Critical Voices: Noname, Room 25

September 26, 2018

After a summer of Cardi-B and Nicki Minaj, Noname has returned to reinstate herself as the queen of honesty and Hip-Hop.  Early on Sept. 14, Noname released her highly anticipated second studio album, Room 25. After over two years since the release of Telefone, we are blessed with a self-reflective and mature project that refines and defines Noname’s style. She seems to sit back in the driver’s seat and steer her album in a more poignant and instrumental direction. Though it is unlikely that these songs will be blasting at your local club, Room 25 is here to stay.

The combination of jazz influences and orchestral melodies on Room 25 make this album about more than just rap. With help from her good friend and producer Phoelix, Noname is able to maintain her unique sound as Luke Titus and Brian Sanborn bring their jazz-inspired talents on drums and guitar. Matt Jones also helps transform the song “Don’t Forget About Me” with a swelling string arrangement that gifts it the extra emotion usually found in movie soundtracks.  These luscious lofi beats never overwhelm the listener, but rather smoothly support Noname’s relaxed and casual delivery.

Noname has never rapped in your face, but Room 25 sounds like a lullaby at times. On the song “Montego Bae,” she whispers “Protection is a wave, wave ’cause we be open too/Jamaica thank you for my baby, I’m in love wit’ you.” Noname told The Fader in 2016 that she draws inspiration from the fact that her mother owned a bookstore. Though she didn’t love reading at first, she eventually orbited towards poets and writers like Toni Morrison, Nina Simone, and Patricia Smith, eventually finding success in spoken word. That background shines through on Room 25 as she fills the tracks with alliteration, twisting sentences, and calming flow, exemplified on “Part of Me” where she raps, “Riddle me this, Mona Lisa piece of pepperoni/Smilin’ over phony speakers, gettin’ a fit.”

Familiar names join Noname on the album,  including Saba, Smino, Ravyn Lenae. These artists are fellow Chicago based individuals who Noname has collaborated with in the past. Smino and Saba specifically are two Windy City rappers who unleash their talent on the song “Ace,” with Saba rapping “A dollar and a dream like I’m Jermaine in the Ville/You stand up or fall, pray, shout out to NFL.” Noname has also worked with other local rappers such as Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins, both of whom featured her on their latest projects.

Questioning everything in society from Chick-Fil-A to love, Noname hits every issue in the headlines with her lyrics. Georgetown students might understand Noname a little too well as she preaches “Eating Chick-Fil-A in the shadows, that taste like hypocrite/Mmm, yummy tasty, mmm, mmm, yummy tasty” on the track “Blaxploitation.” On a more serious note, pushing boundaries to challenge racism and sexism has become the norm for Noname, and she continues to speak out throughout her album, especially on the song “Self.” “Self” spills hints at Noname’s inspiration for the album. She emphasizes her experiences with sexism and calls out society, speaking “Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh?/Maybe this your answer for that.”  Her outstanding ability to weave tapestries of stereotypes and oppression seems to be on par with greats like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole.

Noname has gifted the world with a confident and strong work of art that will definitely be playing from my speakers and headphones a lot in the near future. Take a listen, maybe two, maybe twenty, to this soulful and spiritual album. Room 25 is a complete and honest riddle that takes one on a 34-minute journey through the life of a mastermind of modern rap.

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