By: Drew Allen//
There are few artists as intriguing as Chicago rapper, Noname (fka Noname Gypsy). I’ll never forget the first time I heard her voice: it was a couple of years ago when she was featured on “Lost” by Chance the Rapper. She was adorable and exuberant — but her pain was strikingly apparent. I needed more.
On July 31, 2016, Noname’s debut album Telefone arrived; at last, it was time to hear the story behind the sweet sounding girl in the Chance song. With the help of Saba, Phoelix and Cam O’bi, Noname’s vision was brought to life. The album art really says it all: a young black woman with an enormous symbol of death resting right on top of her head. As enchanting as it is haunting, Telefone is undoubtedly one of the most poignant projects of 2016.
By the end of the opening track, “Yesterday,” Noname goes from feeling like a mystery to a close friend. Her beats are soothing and delicate, and if you listen to the lyrics, you can actually feel your heart start to swell up. Telefone is thirty-three minutes of pure bliss; it is also thirty-three minutes of pure truth. At times it feels as heavy and intimate as reading a person’s diary. It is more than just the way she sometimes wishes she was a kid again and that she’s decided to stop smoking weed. She is learning as she goes: memories are fleeting, nothing is forever, “everything is everything.”
She is forced to think about death more than anyone ever should have to. Noname tells her story gracefully, but that makes it no less heart-wrenching. She is a young, black woman growing up in Chicago, where there have been over 500 homicides in the last nine months alone. She is surrounded by death, but Telefone showcases Noname’s ability to channel her grief into something you can truly feel. “Bye Bye Baby,” is her way of bringing “love to the narrative of abortion,” which she explained to fans on Twitter last month. “Casket Pretty” is an ode to those lost as a result of the police brutality. In “Shadow Man,” she envisions herself at her own funeral. All her favorite rappers are in attendance: “When I die there’s 27 rappers at my funeral/Moses wrote my name in gold and Kanye did the eulogy/Remember all the bashfulness, understand the truancy/Here I stand in front of a college dropout.”
While the content is certainly dark at times, it is not aggressive nor gratuitos. There is beauty in the simplicity and cohesiveness of the project as a whole. In “Sunny Duet,” Noname is humble, playful and reminiscing on the summertime in her neighborhood: “Summertime, delight delight/Mississippi over ice/Janet Jackson and Flashing Lights.” This is another way in which Noname proves herself to be brilliant – sharing her personal memories with us, the kind you can’t make up.
Noname reaches us all through her honesty and vulnerability. She is simply on a journey to be present; aiming to seize the joy in every brief, happy moment life has to offer. This is because Noname is far more than just a rapper; she is a poet and a force. She has a voice that doesn’t demand to be heard, but it is crucial that we all listen.