Poetry First, Perception Second, Politics Third on Noname's Debut Studio Album, Room 25
Evan Dale // Sep 15, 2018
In the modern hip-hop scene, where a split between the lyrically-endowed and the melodically-focused comprise the primary, contradicting schools of thought on hip-hop’s ever-adjusting state, songwriting and subsequently, songwriters have received less credit for their key craft in recent years. And yet, there is something permanently irreplaceable, fascinating, and comforting about the artists who, at their heart and soul, are poets. Masters of their lyricism, these poets also have to possess the unique skill of relaying verbiage far more complex and delicate than their melodious peers. The result? True, grassroots rap by the hands of rappers in their purest form.
Amongst the pollution of a hip-hop atmosphere where Astroworld, in all of its undeniable, high-energy, experimental importance can drown out the workings of rap’s most traditional form, fans and artists of eras past clamor in hatred and denunciation of hip-hop’s form modern. They are mistaken.
They are mistaken in their refusal to adapt and change alongside a music scene that would have died long ago had it not. They are also mistaken for thinking that the ways of their epochs somehow no longer exist. But they are not mistaken in their preference for a craft that, at this point in time, exists but doesn’t receive the attention it deserves.
There are exceptions. Kendrick Lamar is largely considered not only the greatest rapper but also the greatest hip-hop artist – an important distinction – of his generation. J. Cole, equally masterful, mysterious, and long-winded also shares some of the brightest spotlight that the hip-hop community and thus, the world’s stage has to offer. Chance the Rapper, whose own take on the lyrically-profound sector answers the call for Chicago’s proud and conscious history, even though he does so with a sound like no one else in hip-hop’s long storybook. Their achievements rival those of Drake, Future, Migos, or any number of lesser lyricists in fame, and completely blow them out of the water when it comes to meaningfulness and epochal transcendence. But at the end of the day, there are for more modern artists closely aligned with the melodious workings of Drake, Future, and Migos than those of Kendrick, Cole, and Chance. And there are far, far more Lil’ Soundclouds than lyrically profound up-and-comers, who, even though they exist, struggle to earn their way at hip-hop’s lower tiers in comparison to their new-wave peers.
But of all the underrated lyricists in the world, and quite arguably, of all the poets, one stands alone in her ability to harmonize penmanship, conscious, and delivery. Ladies and gentlemen, Noname.
First making herself well-known on a grand scale with her memorable additions to Chance the Rapper’s breakout project, Acid Rap, Noname has been quietly and humbly dominating the pen in the years since. Telefone, her debut full-length from 2016 is a keynote project in several respects. Often granted an influential position in its role as firestarter for the state of the current conscious Chicago hip-hop scene, undoubtedly one of the most important works in either the lyrical hip-hop or spoken word arenas in recent years, and a masterpiece of the female tradition in music, the project – not even officially an album – is one of the more underrated works of artistic intricacies and complexities to hit the scene.
And now, with her release of her long-awaited debut album, Room 25, she has replaced herself and her past work as the pinnacle of the intelligence-diligence wire in hip-hop.
To an unfamiliar ear, there is almost nothing that can be said in relation to Noname and her continued work. There is no way of saying, ‘if you like so-and-so, you’ll love Noname’s new project.’ There is no true parallel to her approach to music, and if there is anything close, it would more likely be found in slam poetry readings than in the roots of hip-hop’s past. Noname is unequivocally unique in both her lyricism and its delivery, but that only adds to the intrigue of what she has to offer. And everything that she has to offer is exhibited throughout the duration of Room 25.
The political charge that we’ve come to expect from the lyrically profound artists of Chicago blossoms in the project. At a time when messages of positivity, social growth, and overcoming tribulations are few and far between, having such messages derived from Noname’s personal experiences with womanhood, race, poverty, art, music, family, friends, and fame is a breath of incredibly clear air. The well-spoken are in short supply these days, but Noname makes up for thousands of voices that for whatever reason are unable to rationalize and volumize their thoughts.
For perspective, the following verse wasn’t chosen for any particular reason other than that it was what was playing at the moment these words were written:
Oh my baby got to know me, I'm looking like I'm the homie
I'm tatted from head to shoulder, I'm colder when he don't hold me
I'm warmer inside the casket, basket to tie my hair
Africa's never dead, Africa's always dying
No more apples or oranges, only pickles and pacifists
Twitter ranting for martyrdom unified as capitalists
Give 'em death be gone, give 'em Teflon Don
Give 'em Rice-A-Roni politics to bear more arms
And watch the bears come out
If a random selection is so politically opinionated and well-spoken, just imagine how profound must be her most thoughtful words on the album.
A conscious feminine perspective in hip-hop that has long been voiced by Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and Ms. Lauryn Hill can now be safeguarded in the hands of Noname. Though her approach to the matter has long been defined by a more somber, down-tempo acceptance of the struggles of womanhood, her new voice leads her on delightful rampages of pride in her sexuality and a courageous embrace of herself. Self-love and lessons on her tall-standing approach to self-perception litter the project. If you need an example, listen to Montego Bae.
Somehow in harmony with her liberal thought process, Noname also masters her position as a fiery emcee not to be tried. Really, it makes perfect sense that an artist so capable at seamlessly establishing her complex thoughts on political subject matter and social discourse would equally be able to apply such intelligence and wordsmithery to the realm of classic shit talkin’, but still, it’s surprising to listen to her verse on Ace.
Smino Grigio, Noname, and Saba the best rappers
And radio n***as sound like they wearing adult diapers
And globalization scary and fuckin' is fantastic
And frankly I find it funny that Morgan is still actin'
Bruce Almighty, Aphrodite and Dominoes
Yummy biscotti, tamale, over mention my undertones
Runnin' the dolly, Chicago overzealous with talent though
Westside get the money, is still a classic
Movin' to LA, now I'm sippin on Sunny D
And my n***a is hella pleased and I bought me a better pen so a
Bitch she ain't 'bout to write, I'm perpetually smoking weed
Yes me rolling, I'm sorry, I'm tapping out
Room 25, the best album that's coming out
Labels got these n***as just doing it for the clout
I'm just writing my darkest secrets like wait and just hear me out
Saying vegan food is delicious like wait and just hear me out
The Chicago soundscape, which has also become a haven for the greater midwestern hip-hop and R&B circles, is a close-knit collection of hyper talented musicians each with a lot to say. So, it’s always great to see just who features on large-scale Chicago projects. In this regard, like many, Room 25, is an absolute blessing. Adam Ness, Phoelix, Ravyn Lenae, Smino, Saba, Benjamin Earl Turner, and Yaw all make their ways into the project, each bringing a unique sound to an already incredibly unique construct.
But when it’s all said and done, Room 25 is about Noname, an artist who for years has been bringing light to the darkness, and a voice to the people. Her brash maturity has existed since the beginning, but once again finds a new gear with her debut album, enlightening her listeners with a profound voice at a time when such voices are rarely heard outside of the Chicago hip-hop scene.