Release Date: Jul 31, 2016
Record label: !K7
When she appeared on Chance the Rapper’s ‘Lost’ in 2013, Fatimah Warner - better known as Noname - rapped about loneliness, depression and a psychiatrist’s advice that she should “pill pop” to seek happiness. It was a small window into her world, one where things often seem terribly bleak. On her first mixtape ‘Telefone’, there’s a sweetness that puts rose coloured glasses on top of that darkness.
Noname’s modest, intricate mixtape describes her coming of age experiences with such sweet reverie it makes you nostalgic for a childhood you never actually had. With both Knowles sisters and A Tribe Called Quest examining black identity on their career bests this year, the Chicago star similarly processes life as an African American (on Casket Pretty she imagines being shot by police), rapping about heartache and morality with glitchy electronic-soul as a soundbed. A vintage filter runs throughout; chintzy dinner pianos, the sort of feel-good bass that would score an 80s sitcom.
When Noname (fka Noname Gypsy) raps, she swims in the bleakness of a life that’s seen a lot of death and change. “I used to have a name that look like butterflies and Hennessy/ I’ll trade it up for happiness but joyful don’t remember me,” she remembers matter-of-factly on “Sunny Duet,” from her new project Telefone. But even while reliving heartbreak her voice is soothing—resigned but optimistic, weary but hopeful.
“I thought I was gon’ write a rap/ I thought I was gone,” Noname notes on “Freedom (Interlude)”. Throughout her debut mixtape, Telefone, the Chicago emcee tinkers and toys with verses and rhymes. Her songs echo slam poetry and spoken word without the pretense. Her voice may sometimes sound languid or insouciant, but when she overcomes the darkness, there’s a real playfulness in her language and delivery, stacking and stretching syllables like a kid with wooden alphabet blocks, bouncing words like a middle-schooler’s four-square trick shots.
A Chicago poet whose hopscotch flow has turned up on cuts from Chance the Rapper, Noname floats into her debut on a blast of synthesizer sunshine, but barely a minute has gone by before she's checking Twitter in hopes of finding "something holier than black death." The music is suited to a family barbecue, built around finger snaps, snatches of church organ and Seventies R&B. Noname unfurls thoughts about a life where love and freedom are in the distance and too many friends are "casket-pretty." It's some of the year's most thought-provoking hip-hop. .
While Frank Ocean might have the most awaited album of the week, Chicago rapper/poet Noname has finally delivered her debut project after a long two-year wait. If you’ve heard of Noname, it’s probably because of verses she’s lent to fellow Chicagoans like Chance The Rapper and Saba. Noname’s talent is clear on Telefone. Her rhythm seamlessly blends rap and something that resembles the storytelling and openness of spoken word without the pretense of theatrics.