Despite originally being billed for release this time last summer, this past July saw the release of the latest project from one of Chicago’s many talents, Noname. FKA Noname Gypsy AKA Fatimah Warner. The project spans just over 30 minutes, but has managed to fit in a lifetime of experience, wisdom and pain and has resulted in an articulate and captivating and soulful body of work.
I would be lying if I said my music knowledge on Noname was extensive before having heard this EP and done a little research – I’m sad to say I’m late to the party! Telefone shows her talents to be more than just the feature artist we may have known, having previously heard her on collaborations with Chicago’s hottest artist right now Chance The Rappe, and foregrounds Noname as a creative curiosity, who we can’t wait to hear more from!
Initially drawn in by a flow that bounces between spoken word/poetry, rap and singing, we can only help but see a nod to Lauryn Hill’s seminal Miseducation album – and the lyric “everything is everything” echoes throughout the album a number of times (and in her feature on Chance’s “Finish Line”).
Without even listening to the lyrics too closely, there is something about her voice that just sounds legit. Despite sounding spontaneous and natural, it is clear that Noname has mastered the use of her voice: inflections in all the right places and her colloquial alteration of the tempo, rhythm and pitch at which she delivers her words, all work together to produce something seemingly effortless and natural.
It’s not surprising, since Warner has been cutting her teeth performing slam poetry since 2010. We can’t really argue about her ability to craft wicked puns and re-tell her own mesmerising narratives, giving us great insight into her own personal life and thoughts, her past and her experience living in the city of Chicago.
A sense of self awareness is pervasive in her lyrics; it’s like she has always been constantly perceptive and receptive to her surroundings and this makes her stories so intriguing and great to listen to. “Freedom Interlude” opens up with “I thought I was gon’ write a rap” which sets a tone of performativity; Warner knows she is telling us a story. Her story. And listening is about the only thing we can do once she starts!
The ability to construct a listenable narrative around beats that juxtapose airy piano chords, xylophones and floaty harp-like synths with disjointed clicks and clacks is something Warner has mastered and really gone to town on, with this release. This catchy experimentalism is what really sets this album apart from Noname’s contemporaries in hip-hop and has given her an edge and unique style. This style is typified on tracks like “Forever” and “Sunny Duet” where layered vocals and doo-wops (no hooligans!) have us nodding our heads in appreciation and singing along where we can!
Listening closer to the lyrics in the songs, they are deeply personal, telling us of those things Warner used to think and dream about and the things she experiences at present. What is very interesting is the insight into life living and growing up in the dangerous and violence ridden city that is Chicago.
“Casket Pretty” does this well. Even the title has us curious – how can such a sweet, honey drenched beat host such pensive, melancholic lyrics “All of my ni**as is casket pretty, aint no-one safe in this happy city… I hope he make it home” speaks of how uncertain it can be for someone to be out at night and make it home in one piece and “too many babies in suits” doesn’t sound like anything significant on first listen.
But Noname appears to be referring to the amount of young children who have had to attend funerals for parents and older family members who have suffered at the hands of violence in what still remains a sentimentally “happy city” to Noname – after all, it is her home town and don’t we all have a soft spot for our own, no matter how many problems they might have!
This is a beautiful album and will continue to take us soulfully through the end of the summer and into the autumn. Despite the general overtones of sadness and melancholy, Noname does not urge us to wallow in this sorrow, but rather to overcome it and make something beautiful of these hard times like she has.
Despondency might be a major element of this album, but strength, power and hope are also present. Telefone proposes we embrace those hardships and struggles we have been through, since that’s what makes us who we are. And we might not be as articulate, but we all have our own story to tell…
Words by Mica Anthony