Born Fatimah Warner, Chicago's Noname is more than an artist, a rapper, and a poet. A voice of a disenfranchised generation and an irrefutable wordsmith, Noname pens stinging indictments of political and social wrongs with a rapid-fire sense of urgency. Emerging onto the hip-hop scene in 2016 with the critically-acclaimed debut album Telefone, 2018 marks the long-awaited return of the multi-talented Chicago artist.
Room 25 sees more than Noname simply coming into her own. While only her sophomore album, it feels deserving to be championed as her opus. Informed by her background in spoken word, inspired by Ms. Lauryn Hill, and scored by the varied sights and sounds of Warner's last 25 years on Earth, Room 25 is a uniquely personal yet universal sonic personification of the past and present. From themes of and references to sexual liberty, police brutality, to the reality of being black in America, through it all, one constant remains: Noname's brilliant use of sung and rapped prose. Here are a few of our favorites.
"My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism / In conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus / And y'all still thought a bitch couldn't rap huh"
In contrast to 2016's Telefone, Room 25 can be thought of as Noname's sexual awakening. Comfortable with herself and her sexuality, Noname delivers arguably the best use of personification we have ever side alongside a biting criticism of both America her detractors.
"Keep the hot sauce in her purse and she be real, real blacky / Just like a Hillary Clinton who masqueraded the system"
Referencing the historical stereotyping of black people in popular media with vocal samples from actual blaxploitation films, Noname argues that it's not simply a problem of the past. Criticizing 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton who during an interview claimed that the one essential item she always carried was hot sauce, Noname posits that continued pandering and exploitation continues to this date.
"I seen a cell phone on the dash, could've swore it's a gun / I ain't see a toddler in the back after firing seven shots"
What's more American than apple pie? In this Adam Ness - assisted single, Noname conjectures that amongst heart disease and obesity, police brutality is one thing with a reference to the tragic shooting of Philando Castile.
"You want a nasty bitch, psychiatrist that cook like your mama / And all you got was me-me-me"
One of many sexual references in Room 25, this one sees Noname turning the lens towards an unnamed lover who desires someone who is not only sexually adventurous but willing to deal with a host of emotional problems that may include an Oedipus complex.
"Don't Forget About Me"
"He title email 'Noname thank you for your sweet 'Telefone' / It saves lives" / The secret is I'm actually broken"
Music has been described time and time again as lifesaving, but rarely do we examine the inner turmoil of artists creating such "lifesaving music" until it is often far too late. The simple self-referential line is a poignant moment of vulnerability.
"Africa's never dead, Africa's always dying"
Room 25 examines and deconstructs a number of popularly held beliefs. This one makes us look at how we view developing nations, in particular, that of Africa, which has been portrayed as being constantly in need of "saving."
"And yes and yes, I'm problematic too"
"Montego Bae" musically may be the most apparent outlier on Room 25 outlier, but the Ravyn Lenae - featured track speaks to the Noname of the present. Everyone's favorite PG rapper unabashedly makes open references to falling in love and sex in Jamaica, so apologies in advance if you now deem her as "problematic."
"And frankly I find it funny that Morgan is still acting / Bruce Almighty, Aphrodite and Dominoes"
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, one concern is whether change is actually being effected. Following multiple accusations of misconduct and harassment, in most circles, Morgan Freeman remains a well-respected actor. Noname takes shots at this fact with a reference to both the Greek god of love and a fictional god Freeman notable played.
"Part of Me"
"Let's holler and hoop and my niggas is stupid, my niggas is shooting / Your interpretation of that last bar tell me where you was rooted"
Arguably one of the best lines on "Part of Me" and Room25 comes from Detroit-based rapper Benjamin Earl Turner. Making use of the potential double interpretation of the word "shooting," Turner brings to light the often disparate realities constructed by one's upbringing.
"Shared my life on 'Telefone,' room 25 at 306, and 809 became my home"
The past and the present of Noname consolidated in one simple line.
"No name for people to call small or colonize optimism"
The name "Noname" can be taken at face value. For Warner, it allows a sense of creative expression and freedom that is unrestrained from titles and strict classifications. For the world at large, it allows for a sense of projection. No name can be anything and nothing.