Noname · September 14, 2018
If Noname continues to improve incrementally at this pace with every record, she’ll be the best rapper in the game in no time at all.
“Maybe this the album you listen to in your car
When you driving home late at night
Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches
Maybe this is the entrance before you get to the river”
The opening lines of Chicago native Noname’s sophomore LP perfectly encapsulate the artist’s presence: introspective yet humorous, conscious yet relaxed. The 27 year-old rapper, songwriter, and poet has done it again. Coming off of her break-out debut Telefone, Noname is back for her second full-length. Though it uses mostly the same sonic palette as her first, Noname perfects the blueprints for her lyrical style on Room 25.
The above quoted lyrics from the album’s opener ‘Self’ demonstrate Noname’s ability to be mysterious, funny, and reflective at the same time, all the while enveloping you in warm and comforting instrumentals. Noname’s poetic prowess continues on ‘Blaxploitation,’ a track titled for the ’70s film genre of the same name, as she raps, “Write a think piece in the rap song, the new age covenant.” Not only does this line reflect Noname’s style of songwriting (many of the verses on Room 25 are twice as intelligent as your average think piece these days), but it also comments on the rarity of rap with real meaning in 2018, comparing thoughtful rap music to rare artifacts like the arc of the covenant. On top of all this, Noname delivers her think piece on American politics with a clean flow over a funky bassline to show she can do more silky soft backing tracks.
Noname gets even more overtly political on the following track, ‘Prayer Song,’ exploring themes like police brutality, underfunded public services, consumerism, and obesity. Fellow Chicagoan Adam Ness joins her to deliver the hook: “America the great, this grateful dead and life for me / Apple pie on Sunday morning, obesity and heart disease.” In fact, one of the strongest elements of Room 25 are the well placed features from other Chicago based artists. There are the bigger names that you might recognize with soulful vocals from Smino and a sharp verse from Saba (one of the few rappers who can keep up with Noname lyrically in this day and age) on ‘Ace.’ Then there’s frequent Noname collaborator Phoelix who jumps in twice on the album to deliver some of the best buttery smooth vocals you’ll hear this year. And Noname also highlights up and coming Chi-town talent such as the aforementioned Ness and the surprise highlight of the features, Benjamin Earl Turner. Though he might at first come off as a budget Kendrick Lamar, Turner displays a vulnerability all his own with lines like, “The fat boy anorexic ain’t admit ’cause my complexion / Wrist like an Etch-a-Sketch, I’m sculptin’ the pain in ’em like Edmonia Lewis.” Clearly Noname not only writes poetic lyrics, but she can also spot them from a mile away.
Even though the strongest element of Noname’s music is clearly her profound and witty lyricism, the instrumentals don’t get left behind. Cuts like ‘Window’ take a break from the usual jazzy sound to provide us with lush and lavish string arrangements that sound like they could have been taken straight from a 1940s broadway score. And ‘Regal’ washes the listener in magical synth waves that perfectly match Noname’s vibe.
By the time you arrive at the album’s closer, ‘No Name,’ your biggest critique of this album will be that there isn’t more of it. At times poignantly self-aware, and otherwise sharply optimistic, the track sees Noname reflect on the past two years with the wisdom of decades. It’s the perfect way to end Noname’s sophomore project as it both explores her personal motivations for the moniker she’s so widely known as but also gives the listener intimate insight into how her life has changed since the release of her debut. If Noname continues to improve incrementally at this pace with every record, she’ll be the best rapper in the game in no time at all.