Since making waves in 2013, we’ve been attempting to maintain some patience in our wait to hear an official debut album from Chicago poet and rapper Fatimah Warner, better known as Noname. The self-released ‘Room 25’ is a showcase of Noname’s undeniable talents as an emcee and wordsmith, prettifying the rapper’s vulnerable essence.
The vulnerability of ‘Room 25’ follows in the footsteps of Noname’s 2016 mixtape ‘Telefone’. Poised and soft-spoken, without feeling gimmicky, the album mixes Noname’s apparent shyness with a genuine hunger for rattling off dismay and discomfort, with the odd political or social dig. See ‘Blaxploitation’, a rare hectic cut which sees Noname take a jab at Hillary Clinton for pandering to black people, while addressing her own guilt at absentmindedly contributing to organisations with anti-LGBT history, whereas Noname herself is completely supportive of the community.
Then there’s ‘Prayer Song’, with its Adam Ness-led chorus of “America the great, this grateful dead and life for me / apple pie on Sunday morning, obesity and heart disease”, taking a bit of a swipe at U.S. stereotypes and self-depreciations. Still, while Noname doesn’t mind lashing out at the ‘bigger problems’, her work is a lot more personal than it is political.
That might be the most exceptional thing about Noname, the fact that she doesn’t need to be overt all the time with her stances – we’re listening to a real person here, one who feels frightened by her own mortality on ‘Don’t Forget About Me’, comparing her body’s fragility to being made of clay, ready to break apart sooner rather than later. Relationships are occasionally looked at, ‘With You’ is affectionately reflective, and album closer ‘No Name’ simply explores how Noname became Noname.
Noname recruits a few startling guest performers, with Ravyn Lenae adding to the sombre, ethnically-built ‘Montego Bae’ with the most wistful vocals heard on ‘Room 25’, and we get a nice look at a few other up-and-comers, including fellow Chance the Rapper collaborator Saba on ‘Ace’.
While lavish and tremendously-arranged in its own right, the ‘Telefone’ continuation vibe definitely flirts with ‘Room 25’ not necessarily reaching its potential as a standalone project. Still, there are a number of beats here you could pick out and admire, the gospel ‘Self’, the fluttery organ track ‘Regal’, the production, handled by Phoelix and Noname herself, is consequential for the most part – although, the abstract/improv-esque percussion of ‘With You’ does feel a little out of place.
Thanks to her earnest performance style, juggled beautifully with some of the sharpest poetry you’ll hear in rap this year, Noname is one of hip hop’s most necessary voices, and ‘Room 25’ is her dampened megaphone.
‘Room 25’ is out now.