New In Town: Noname

I sit here counting on my painted fingers (and toes) how long that it's been since I've been excited about a female rapper...and really all my digits have been spent. True facts: it's been a looooong time since I've enjoyed dope beats and flows coming from a female roar. Like Missy Elliott, Floetry, and Eve making their debuts loooong time. Well, what about Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks, you say? Yeah, what about them? One was always "too much in a little bag" for me, and the other spends more time spitting insult bars on social media than making actual music. Unreliable and unrelatable they are to me.

Now Noname, she was someone who I gravitated to with immediacy.

Maybe it was because she had such an unusual, grab-your-attention nom de plume. She was formerly called "Noname Gypsy" but dropped the "gypsy" when she felt it had an offensive tone to it. Noname became not just name, but personal thesis, as the Chi-Town raptress believes not having a name expands her creativity and causes her to live with no limits.

Or maybe it had something to do with her FADER interview where she seemed, forthright, real, and one of the few musical artists who didn't rattle off fellow musicians names as influences --- she named authors and poets, one of them being Toni Morrison. It's why a lot of Telefone, Noname's breakout debut album, has a storytelling quality about it, and why it drives with purpose and intellect, something that I'm always down for.

Maybe it was just because Telefone is like a cool stream of keen thought and poetic awareness in a desert of mediocrity and just plain crap that is the hip-hop landscape these days?

Maybe...I'm running out of maybes...and need to cut to the chase....

While rap often rests on grandstand and ego, Noname (birth certificate name, Fatima Warner), doesn't have to flaunt that she's wide-awake with a flashy persona (remember she's about expanding her creativity beyond name...), rather, she's puts self-awareness and trust in her lyricals, pushing her ego aside for finding deeper meaning outside of material gain. Her voice sparks thought, the intent and beats all just falling into cohesive step with each other, and its doper than dope.

If you keep up with rap circles better than I do you'll remember Noname making her first impression on fellow Chicagoan, Chance The Rapper's "Lost" from his breakthrough, Acid Rap project. Her child-like coo, while china fragile on feel, declared words of Teflon. Such a striking, and effective contrast happens and expands on Telefone.

The 10-track player, which features guest spots from Raury, Eryn Allen Kane and Saba, unfolds as a conversation within, a social studies of self and surroundings. There are some heavy duty topics here --- addiction, police brutality, relationships, familial bonds, the transition from child to adult  --- and they are timely, and necessary in all of their expression. Aside from the abortion realness of skewed lullaby of "Bye Bye Baby", where mother and baby trade dialogue, "Casket Pretty" stands out as the most brutal truth that is spilled on the record, as its lyrics drum up the emotional strain, mistrust, and the constant violent images we've witnessed on timelines and TV concerning unarmed African-Americans being unjustly gunned down by the men (and women) in blue. "All my n----s is casket pretty/ain't no one safe in this happy city/I'm afraid of the dark blue and white/badges and pistols rejoice in the night".  

Not all is grim and weeping on Telefone. Optimism blooms on the gorgeous, "Yesterday", as it opens the album like a promising, serene morning, with Noname reminiscing about lost love ones, and how such losses, the "little things that saved her soul" taught her about the deeper corners of love and life. Sharing love with another, with personal ground rules in tow, is nicely rendered on "All I Need". On "Reality Check" while rejecting the mainstream and highlighting the creative roadblocks that lent to why Telefone took three years to compile, but the song is motivational in how Noname persists with her art in the fashion she does, Eryn Allen Kane quelling doubts with her genial hook ("Don't fear the light, that dwells deep within/ You are powerful, beyond what you imagine/Just let your light glow"). The albums consensus is that there is light at the end, keep following.

Black women have clearly raised their megaphones and fists higher than high this year, and Noname's album too joins the enthralling conversation with other 'magical' sista girl albums, like Solange's A Seat At The Table and Jamila Woods' HEAVN (which Noname has a guest spot on), as it's an album geared to make the political, personal, being as unapologetic and B-L-A-C-K as can be, but still finding room amid the harsh realities to be gentle and soothing in its rehabilitation of self.

So, yes, thank goodness for Telefone and for Noname, thank goodness R&B and hip-hop can fuse together in blissful aural form, as for a moment there I thought women in hip-hop had lost their voice, and all sense of themselves. Here, now, we're back on track...


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