‘Room 25’ is packed with smooth soul and jazzy finesse

Noname’s debut album lives up to the hype

ae-noname-CourtesyWikimediaCommons

Since Noname's performance at the SAB last spring, the unique hip-hop artist has released "Room 25," an impressive first album.

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“I know I want to get my songs on iTunes, then see the world // then write new music that feeds the world.”

Back before “Room 25,” before her debut mixtape “Telefone,” before the Chance the Rapper features, back when she was still going by Noname Gypsy and rolling to open mic nights on the south side of Chicago — back in 2012, Fatimah Nyeema Warner made these promises on “Paradise,” a heated reflection on the current state of her life in the city. While “Paradise” would never make it further than YouTube, the sentiments she spoke about would carry on, echoing along her path from local poet to one of the most respected names in the Chicago hip-hop scene.

Ever since Noname first began drawing serious attention when she featured on the track “Lost” from Chance the Rapper’s “Acid Rap” mixtape, she would draw praise for the wholly unique way she performs. First introduced to vocal performance through slam poetry and eventually picking up rap freestyling, her flow has become a seamless fusion of densely written poetic verses focused through a lens of contemporary hip hop. This diverse background of vocal influences helps ensure that Noname’s flows are never predictable, constantly switching up speed and pause patterns, with “Room 25” being no exception.

On “Blaxploitation,” a hastily picked bassline and skittering percussion urge Noname to spit with fervent energy, verses blurring with steady speed into a continuous stream of thought yet remaining completely composed. A severe flow that fits the trying subject matter of the track, which details both the cultural expectations placed on Noname as a black woman and the means by which America leeches from black culture while allowing black communities to suffer systemic abuse. 

Though the album does turn its focus on wider societal issues, Noname doesn’t shy away from putting her more introspective thoughts and writing at center stage. On “Window,” she recounts the listless feeling she experienced after a troubled end to a serious relationship, balanced with a burgeoning desire to get out and learn more about herself. Looking backwards, she bluntly states that “Ain't nobody around, ask away like I'm empty / Empathy was empathy only when you was into me.” Yet these sour memories are washed away by a yearning string section in the instrumental, paired with a hook from guest vocalist Phoelix that soulfully urges her to, “Quit looking out the window, go find yourself … don't doubt your wealth.”

However, Phoelix certainly isn’t the only stand out performer featured on “Room 25”. On “Ace” a subtle bassline and cooing a cappella samples meld into an instrumental jungle gym for guest rappers Saba and Smino to flex their lyrical muscle. Beginning with a smoothly delivered, slower-paced intro by Smino, Noname takes the reins and begins gradually amping up the tempo of her delivery before quick transitioning into a verse by Saba exploding with rapid-fire bars and blurred syllables. The trio is able to create such a natural gradient of rhythm with their consecutive delivery that it pulls the listener deeper and deeper into the groove of the song without ever needing a break or switch from the comparatively laid-back instrumental. The end result is an infectiously fun cut with performances so cohesive it’s hard to believe Saba and Smino are guests on the album at all.

Truthfully, “Room 25” is an incredible upward progression from the already phenomenal art Noname had created on “Telefone.” From her societally conscious songwriting to her warmly empowered flow, the chance to see the world is opening up to her, and “Room 25” is a pretty fantastic way to start the journey.

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