Noname-Telefone: Album Review

Noname is a Chicago based rapper who has been slowly amassing a following on the back of her feature verses and singles.  Her association with Chance the Rapper and his whole crew comes through quite clearly in her moody, jazz-induced sound, but where Chance finds prowess in confidence, Noname remains dedicated to introspective subtlety.  On her first full-length mixtape, Noname delivers 10 solid tracks that showcase a lot of potential.  Her flows display a technical prowess with various features and beats allowing for a sense of contrast. Stand-out tracks come here and there with catchy hooks allowing for a lot or replay value.  The album speaks mostly about Noname’s own experiences but she also provides analysis of the state of her community and the rest of the United States.  Perhaps the project could be a bit more expansive and offer more confidence, but it is clear that Noname has created a sound and personality all her own.

“Yesterday” serves as a perfect introduction to the project.  Gospel-tinged keyboard sounds emerge from silence with Noname’s words touching on various topics without delving too deep into any individual subject matter.  The first lines speak about the unfulfilling nature of money, Noname instead electing to dream of her happy grandmother living comfortably: “and I know the money don’t really make me whole…dreams of granny in mansion and happy/The little things I need to save my soul.”  Later Noname suggests that her grandmother has passed away: “Fill the lining in the pine box/my granny fill the time slot.”  The purpose of the song is clearly to pay homage to Noname’s grandmother, however, rather than spending the entire song discussing this woman, Noname alludes to death and nostalgia throughout the song while also playing with somber undertones sonically.  For example, earlier in the song Noname mentions the loss of “Brother Mike,” who was an important community leader to many members of the Chicago hip-hop scene: “Me missing brother Mike, like something heavy.”  This helps to foster cohesion in the lyricism, while avoiding a bluntly stated theme, which adds a bit more complexity to the song.

The first dance-able single comes with “Diddy Bop.”  Noname’s words come at much faster pace over a more pronounced instrumental melody, with Cam O’bi providing the infectious hook.  Again, nostalgia comes into the equation, O’bi remembering childhood moments of growing up and dreaming about changing the world: “This sound like growing out my clothes/With stars in my pocket/dreaming ‘bout making my hood glow.”  “Reality Check” provides fantastic introspection.  Noname wonders about the freedom she has versus the freedom that was not given to her family in past generations due to slavery and feels guilty that she is struggling to put out her rap album: “my granny really was a slave for this/All your uncompleted similes and pages ripped/You know they whipped us niggas/How you afraid to rap it.”  Although Noname’s rap is relatively dark, the chorus contrasts her guilt suggesting that people have power deep inside of them, the struggle is found in releasing this power: “Don’t fear the light/That dwells deep within/You are powerful/Beyond what you imagine/Just let your light glow.”  The song provides an important message for young people.  Even though it is easy to look back to the problems that people (especially black people) faced in the past, there is still validity to the struggle and finding your way artistically is possible if release yourself from your insecurities.

Although the project is quite mellow overall, Noname’s flow helps to push the sound rhythmically.  Oftentimes, rappers who dwell in slower tempos fail to provide any linear movement, resulting in mumbling.  Noname certainly doesn’t overexert her voice, but her lightly articulated words roll off the tongue with ease.  The instrumentals operate in a similar fashion.  Even on the album’s most memorable single, “Diddy Bop,” the drums articulate a quick groove, but remain relatively laid back in terms of volume.  This blissful subtlety helps define Noname’s sound, making for a much different experience than some of the over the top rappers who have been making strides this year.

Initially, I was a bit tuned off by the project sonically and I still think there is a bit of immaturity.  The instrumental pallet is generally very bright which sometimes gives a slightly campy feel to the experience.  For example, the vocal pops at the beginning of “Sunny Duet” come across as excessively bubbly and optimistic.  Perhaps a heavier kick drum or bass line would give the song more impact.  Yet again, this is a unique quality in Noname.  If her music was a bit darker she could end up in the same category as say Kweku Collins or Earl Sweatshirt.

Telefone is certainly a solid project.  Noname has established her style and presented a couple very memorable songs.  Occasionally, the project becomes a bit campy and immature, but I anticipate that Noname’s immaturity will be ironed out as she develops further into her career.

-Donovan Burtan

Noname is a great rapper hope to see a more expansive/mature project in the future but the lyricism is there. 7/10



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