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Noname - Room 25 (Album Review)

Monday, 17 September 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

You get the impression Noname still doesn't realise how immensely likeable she is – both as an artist and a human. There was much about the Chicago rapper's 2016 mixtape 'Telefone' that was impressive in a conventional sense, whether it was her smooth, jazz-inflected flows, impeccable taste in neo-soul production or ability to create crystal-clear imagery. But what listeners connected with most was her magnetic personality. More specifically, they bought into her compassionate worldview and propensity to derive hope from the bleakest of topics or circumstances.

So, on first listen, it's initially disarming to hear her wrestling with such self-doubt on 'Room 25', officially her debut full length album. She opines over lush strings on Window that “everybody think they know me, don't nobody really know me”, and whispers on Don't Forget About Me that “my body's fragile, know it's made from clay”.

However, her vulnerability doesn't stem from nervous introversion or lack of confidence, as was the case early in her career. If anything, it’s the opposite.

As she wrestles with mortality on the same track, she echoes Kurt Cobain of all people when she reflects that “all I am is everything and nothing at all” before concluding that “all I am is love”.

Repeatedly on 'Room 25', Noname reiterates the idea that self-belief is subversive due to the personal hurdles and institutional obstacles she faces as a young black woman.

At points, she expresses this humorously (“you really thought a bitch can't rap, huh?” on Self), but more often she does so through crafted scenarios and vivid sketches. She's refreshingly blunt about her sexual encounters on Window and the playful bossa nova of Montego Bae. Meanwhile, she depicts inner-city violence in a graphic, almost breathless manner. It's a far cry from the cutesy nostalgia of 'Telefone' cuts like Diddy Bop.

The record does maintain that project's building blocks: jazzy loops, live drums and woozy backing vocals, which are mostly provided by Chicago contemporary Phoelix. But there's a refreshing urgency to a few tracks, particularly at the front of the record. Blaxploitation sees Noname's multisyllabic rhymes collide with rapid percussion and a funky ‘70s bassline, reflecting themes of revolution and black empowerment.

If you could find fault here, it's that her reliance on double time flows and dense rhythmic patterns, though impressive, slightly serve to undermine the lucidity of the messages she tries to convey. This is particularly noticeable on Ace, which also features a misplaced hook from Missouri rapper Smino. This, admittedly, is to do with structure. 'Telefone' used charming pop hooks to anchor tracks but 'Room 25' is more fluid and allows Noname room to showcase her technicality.

That's not to say she's any less endearing or that her content holds less weight. Noname is still imaginative, but she's also grounded and increasingly assured of both her flaws and her talents. The final track, aptly named No Name, illustrates her manifesto as an artist beautifully and unflinchingly as she declares that her “only worldly possession” is life itself. She decries private corporations and closes with: “Don't let it pass you by your life, you life, is your life, baby.” Maybe for Noname, tackling the systemic pressures imposed by a racist and hyper-capitalist system, self-love truly is a radical act.

Noname Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed January 02 2019 - DETROIT Michigan - Majestic Theatre Detroit (USA)
Thu January 03 2019 - TORONTO Ontario - Danforth Music Hall (Canada)
Sat January 05 2019 - BROOKLYN New York - Brooklyn Steel (USA)
Sun January 06 2019 - BROOKLYN New York - Brooklyn Steel (USA)
Fri January 11 2019 - BOSTON Massachusetts - Royale Boston (USA)
Thu January 17 2019 - ORLANDO Florida - Beacham (USA)
Fri January 18 2019 - TAMPA Florida - Ritz Ybor (USA)
Mon January 21 2019 - NASHVILLE Tennessee - Cannery Ballroom (USA)
Wed January 23 2019 - ST LOUIS Missouri - Pageant (USA)
Fri January 25 2019 - MINNEAPOLIS Minnesota - First Avenue (USA)
Sat January 26 2019 - MADISON Wisconsin - Sylvee (USA)
Fri March 15 2019 - OAKLAND California - Fox Theater Oakland (USA)

Click here to compare & buy Noname Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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