“Self,” the opener to Noname’s debut album Room 25, converges warm background vocals, cool piano riffs and candid bars that reflect what makes the album so great. Its myriad musical styles, collaborators and topics comprise a brilliant display of its author’s talent and talent curation. At the center of this beautiful amalgamation of sound lies the endless wisdom, lucidity and wit displayed by the mysteriously charming woman on the mic.
Born Fatimah Warner, Noname formerly went by Noname Gypsy until a 2016 epiphany. She has been bubbling in Chicago’s underground rap scene ever since her show-stealing performance on Chance the Rapper’s “Lost” from his own breakout mixtape Acid Rap. Much like her contemporary Frank Ocean, Warner maintained a low profile for three years, appearing on other rappers’ albums a handful of times, but never putting out any substantive work of her own. The summer of 2016 was her moment in the spotlight — Warner dropped Telefone to universal acclaim from fans and critics alike.
The musical and thematic qualities that made Telefone such a distinctive album compared to the other music borne out of 2016 are again present on Room 25. This year, much like 2016, is seemingly oversaturated by excellent albums, and Room 25 has quickly joined the ranks.
Upon first glance, the tracklist for Room 25 features many names that may be unknown to first-time listeners; however, this deceptively underwhelming supporting cast elevates the album as a whole to unthinkable heights. From fellow Chicago native Saba’s rapid-fire verse on “Ace” to Adam Ness’s ambient chorus on “Prayer Song,” Warner seems to channel Kanye West’s famously excellent use of his featured artists to spotlight her own collaborators in the right places, at the right times and for the perfect amount of time.
Not only does Warner effectively coordinate which of her features belong where on this album, but she also works closely with executive producer and Chicago native Phoelix to create a multifaceted yet airtight vibe through the instrumentals on every song. The frenetic drums on “Prayer Song” provide a perfect backing to Warner’s smooth-yet-anxious vocal delivery. The prominent bassline and guitars on “Part of Me” beautifully add to the infectious hook and Warner’s painfully autobiographical verses.
In an era of rap dominated by aesthetics and shine rather than rawness and vulnerability, Warner continues to prove on Room 25 that she has an uncanny ability to rap in a transparent, conversational manner that brings her from breakout Chicago rapper to powerful contemporary musician living in Los Angeles. It’s all in the lyrics for Warner: the aforementioned showstopping intro “Self” culminates in a stream-of-consciousness verse that immediately makes this album’s vibe apparent. She raps, “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.” In four bars, Warner draws on both personal experience and the thoughts and feelings of the collective conscious of her listeners.
Warner employs her idiosyncratic style throughout the album to full effect. Almost every song sounds like a story and a conversation, applying to the individual and the masses alike. The lines “You title email ‘Noname thank you for your sweet Telefone / It saves lives’ / The secret is I’m actually broken / I tried to raise a healing kneeling at the edge of the ocean” from “Don’t Forget About Me” display Warner’s dissatisfaction with herself despite her large impact on her fans. This striking track features a hook that starts with “I know everyone goes some day / I know my body’s fragile, know it’s made from clay / But if I have to go, I pray my soul is still eternal / And my momma don’t forget about me,” a longing that at once seems both intimate and universal.
The song “Montego Bae” is an absolute standout from an already masterful collection of tracks. Its slow-rolling jazz perfectly complements the angelic vocals courtesy of a ridiculously talented Ravyn Lenae. The beat for this track sounds too good to be true — from its very first notes to its instrumental fadeout, it perfectly captures the jubilant, triumphant feeling of new love. Warner’s single verse on this song is perhaps her most sexually explicit yet; she comes off as tender yet excited and naive, ending the song off with the perfect, “Protection is a wave, wave ’cause we be open too / Jamaica thank you for my baby, I’m in love wit’ you.”
The only glaring flaws on Room 25 are its long interludes; songs like “Prayer” and “no name” either take too long to start or overstay their welcome. This is only a minor issue among the masterful artistry present throughout. This incredible album is one of the best projects to drop in a star-studded 2018, and its immense replay value gives it serious staying power in the sometimes oversaturated music market.
Contact Justin Sidhu at [email protected].
Justin Sidhu covers music. Contact him at [email protected].