than Music with Further Reach of the Noname Book Club
Evan Dale // March 4, 2021
There is an undeniable discourse to the framework of Chicago’s hip-hop history. And more than any other nuance towards the past, present, and future of Windy City rap is a nod to what has long been described as conscious. Rap for social causes; rap for movements; rap with an inspiring edge rooted in an uncomfortable truth: that underrepresented communities – that the most underrepresented communities of color in particular that have crafted most of the modern culture we know – are often those that utilize culture to make a statement in the first place. Art is a powerful tool, and artists from Chicago – musical, visual, poetic, and otherwise – have boasted an unparalleled timeline in harnessing the power of creative culture to make waves in the distortion of social fabric.
From Chicago, since the beginning of hip-hop, and since long before its inception, names from Common to Kanye to Chance have utilized their music, and their subsequent platforms to make sociopolitical statements on their city, on their country, on the state of the communities they represent, and the underrepresentation those communities ultimately face. But in an even more modern light, by an even more consciously driven and socio-politically focused voice, has come not only Chicago’s, but all of modern hip-hop’s, most outspoken – and well-spoken – artist: Noname.
Growing up in the South Side of Chicago between her grandparent’s neighborhood and the Bronzeville home of her bookstore owning mother, Fatimah Nyeema Warner was always primed to be a wordsmith. A poet first, hers is a particularly lyrical brand of Rhythm & Poetry focused dominantly on the latter. One listen to anything in her canon, and that much becomes obvious. But, one listen through the breadth of her canon, from her highlighting verses on Chance the Rapper’s 2013 mixtape Acid Rap, Mick Jenkins’ 2014 mixtape The Waters, and her debut EP Telefone, to her debut album Room 25 and her latest single Rainforest, and an evolution of her social commentary and conscious discourse is perhaps the nature in her music most prevalent.
That evolution is also obvious in her staged moniker. At first Noname Gypsy, she dropped the second half of the name as an ode to her understanding of the harsh connotation accompanying its past. Now Noname, but far removed from the anonymity that its nature represents, she is one of the more outspoken, microphoned activists in all of modern music.
Room 25 was – still is – a shining example of just such an emerging lane. Though always delineated by deep, though-provoking poetry by way of her spoken-word roots, Room 25 took the deep-thought, consciously lyrical nature of all her past work, and crafted recent hip-hop history’s most socially motivated project. Pick any track on the album, and line after line delineating her struggles as a woman, a Black person in modern America, and simply a lover and a human at large in a world in need of change, dot the project with nothing but the thought-out, meditated craftsmanship of a generational talent with a hard-nosed and unwavering leaning towards the socially conscious.
And yet, even with her musical releases and their ingrained social activism, Noname continues to strive to push further than music. In 2019, inspired by a connection with a fan that had mentioned the two were reading the same book, she started the Noname Book Club focused on highlighting the works of authors of color. With the book club’s website including a directory of local, predominantly Black owned bookstores in cities across the United States, she referred to its inception as “a little bit of a fuck you to Amazon, and kind of a fuck you to the FBI," referencing how FBI's COINTELPRO program had targeted Black independent booksellers.
Much more than a ‘fuck you,’ and more focused as an inclusive limelight for the art and thought of minority minds for a broad audience drawn to Noname for both her poetic music and her social activism, the Noname Book Club is an ultimate embodiment of the mosaic of lanes intersecting at the creative and the sociopolitical, that she has always represented, and seems to always further push the envelope on.
An online community connecting readers to authors telling stories that often go underrepresented in their own right, and connecting that audience hungry for ideas and culture to independent Black store owners, Noname is crafting a series of circles: social, cultural, political, economic, and simply human. But, the Noname Book Club strives even further than that. By building community connections through virtual and in-person discussions on the book, and procuring local, unofficial chapters in cities around the world, she’s also helping to build the kind of social connections in communities that are less and less commonplace in the digital age. Lastly, the Noname Book Club also sends each of their two monthly selections to incarcerated individuals around the United States through their Prison Program, helping to entertain and educate those in prison, and reinforcing and continuing Noname’s long-documented and ever-strengthening political fight against not only police and the prison-industrial complex, but against the very political constructs of the Western core. You see, Noname believes wholeheartedly in a revolution and restructuring of the modern world, and her incendiary tactics through her many platforms have created waves recently, especially in the wake of the BLM protests of last Summer. By choosing the route of education, literature, music, spoken word, and ultimately, the sociocultural fabric of Black America at large, she’s continuing and furthering traditions of self-reliance and Black revolution à la Black Panther Party and the lineage of her Chicago hip-hop roots.
Happy reading. Abolish the police.