featuring Elton Aura
January 10, 2019 at Royale
Since the turn of the century, Chicago has served as a breeding ground for hip-hop artistry. Most of the rappers who have made it big are male, and up until 2019, Kanye West had been the only one to host a sold-out crowd in Boston. But along with all the forgotten resolutions and freezing nights of the new year, January gave Boston two back to back sold-out performances from Bronzeville lyricist Fatimah Warner, who has been making music under the moniker Noname since 2010.
The first of her two-night visit to the Royale in Chinatown found fans streaming in with their sights equally set on escaping the cold as they were on seeing the up-and-coming emcee. Opening for Noname was Elton Aura, a fresh face from Chicago’s South Side. His set was a warm and charming welcome that can only be described as bedroom soul wrapped in glittering electronic production.
After skipping onstage, Noname opened her set with ‘Self,’ which also served as the opening track on her 2018 album Room 25. The song is as soulful and thoughtful as it is boisterous and braggadocious. Backed by a nearly all-male band, she rapped, “My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism / And y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?”
Noname is bold and unforgiving in her stage presence, proudly showing her newfound power as an artist and her long-held confidence as woman in a field dominated by men. At the same time, she is bubbly and warm, spending the entire night hopping gleefully across the stage. Periodically, she would stop to thank her day one fans and isolate people in the crowd just to give them a warm, personalized smile.
Following a half-hour medley of tracks from Room 25 and her 2016 mixtape Telefone, Noname revealed that she was battling a cold. “But that shit won’t stop me,” she said with a laugh. Without allowing a reaction from the crowd, she jumped right into “Song 31,” her first single from 2019, which premiered only days before she performed on The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon. The song, which is fast-paced and thematically multi-faceted (covering topics from African American representation in television to factory farming), highlighted her backing-band’s abilities. Connor Baker, who was on drums, had a frantic and short-lived but well-received solo, leading right into a soothing and milky vocal solo from her bassist, who goes by Phoelix.
Noname performed over 17 songs in under an hour, but her set felt anything but rushed. After witnessing some of the loudest calls for an encore I have ever heard, she came back on stage to give a powerful rendition of “Shadow Man,” a cut from Telefone that deals with death and mortality growing up on Chicago’s West Side. For an artist that deals with heavy and sometimes political themes, her set delivered brightness to an otherwise bleak night. Instead of making any bold statements or calls to action, Noname let her music and her presence do all the talking.
Photos by Chris Triunfo