You need to know Noname’s name

The Chicago rapper performed exceptionally at the SAB for too small of an audience


Rapper Noname performed at the Student Activities Building Thursday night. 

Courtesy Flickr

A black female rapper from Chicago performed at the University’s Student Activities Building for the Spring concert last Thursday night under a flickering disco ball and a shifting spectrum of lights. Her name? 

“I’m Noname,” she said after asking the entranced audience, “How y’all doing?” 

Noname was wearing a floral dress and a blue and orange striped sweater — perhaps paying homage to the school — accessorized with a wide grin and a confident walk. Her strut drew the crowd closer to her magnetic being, or more likely, it was her invitation for everyone to scoot in. It was immediately obvious that she’s the real deal. She wanted to sing to a crowd — not to a wide array of floaters — and she was arranging the room to her liking out of a certain authority that comes with being asked to perform at major festivals like Coachella and Pitchfork. It’s fairly significant to witness a performer only five minutes from Alderman Road dormitories who will share a concert with the likes of Beyoncé and then Ms. Lauryn Hill later this year. Noname seems to be at the edge of blowing up the music industry, writing lyrics and creating compositions resembling the sound that’s shaping the future — insatiably upbeat, colorful and, most importantly, politically honest.    

Although her entire aura radiated positivity, Noname hasn’t always experienced a life meriting such an attitude. Her 2016 album “Telefone” has some somber moments that reveal heartbreaking accounts from her life as a modern black woman living in the 21st century. The song “Bye Bye Baby” focuses on an abortion. “Casket Pretty” describes the dark reality of black death and police brutality in her city, and during her Thursday set, she also rapped about the disgusting reality of mass incarnation and reiterated the “Hands up, don’t shoot” slogan of the Black Lives Matter movement. 

The atmosphere was celebratory and alive, and the lights of the disco ball pearled against the average, out-of-place white walls, but there was no denying the resonance of this female rapper’s words in a city still recovering from the white supremacist rallies of last August. While still maintaining this serious tone, Noname continued to dance her way across the stage with one hand raised, hips bopping. She seemed to be floating across the stage in pure euphoria. 

In addition to an inherently political message, Noname’s lyrics often chronicle the hardships of mental illness, addiction and an absence of happiness. After watching her in her element, even in this building that seemed too small and too plain for her excellence, one had to wonder — if this cheerful presence wasn’t happy, what does happy Noname look like? This curious contradiction made her performance even more breathtaking — she spoke of battling so much, yet she presented a warm, kind and contagiously uplifting soul. She forgave the crowd for not being able to keep up with encouraging requests to sing along or sing “ooh” after her part. 

“Y’all kind of got it ...That was such a good try!”

With this excuse for the attendees’ abilities, some of the surrounding students reflected on the strange feeling of owing her for this hour of exceptional entertainment and truth. 

“We don’t deserve her,” first year College student Nan Marsh said confidently, and perhaps she was right. In this age of ubiquitous, mass-produced pop songs speaking of drinking too much and kissing someone not enough, few people appreciate and acknowledge the importance of well-executed, beautiful songs — songs like Noname’s. The concert seemed empty for the immeasurable talent on stage. It wasn’t advertised nearly enough, except for the few posters that went up only days before she performed. It speaks to the discriminatory nature of the music industry, and while female rappers like SZA, Cardi B and Princess Nokia are gaining more and more critical acclaim, rap is still a highly male-dominated, misogynistic industry.

One thing is for sure — Noname belongs up there, speaking her heartbreaking and heartwarming truth. Noname belongs on your 2018 list for artists to watch, and she even just released a single on March 9 entitled “Nikey,” which is worth a thorough and appreciative listen. Noname ended her set Thursday with “Yesterday,” a song about the “little things I need to save my soul.” Let Noname’s music save your soul, and let it do so with an acute awareness of supporting incredibly deserving, black female artists.              

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