On the track “Forever” from her debut mixtape Telefone, Noname describes her musical influences saying, “Miss Nina Simone, Jimmy Jones/Missy Elliott musically were my relatives/Never forget my Andre.” When listening to her music one can hear how these artists have certainly contributed to her unique, socially conscious, dreamy, and personal music. Noname, formerly Noname Gypsy, has the distinct ability to make her verses sound like well composed yet unfiltered thoughts. She can go from “Let’s get back to IG/Open the DM I think he like me” to “Bill Cosby ain’t the god we made him/They all forgave him” in the same couple of lines with ease. Her music is extremely relatable because her seemingly unfettered thoughts effortlessly convey emotion.
It would be very easy to fall into the trap of calling Noname the female Chance the Rapper. They both proudly hail from Chicago, they run in very similar musical circles (both have collaborated with the likes of Jamila Woods and Saba among others), not to mention the fact that Noname has been included on every Chance project since Acid Rap. However, Noname herself would take umbrage with that label and for good reason. She has a style all her own, independent of her famous friends. While the positive nature of Chance’s music takes the form of an exuberant gospel sound, Noname’s comes out in darker pensive neo-soul. While Chance sounds like he’s having the time of his life, Noname sounds like she’s still searching for a much smaller, simpler happiness.
Where Noname does find inspiration is a fellow female rapper and hip-hop artist, Lauryn Hill. Hill’s landmark The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill shows up many times in Noname’s work as Noname has taken to using the phrase “everything is everything” in many of her verses. Taken from a song of the same name, the phrase serves to encapsulate the sound that pervades her work, the sound of ideas seamlessly flowing in a deep conversation with oneself.
Noname started out as a spoken word poet in her teens, later transitioning to rapping in 2013, earning a feature on good friend Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap. One of her earliest songs, “Sunday Morning,” has her raging against the system and the complacency of her peers in the only way she knows how, over a bright guitar laden sample. She references to the death of Trayvon Martin and declares “Another mother crying cause another brown boy found/And all you wanna do is smoke weed/And write songs” while the hook declares “Sunday Sunday morning/And my mama love me/And my granny love me/And Moni love me.” She juxtaposes the feeling of outrage she has with the world with the mention of the positive going on in her personal life, a common theme throughout her work.
Her break-out verse came on the mellow “Lost” of Acid Rap. She raps about trying and failing to fill an emptiness with a relationship. As Chance raps, “Lose yourself in my room and find yourself in my grip”, she responds in her verse rapping “F*ck me into open caskets, I wanna die with this/I wanna stop seeing my psychiatrist.” Her simplistic style and honest lyrics stuck with listeners. Later in “Warm Enough,” off Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment’s Surf, she ups the poetic nature of her lyrics. Her rapid, almost stream of consciousness style and ethereal hooks reveal a vulnerability that is essential to her music and highlights her poetic lyricism. Once again rapping about trying to find emotional solace in relationship, she raps, “Solely cover me and you, for you and I/Are blissfully tethered to simple redeeming/When sadness gets worse and we don’t know why”. The lyrics seem to almost spill out of her mouth, reinforcing the sense of honesty found in her unique work.
2016 has been Noname’s biggest year to date. Earlier in the year she dropped a pro-black single with Jamila Woods entitled “VRY BLK.” The single, set to the tune of popular children’s rhymes “Miss Susie” and “Miss Mary Mack,” harkens back to childhood while Woods sings in the chorus “I’m very black, black black/Can’t send me back, back, back/You take my brother, brother, brother/I fight back, back, back.” Noname contrasts her search for happiness with the injustice she’s speaking out against, ending her verse saying, “All I want to do is find love and be happy.”
Noname’s latest project is her long awaited mixtape, Telefone, which was released at the end of July. The mixtape combines and improves upon all of the elements of her previous features. The mixtape has lightness, potency and thoughtfulness that only Noname can achieve. In a big year for Chicago hip-hop artists, Noname stands out for her unique style and fresh approach to the genre and after opening three tour dates for the aforementioned Ms. Lauryn Hill, there’s nowhere to go but up.
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Read the Georgetown Voice’s review of Noname’s debut album Telefone here.