Release Date: Sep 14, 2018
Record label: Self-released
'Room 25' is not only smartly constructed and laced with intricate subtlety - it's laugh-out-loud funny, too In a landscape where her contemporaries are hyper-prolific releasers, unleashing surprise projects and scrapbook-like mixtapes on a regular basis, Noname stands out as a patient outlier. Listening to her debut mixtape 'Telefone' - a dizzyingly detailed log of delicately spun arrangement and intimate telephone conversations, which propelled her to well-deserved cult-status - in 2016, Fatimah Warner's meticulousness was already apparent. "I incubate for a long-ass time," she put it bluntly, speaking to The Fader.
The title Room 25 is part allusion to the string of hotel rooms she occupied during her tour for Telefone. The hotel room, after seeing enough of them in a short stretch of time, becomes a thing of monotony and near-imperceptible change. Those rooms are more or less identical, save for the number on the door. This is the subtext of 25: personal growth is indistinguishable in the short term — it takes a long view to parse any substantive development.
The Lowdown: Why choose a name like Noname? The woman born Fatimah Warner wanted to avoid labeling herself and to refuse all boundaries, starting with names. The 26-year-old Chicago native grew up on slam poetry, collaborating with SABA and Chance the Rapper. Her music contains many of the traditional hallmarks of Chicago rap: social consciousness, storytelling, brightness, and humor.
Intelligible rap harmonizer Noname is always at her best spitting free-associative topics akin to idle conversations interrupted only by vape hits. "Scramble Think" is what she once called it during her NPR Tiny Desk performance last year. Such a constantly evolving approach landed her star-in-the-making moments made by frequent guest features with peers including Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins, Kirk Knight, Saba and Jesse Boykins III.
If Noname's 2016 debut Telefone was the musings of a young woman trying to write her way into a sense of place and self, then Room 25 is the blazing soliloquy that spills out after putting the pen down to live a life. Almost immediately, we're met with one of the greatest lines of the year: "My pussy teachin' ninth-grade English/My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism." It goes on, a modern coming-of-age tale, the now 27-year-old rapper examining her triumphs and shortcomings with sharp commentary. Acutely aware of her fallibility as both subject and narrator, she avoids falling into the trap of painting a blemish-free portrait of herself.
Chicago rapper Fatimah Warner burst through in 2016 with her jazzy debut Telefone, a soulful and genuinely optimistic volume. Sophomore album Room 25 features a deepening of her sound with added edge, commencing immediately on album starter "Self." At just 35 minutes, she's now produced one of the tightest and most complete albums of 2018, while advancing philosophical wax on contextual freedoms of her black body. On "Prayer Song," she describes institutional racism through a corrupt cop's thoughts.
Noname's debut studio album arrived two years after her Telefone mixtape was released to widespread acclaim. While the mixtape was conceived over the course of several years, during which the rapper/poet built up a buzz through appearances on releases by fellow Chicagoans like Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins, Room 25 was recorded in about a month, after Noname had relocated to Los Angeles and embarked on her first headlining tour. She stated that she needed to make an album in order to pay her rent, and that she needed new material to perform, especially since her life had changed so much since she wrote her older songs.
Any record clocking in at under thirty-five minutes could easily resemble a throwaway offering if not assembled with due care. For those that embraced debut album 'Telefone' so feverishly and traced the path of Fatima Warner, also known as Noname, across projects from Chance The Rapper to Tyler The Creator, it should come as little surprise that 'Room 25' packs gorgeous punch after punch, not a second wasted. Once again favouring the live instrumentation that intricately underpins her languorous delivery, the glacial elegance of 'Regal' and infectious funk strut of 'Part Of Me' finds Warner effortlessly flitting between two changes of pace, the latter buoyed by turns from Benjamin Earl Turner and collaborator Phoelix.