DAR Hip Hop: Noname's Telefone & Room 25

By @TrueGodImmortal 

2018 has been an interesting year for music. One wouldn't expect that the best music in hip hop this year would come from Chicago, but it seems that way. While many have pointed to the albums from Nipsey Hussle and Pusha T as the albums of the year, and those are both solid releases, you might be overlooking some of the amazing music that comes from the young Chicago natives Saba and NoName, both of whom are extremely talented artists with a great ear for production and a solid lyrical style. However, in a world where the hip hop landscape is dominated by men, and the popular female artists are essentially the usual cliche, in many ways, NoName is truly a rarity and one of the most engaging artists in music. Her style is abstract in its own right, showcasing her lyrical ability in a singsong style flow that invokes more feelings of Neo-Soul stylings than true hip hop. Regardless, NoName has managed to knock out the other artists at the time and when she released her debut project in 2016, the well received Telefone, the waves of hip hop began moving along with her. Alongside Rapsody, she represents a vulnerable and honest style of music in hip hop that hasn't been seen in such a manner since the days of Lauryn Hill and more recently, Jean Grae. She isn't rugged like Queen Latifah or MC Lyte, she isn't aggressive like Yo-Yo, she isn't built in the image of a Nicki Minaj, Lil' Kim, or Cardi B, and I don't say this to pit these women against each other, if anything, this exists to show that she is a diverse style in a world that already has many artists walking their own paths or the same paths. NoName can't really be boxed into a style, but one would consider her music to be slam poetry meets Neo-Soul meets soulful hip hop, and the truth is, combining these makes for one interesting listen every time. For me, NoName has crafted the best one-two punch of any female artist in modern music, aside from perhaps Erkyah Badu. Today, I wanted to talk about the realities she covers in her first two projects and how she is off to perhaps the best career start for any female rapper in history.

NoName- Telefone

1. Yesterday
2. Sunny Duet
3. Diddy Bop 
4. All I Need
5. Reality Check
6. Freedom Interlude
7. Casket Pretty
8. Forever
9. Bye Bye Baby
10. Shadow Man

I was a little late to this mixtape when speaking of listening to it, but I didn't expect too much when I heard it. I was pleasantly surprised. Admittedly, as someone who isn't a huge fan of Chance The Rapper, I was hesitant to listen to both Saba and NoName (the same could be said for Smino as well), just because I was under the impression that their music was in the same style as his. While there is some truth to that in a way, the distinct sound in NoName's music and how she delivers her verses and words are what make her standout completely over the other artists in her field. With her vulnerable lyricism, her knack for her slam poetry style flow, and an ear for some amazing production, she delivers an album/mixtape that is one of the best works of 2016. Starting off the project with the excellent "Yesterday", NoName allows you to enter her world and her space to see what rests within her mind and soul. There is pain within her music and it may get lost within her breezy flow, but when you listen to it a few times, the depth of her words begin to permeate your ears more and more. "Yesterday" however is a slight departure from the breeze flow and the opening verse is delivered with a clarity that commands attention.

"Who am I? Gypsy rap/ 
Gypsy need her dollar back/
And all of that, my devil is only closer when I call him back/
Liquor in a limelight/
Look her in the limelight/
With fine wine and ecstasy/
You can have the rest of me/
Basket case silhouette/
Cigarette, internet/
Check my twitter page for something holier than black death/
Who am I? Gypsy black, the vacancy of hallelu/
Me hollow in my interviews/
Me only wearing tennis shoes/ 
To clubs with dress codes, cause fuck they clubs, everything is everything, me Noname/
You niggas doing cocaine/
Me missing brother Mike, like something heavy/
Me heart just wasn't ready/
I wish I was a kid again"

After the excellent opener, NoName continues with the soulful "Sunny Duet", which is a beautiful track that features that signature singsong flow as well as solid background and hook vocals. This song is one of the smoothest on the project, but for many, it is the collab with Raury and Cam O'bi titled "Diddy Bop" that brought a lot of attention to the project. The track has some smooth production from Phoelix, who is a big piece of the Chicago movement musically, as the producer who crafts these amazing instrumentals. Following that track, you get the very mellow "All I Need", with Xavier Omar featured, and this is more of a soulful collab than the usual thanks to the beautiful production from Saba. Saba and NoName seem to have some excellent chemistry and this is yet another example of how well they work together. However, the album reaches what I feel is the apex at the halfway point on the standout track "Reality Check", which showcases so many different sides of NoName in her verses. She is liberating, quirky, honest, vulnerable, hopeful, sad, and more while backed by the beautiful hook from songstress Eryn Allen Kane and a bridge from Akenya. Her first verse is the most intriguing of the song and embodies everything just referenced.

