In 2016, Chicago-born poet, rapper, songwriter and artist Noname self-released her debut mixtape “Telefone.” The mixtape, which contained ten tracks, displayed an electric intersection of hip hop, jazz rap, and neo soul and was met with critical success and praised for its unique sound.
Prior to releasing “Telefone,” Noname had already started building to build a reputation through multiple features with the likes of Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins. Often described as “laid back” and “poetic,” Noname quickly gained notoriety and recognition after releasing “Telefone.”
“The music is suited to a family barbecue, built around finger snaps, snatches of church organ and Seventies,” wrote Rolling Stone’s Joe Levy in a 2016 album review of “Telefone.”
As of last week, Noname is back again with new music from her first studio released album: “Room 25.”
In her signature style, Noname perfectly marries spoken word with rap and packs soft-spoken and deep cutting emotional messages in songs, such as the fifth track halfway through the 11-track album, “Don’t Forget About Me.”
The song has an element of whispered intimacy that makes the track feel like a secret confession in the night.
“Your family looking like a prayer song, your momma at the table cryin, all her hair gone, feeling fishy finding chemo, smoking seaweed for calm,” sings Noname.
She continues in “Don’t Forget About Me,” reflecting on the mortality and delicacy of life singing in the hook, “know everyone goes someday, I know my body’s fragile, know it’s made from clay, but if I have to go, I pray my soul is still eternal, and my momma don’t forget about me, I pray my momma don’t forget about me.”
It would be disingenuous to review “Room 25” without drawing attention to the recurring themes of Afrocentrism, perhaps most prevalent in the second track on the album, “Blaxploitation,” which is an upbeat and deeply political track. Its name references the “blaxploitation movies” of the mid-1970s. The term “blaxploitation,” which was coined by Junius Griffin, the then president of the Beverly Hills NAACP, refers to a group of films that featured black actors in what is retrospectively viewed as a “transparent” effort to appeal to and capitalize off of black urban audiences.
“Room 25” also contains more lively tracks such as the seventh track, “Montego Bae,” featuring Ravyn Lenae. It’s a more lighthearted and slightly chaotic mix of quiet singing and rap over a smooth jazzy background that has a casual “improve” feel.
Ravyn Lenae opens the song singing the chorus, “I think I really wanna go someday. I wanna fall in love in Montego Bay,” setting the tone of this rather “tongue in cheek” song with the hyperbole of “bay” and “bae.”
Continuing in the spirit of self-aware humor, Noname jokes about her own “problematic” tendencies, getting so sexually explicit in her music singing, “And yes and yes, I’m problematic too, and yes and yes, I lick ’em up, oh yes I really do” right before the track fades out.
In “Room 25,” Noname stays true to the essence of “Telefone” and showcases meaningful growth with expertly paired instrumentals and thoughtful, articulate and, oftentimes, literally understated lyrics on social issues and intimate personal revelations. The album serves the dual purpose of being both smooth “easy listening” and intensely profound. While many people may not have their musical taste buds adjusted for “Room 25,” the mix of contemporary poetry, spoken word, jazz and rap leaves the album up to individual interpretation and appreciation.