If you’re wanting some low-key sustenance, Noname’s most recent release - Room 25 - won’t disappoint. Named after one of the many hotel rooms she called home whilst on her 2-year tour with her first mixtape – Telefone – it is a personal account of her journey from Chicago to globally acclaimed rapper. Tweeting recently that “vulnerability saves lives”, Noname shares her darkest secrets in 11 tracks. She contemplates over sexual discovery and disappointment, political tensions in America and her own wellbeing with her unique and melodic flow, which brings some gentle strength to the hip-hop scene.
It is satisfying to hear how Noname has developed her craft, with each track showcasing her varied styles of expression. Sometimes she speaks dark lullabies, like in tracks Window & Don’t Forget About Me. Both reflect on her search for happiness and whether her closest relationships are built to last, with the latter having the jarring refrain “I hope my Momma don’t forget about me”. She balances out these melancholy muses at other points in the record, bringing witty fire and intricate rhythms in tracks like Blaxploitation and Ace. Noname has the ability to paint comically relevant images with her words, such as the clinching line in Blaxploitation - “maybe I’m an insomni-black” - which is followed by “bad sleep triggered by bad government”, calling out with grace and humour oppressive political systems towards African-Americans.
Her decision to record with the same Chicago players she made and toured Telephone with pays off. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Noname states her preferred style of creating is to be locked in with live instrumentalists rather than writing on top of beats. Because of this, Room 25 feels organic as the band has had years to build a language together when counting the time it took record Telefone. Taking inspiration from leading hip-hop/jazz musicians/producers like Terrace Martin and Robert Glasper, Noname is riding the current neo-soul, jazz-infused wave and doing it well, giving space to her band to reach some mad peaks, like the ending of Regal.
The distinctive sound of Telefone is not lost in Room 25, and is produced by the same talented human – Phoelix – whose sweet vocal tones can be heard on tracks Window & Part of Me. Again, Noname gives so much importance to the features on the record, and brings back her Chicago family who appear on her first mixtape. Some highlights include the celestial vocals of Ravyn Lenae on Montego Bae – a sensual song revolving around an addictive jazzy hook – and Saba’s verse on Ace which rebounds and resonates in all directions. Room 25 is a joy to listen to and some serious food for thought.