"Opportunity knockin', a nigga was out for coffee/
Inadequate like my window, the Grammys is way too lofty/
And I could stay here forever, I could die here/
I don't have to try here/
Can I get my two sugars please?/
Jesus made an album, I'm still waiting in the line for cream/
She dream in techni-color, live black and white/
Opportunity knockin', a nigga just got her nails done/
Skeletons in my closet gon' open the door when Yale come/
They ain't gonna wanna see my silhouette rap/
He's fucking cognac/
My smile in all black/
Mississippi vagabond; Granny gon' turn up in her grave/
And say, my granny really was a slave for this/
All your uncompleted similes and pages ripped/
You know they whipped us niggas, how you afraid to rap it?/
You went to heaven after so we could free them now/
Ain't no ocean floor when you can be a Yeezus now/"

After this highlight, NoName continues her flawless execution on "Freedom Interlude" and the very bleak yet honest "Casket Pretty". These are two standout songs as well, which really drives home how well she makes this music and executes her projects. 7 songs into the project and there isn't a single weak track or a song that needs to be skipped. She keeps most of the songs brief for the most part with the "Freedom Interlude" barely surpassing the 3 minute mark and "Casket Pretty" just missing the 2 minute mark and it works for her. Of course, after these two songs, she once again delivers another timeless gem with "Forever", another top tier highlight on the project. The hook is extremely infectious, which is one of the best things about NoName's music is that it is truly infectious and requires repeats and repeats to really appreciate the music. The second to last song, "Bye Bye Baby" is probably the song I play the least on the album, and yet it is one of the best lyrical displays from NoName on the album, which basically paints the picture of how amazing this work is. NoName delivers time and time again on the project and 9 songs in, she has no weak link here. Certainly, the last song would somehow miss the mark or pale in comparison to the others, right? Wrong. Very wrong. She almost saves the best for last.

The final song is a huge highlight and honestly the perfect way to end the project. The song is titled "Shadow Man" and it features Saba and Smino and producer Phoelix, and it is honestly yet another example of the chemistry these artists all have together. That chemistry would continue yet again on her next album, which we will get to in a few moments. Ending the album with "Shadow Man" was a perfect way to finish off what is a near perfect project, and while many are still sleep on NoName due to the nature of her style, Telefone really should wake up any detractors or doubters because there aren't too many artists period in today's music world that has a project that rivals it.

NoName- Room 25

1. Self
2. Blaxploitation 
3. Prayer Song
4. Window
5. Don't Forget About Me
6. Regal
7. Montego Bay
8. Ace
9. Part Of Me
10. With You 
11. NoName

So, many artists who follow up a well received project have a case of the sophomore jinx, but for NoName, her official debut album was necessary, due to what was considered a financial obligation. She spoke about needing to pay rent, but she self financed and released this album, and you can listen to it right now. I had the pleasure of hearing the album 48 hours before the official release, and in the last two days, I've honestly listened to this album in full about 5 times and ran back my favorite songs about 10 times so far. With the release of Room 25, she makes her official debut, but has her second official release and in many ways, this project is better than Telefone, yet it isn't. This is why I feel that she has the best one-two punch in female hip hop ever. These projects stand by themselves as two separate entities, but they have two different purposes and meanings. The woman who made Telefone didn't possess such a maturity and was still apparently a virgin, but the woman who is on Room 25 seems more sure of herself and unsure of herself in the same breath, which is a different element than her previous work seemed to possess.

Seemingly more self-aware and honest, NoName starts the album off with a solid opener on "Self", which has her almost angrily quipping "ya'll really thought a bitch couldn't rap huh?", which seems to answer back to criticism from Telefone by a select few. She follows up that track with the interesting "Blaxploitation", which is not necessarily my favorite song on the album, and is probably the song I've listened to the least between the two projects she released, but maybe it'll grow on me more. It's a very good song and NoName delivers some very interesting lyrics, and the vocals in the hook provide a beautiful sound. Two songs in, NoName marks her return (or debut depending on how you see it) with a nice two song introduction, but from here, the album goes on a journey that is almost unbelievable musically. Starting with the amazing "Prayer Song" featuring a beautiful hook from Adam Ness, NoName delivers some of her best verses, with the first verse being the true highlight of the song.

"If you wanna help me then kiss me and fuck me later/
Gentrify all my people, there's heaviness on the table/
If you wanna help me to put me inside the cusp/
Put the cigarette inside my back/
Keep the hospitals over run-run-run, run chicken little/
How my city gonna run off shits and giggles?/
Politicians overzealous with the ishkabibbles and incidentals/
They crashed the rental with God and temple, and bible/
Don't nobody got no holy, everybody got an iPhone/
If you wanna help me then kiss me and fuck me/
Good-good-good tonight/ Inglewood tonight/
LA be bright but still a dark city/
So come get your happy and your new titties/
Go find your doctor, you can get Kimmy/
Sorta how we used to love you/"

NoName has a scatterbrained rhyme style that requires you to pay attention and you may need a few listens before you grasp the depth of her words, but she says a lot in these verses. "Prayer Song" was a great listen and I've listened to it about 6 or 7 times since I obtained the album, but I'm sure I will appreciate the song even more as time passes, as the same was true for Telefone. While the Phoelix featured "Window" features a bit of comedic lyricism from NoName, the song itself is almost orchestral in execution with the hook and the production blending together so perfectly and NoName manages to provide some solid lyricism as well. She sounds more comfortable on this album, and this song is where that comfort begins to really set in. She seems to find herself in a slightly somber and vulnerable mode, when we arrive at the extremely D'Angelo inspired "Don't Forget About Me", a top 3 song on this album IMO. The production invokes vibes from D'Angelo's Voodoo, as NoName employs an almost whisper like flow to speak of her pain and her struggle. The second verse talks about the concept of plastic surgery, taking pills, and showcases a dark reality for many. The first verse however is her shining achievement on this song, as it sets the tone for the second half of the album.

