Noname is no longer hiding. In fact, she’s left her door open for us to venture into her world. The young Chicago artist and enigma first won hip-hop over in 2013 with a leveling bout of wisdom in the form of her verse on Chance The Rapper’s “Lost” off Acid Rap. We know the story from there: alcoholism and depression kept Telefone out of fans’ hands until 2016 when Noname (born Fatimah Nyeema Warner) graced hip-hop with a tender and meditative formal first project. Two years on, Noname returns with Room 25, a more lavish and textured approach to the spooling poetry that defines Noname’s artistry.
The record opens on an affirming and loving note, with plush and low-pressure lounge jazz ceding the floor to Noname’s tender vocals tinged with a subtle sweetness. “Self” is brief and soothing, and optimistic in all the ways Telefone was not yet ready to be. Within the first minute of the album, we find Noname to be more jeeringly blithe, and as “Self” rolls into the jubilant racket and skip of “Blaxploitation,” we realize that she has spent the last two years falling in love with herself and reveling in that self-created bliss.
With that, Noname flirts with her sexuality more than ever before on this project. The second verse of “Window” alone packs more sexual bravado and admirable candor than all of Noname’s back catalog. As she revealed to The FADER, her acceptance of her sexuality came with an acceptance of her physical self, and as it turns out all prior allusions to sex (“Baby,” “Cherrypie Blues”) were mostly fictitious. The final bars of “Self,” her pussy teaching English classes, promises us a more spirited and roused Fatimah. In many ways, Room 25 captures the youthful joys that Telefone depicted as stolen from her.
The live instrumentation, too, takes the twinkle of Telefone and amplifies it, turning Room 25 into a skittering and jazzy romp. “Montego Bae” is wonderfully blistering and red-faced. Noname raps like a woman possessed by the huff and glee of romance. She is endowed with an exciting level of confidence to match the newfound pep in her soundscapes. “Room 25 the best album that’s coming out,” she raps on “Ace” before slipping into a bar about vegan food that fizzles out only because we hear her crack a smile. “Prayer Song” trades Noname’s gentle lilt for husky, slam poetry deliveries that reveal Noname to be capable of snarling. Across the album, she remains as endearing as ever, but that does not mean Room 25 is without soul or removed from reality.
We have the orchestral whimsy of “Window,” giving way to somber themes of what it means to be Noname, of what it means to appear bare but go unknown. Her chipper delivery and slits of seduction cannot eschew the point that Fatimah still struggles with being understood. For an artist with music as honest as hers, this is a familiar dichotomy to play in, and one that she emphasizes by detailing exchanges of the body. “Windows” breaks down the difference between when a lover has her versus when she has the lover, and what it might mean to own the understanding of another person. In that way, Noname uses Room 25 to probe both herself and her audience. She is inquisitive, but she sounds the furthest from unsure.
Noname is aware of her presence on Room 25. The whisper of “Don’t Forget About Me,” the attention to her soothing tone, and the admittance that she is as broken as the people her music saves anchors her to the listener in a meaningful way. The track plays like a summer night parking lot confessional, the type where hushed words cut through the humidity of summer’s final hours.
When Noname confronts her alcoholism in a whisper, something she’s been battling since old editions of the Telefone cover surfaced on the internet, we cannot help but weep with her. As she murmurs, “Noname almost passed out drinking / The secret is: she really think it saves lives,” our hearts become lead. Her pastel vocals give the desperation of her reality an unthinkable weight; Fatimah just wants to feel better. Wherein “just” is the heaviest word in the English language.
Though Room 25 is more bombastic—by Noname standards—than Telefone, Noname’s healing is not yet complete. “Gave you a taste of my redemption / Now I want my drink back,” she raps on “With You.” Noname is not hiding, but she is in transition, and the demystification of her pain and frustration is a welcome force. When Fatimah herself is not the centerpiece of the track, we have the scathing political pockets on “Prayer Song,” taking the ache of 2016’s “Casket Pretty” and filtering it through the fire of an earned anger. In all ways, Noname has growth, and with that, her ability to weave nuance into her emotions has tripled.
Room 25’s arrival is cosmic. Noname’s music has rightfully earned a reputation for healing. In the wake of Mac Miller’s passing, her gentle and meditative embrace of death (“Don’t Forget About Me”) and mourning to live (“no name”) on this record don’t just play as welcome, they play as imperative to the whole of music. Noname has always interfaced well with death, but on Room 25, she also delivers us to heaven (“Regal”).
The record exudes a natural warmth, heightened by its status as a familial affair. Appearances from Ravyn Lenae, Smino, and Saba, along with incredible production from Phoelix, make the record feel known and inviting. Lenae’s vocal jitters on “Montego Bae” are a delight, and Saba’s verse on “Ace” would make Twista dizzy, but beyond their talents, there’s something to be said for the feeling of being invited to a party and knowing everyone in the room before you arrive.
Room 25 is layered and lush, textured and still tranquil. The pacing of emotions on this record is far more dynamic than Telefone, and where Noname was once delivering clinics in mood, she is now crafting projects that inspire and resolve tension. Indeed, every pivot—how “no name” goes from plucky and lost to a stunning and peaceful piano ballad—on this album illustrates life’s culling ebb and flow. Her music has become all the more true-to-life as she carves 11 stunning songs in the form of peaks and valleys. While Room 25 addresses sorrow, we still hear Noname’s smile carry over from track to track. Her joy is inextinguishable, making Room 25 the album hip-hop needed most.
Three Standout Songs
A layered and explorative track, “Window” finds Noname declaring her sexuality, questioning what it means to be understood, and what it means to be happy. Noname’s delivery is winding and assured, and her urgency underscores just how necessary Room 25 was for her to make.
“Don’t Forget About Me”
Noname’s most gutting track to date, “Don’t Forget About Me” interfaces with mortality and passing in a way only Noname could execute. The song is almost too delicate and precious to approach, but Noname cradles her themes well. Good luck not crying during this one.
Saba, Smino, and Noname on one amped up track. Play this one when all your cousins come over and you finally learn what it means to be one big happy family.
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