Before I knew of the poet Walt Whitman, there was the wordsmith Lupe Fiasco. Before reading the words of James Baldwin, I heard the rhymes of Nasir Jones. Before my eyes were transfixed on colorful prose, my ears were enamored by the lyricism that could be found in rap music. Rappers taught me the power of imagery, the importance of details, and all the uses of metaphors, similes, and personification that seemed so boring and banal when being read from a book in English class. Not every rapper is a wordsmith, there’s many ways to lay down a good line without the pen of a poet, but I’ve always had a special appreciation for anyone whose rhymes sound as if they were scribbled with a quill.
The first time hearing Chance The Rapper’s “Lost” I was stunned by the closing verse from a woman who was completely unfamiliar. It was more than being barraged by a bunch of impressive punchlines - she could tell a story, bring a character to life, had a prowess for words and imagery that was magnetizing. If Chance is the rapper, Noname Gypsy was the poetess. At the time there was little information surrounding her, not even a real picture as her Twitter avatar, a woman of wonder. The years have brought little to light about Fatimah Warner, who now goes just by Noname. She has been a feature killing mystery, attracting ears and eyes with each verse, creating a yearning to hear her stand alone. The promise of Telefone, her solo debut album, carried the same mysterious mystique as the artist. For three years we listeners have waited, at times full of promise, others full of doubt, never truly knowing what Noname would do next. The wait is finally over, Telefone was released Sunday night, and the heavens rejoiced.
The anxiety of unwrapping a Christmas gift expecting a new Playstation but receiving a big box of socks always creeps into the mind moments before pressing play on an album you’ve waited an eternity for. During the wait you conjured up this hope of what it would sound like, an expectation of greatness, but there’s always a chance that reality will deliver an Auto-Tune drenched nightmare instead of your dream album. With Telefone, that’s not the case. If you’ve been smitten by Noname’s impressive guest verses, you will fall head over heels with an artist who takes you on a 10 song journey that feels like flipping through the diary of a creative writer. Being able to hear her in a space that extends beyond a sweet sixteen, a complete artist is showcased, not just a feature killer. She’s more than just a good rapper, and within this collection of songs you see her as much more. Noname put together a project that was well worth the wait.
The production is impressive, a cohesive listen from start to finish. Going into this project, there’s been a limited amount of solo material released, nothing really indicating a specific sound. The instrumentation full of warm chords and percussion, “Sunny Duet” featuring theMIND isn’t just a title, it’s the embodiment of a song that’s drenched in rays from the big yellow star above. “All I Need” and “Reality Check” are based in the same sonic soundscape. You could easily sink into them like a Lazyboy recliner, an eclectic sound that never loses its lushness. Noname keeps you awake, her voice is soft and sweet like cotton candy, but gives you the fire in your stomach like a shot of Hennessy. When she raps, “Cosby isn’t the God we made him,” on “Freedom Interlude,” it shot through me like a bolt of lightning. The way she strings words together, in what feels like an endless stream-of-consciousness, follow her fluid flow down the rabbit hole. There’s no catchy tricks or eccentric delivery, her lyricism is far more straightforward, an offspring of Jay Electronica’s style with a lot more spunk. Consider the production a big, sturdy Christmas tree, her words are the lights and ornaments.
One of the immediate standouts is “Diddy Bop,” which features Raury and Cam O'bi. It’s a surge of nostalgia as she mentions B2K playing from stereos, K-Swiss, fresh FUBU, and Air Force Ones. An ode to the past that will surely make you miss the days of your young adolescence. “Casket Pretty” is another song that jumped into my ears when she says, “All my niggas are casket pretty, ain’t no one safe in this happy city,” which might be one of the saddest lines I've heard this year. It’s a haunting reality of knowing your friends might not make it home, a late night phone call could be bad news. She articulates throughout her verse the horrors and tolls that death has on us when it occurs so frequently. One of my favorite lines on the entire project is, “Too many babies in suits,” painting a picture of how rugrats are being dressed for funerals before they even get a chance to know what life is. Her perspective, and the way she can articulate such powerful images with such poetic prowess is what will keep bringing people back. “Shadow Man” is incredible, the early favorite. Noname’s verse, Saba’s flow, Smino wanting to play Metro Boomin at his funeral, and not even mentioning the soulful hook, it’s a song that must be experienced over and over again.
There are personal songs like “Forever,” “Yesterday,” and “Reality Check” that reveal more of Noname and help you feel closer to the artist. “Bye Bye Baby” is a song that I’m perplexed by. Genius alludes the song is about an abortion, but I’m not certain. Noname rapped that no one "understands my songs," it’s that misunderstanding of songs and lyrics that makes you want to really listen, and dissect. This is an album that must be listened to, and I’m certain that we all won’t come to the same conclusion on meanings and annotation. That’s the beauty of poetry - how it makes you think about interpretation. Explore the layers of Noname, we’ve waited this long, this isn’t an album to be discarded after one or two plays. Get lost in the words. They're words, that's all they are, words. But words can change lives, give the woman with no name a chance to change yours.
By Yoh, aka No Face Yoh, aka @Yoh31