"Your family looking like a prison/
Your momma at the table cryin
All her hair gone/
Feeling fishy, finding Chemo
Smoking seaweed for calm/
These Disney movies too close/
He title emo Noname thank you for your sweet Telefone/
It saves lives, the secret is I'm actually broken/
I tried to raise a healer kneeling at the edge of the ocean/
Somebody, somebody said it saves lives/
Who holds my hand at night? I think the glass half full/
Who brought me back to/ Inglewood, I shouldn't bleed this good Holy conundrum/
I'ma pray to hope the bank account wishin' both of my loved ones/
Tell ‘em Noname still don’t got no money/
Tell 'em Noname almost passed out drinking/
Secret is, she really think it saves lives/
Somebody hit D'Angelo, I think I need him on this one/
Brothers and sisters, mommas, cousins, uncles, everyone/
Missing somebody, dancing daylight"

"Regal" is the next song and it is more of a musical experience than an actual song as the production carries the track backed by some solid NoName vocals. It feels almost like an interlude, but it is a beautiful interlude if so. However, the Ravyn Lenae featured "Montego Bay" is one of the smoothest highlights on the album, boasting an epic production and some infectious vocals. I've listened to the song a few times, and I honestly think it could be a slightly big single if she decides to go with that and make a video. The same could be said for the next song, the Smino and Saba featured "Ace", which seems to be the crowd favorite on the album, and the song is special on this project. It begins what I like to consider the best three song run on the entire album and perhaps the best three song run of NoName's career. Smino and Saba do their job and assist NoName, as Saba nearly steals the show with her verse, but NoName holds her own with perhaps her best verse on the entire album here.

"Smino Grigio, Noname, and Saba the best rappers/
And radio niggas sound like they wearing adult diapers/
And globalization scary and fuckin is fantastic/
And frankly I find it funny that Morgan is still acting/
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 nigga is hella pleased/ and I bought me a better pencil/
Bitch she ain't about 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 niggas 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/"

After this track, we arrive at my favorite song on this album, the booming "Part Of Me". With features from Phoelix and Benjamin Earl Turner, NoName delivers what I think is the best work on this album and possibly her career. The song is almost subdued production wise compared to the other songs on this album and in her catalog, but it's something about the hook, the execution, and the clarity of her verses that makes this so beautiful to listen to. The hook has some powerful lyrics in it, with the opening line providing the most clarity with "I have to focus on the part of me that I'm trying to feed", but this is the one time where NoName slightly gets upstaged on her own song, as Benjamin Earl Turner has the best verse on the song, which says a lot. NoName is excellent here, Phoelix is excellent here, and of course Benjamin Earl Turner is excellent here as well, making this song an instant classic. The last two songs on this album are truly special and end the album off nearly perfect. "With You" is a breezy and smooth track with some beautiful accompanying vocals (that are uncredited on the tracklist, but one can suspect it's either Eryn Allen Kane or Akenya) and some solid lyricism. When she says "somebody hold me like I'm almost enough", there is a feeling of vulnerability and honesty that shines through. The last song is a self titled track with Yaw and Adam Ness that takes a while to reach the verse, but the production is luxurious enough to keep you tuned in the entire time. When her verse does start, it's a magical verse that only leaves the listener wanting more from her, which might be the point.

"No name for people to call small or colonize optimism/
No name for inmate registries that they put me in prison/
I sewed the answers in linen/
Dance em' under the thread/
Pretend I'm riding in your cities when niggas scared of the feds/
There's a ghost on my bike, city lay with a bullet/
He wrote the scriptures for living in all the ways that he couldn't/
Gave up the profit for pennies
No taste in mystery pudding/
When labels ask me to sign, so my name don't exist/
So many names don't exist/
Welcome to Inglewood, and the trauma came with the rent/
Only worldly possession I have is life/
Only room that I died in was 25/ What's an eye for eye when niggas dont love you back/
And medicine's overtaxed
No name look like you/
No name for private corporations to send emails to/
Cause when we walk into heaven
Nobody's name gon exist/
Just boundless movement for joy, nakedness radiates"

It is that vividness, that clarity, that honesty, and her ability to pick so many amazing complementary artists to feature and great production that makes NoName perhaps the best female artist today. While I would give a slight edge to Rapsody, I still can't help but think NoName is the 1B to Rapsody's 1A and she has a higher upside with her ear for production. Still, her back to back projects with Telefone and Room 25 are an amazing beginning for an artist who honestly feels like she is just getting started amidst struggling with what comes with newfound fame and everything else in between. Will NoName rise even higher with this Room 25 album? There is no question she should, but even if the numbers don't reflect what her talent really is, those who know, know and will be gladly listening for what she has to come in the future.



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