Author: Izzi Bavis
Fatimah Nyeema Warner, more commonly known as Noname, brought out the chiller side of Chicago’s rap scene in late July of 2016. Telefone, a ten song, 30-minute album features upwards of ten musicians, six of which are from Chicago along with Noname. Noname, originating as a poet from the South Side of Chicago, uses her background in Slam Poetry to piece together each song. She pays attention to her voice, the lack of her voice, and the rhythmic music put on each track. Noname started her career as a featured artist with fellow Chicago musician Chance the Rapper. The first song she was featured on in 2013 was “Lost” on Chance’s second mixtape, Acid Rap. Noname’s cooling verse echo’s her issues with faith, sex, mental illness, and addiction. “I wanna stop seeing my psychiatrist, She said, “pill pop, baby girl ‘cause I promise you, you tweaked. The empty bottled loneliness, this happiness you seek.” Noname has never been shy about her beliefs or struggles. On another song with Chance titled “Israel (Sparring),” Noname addresses her struggle with faith and homelessness, rapping “A body in the underpass says, where’s my Jesus?” Noname isn’t afraid to question higher powers, God or political figures.
After years of features, 2016 was the year that the people met a more intimate and honest version of Noname. Telefone is a glimpse into Noname’s young adult life and the hardships she deals with. On her opening track, “Yesterday,” she discusses that even though she now has more money, it doesn’t make her happier or a better person. She questions herself, the death of her grandmother (one of her main influencers for her musical career), and what it means to be a successful musician. She alludes to Lauryn Hill’s The Miseducation of Ms. Lauryn Hill by rapping “Everything is everything,” a line that she repeats on two other songs on the album; “All I Need” and “Forever.” This line is even seen in her features on Jamila Woods’ album Heavn and Smino’s album Blkswn. Quoting another black woman who struggled in the limelight further develops Noname’s uncertainty of her rapid rise to fame.
Similar to Chance, Kanye West, and Jamila Woods, Chicago is a big part of Noname’s identity as a young black artist. On the third track of the album titled “Diddy Bop,” Noname raps about her relationship with Chicago. She raps “Summertime, city life, Chi-town, my town.” She is accepting Chicago into her life, the good and the bad. A few lines later she sings “Run, run, run, mama say come home Before the streetlights do” alluding to the fact that Chicago is a beautiful city during the day but as the streetlights turn on Chicago can become unsafe. She ends the song with “Watching my happy block My whole neighborhood hit the Diddy Bop,” meaning that at the end of the day she still loves Chicago and the rich culture that it has on each block of the South Side.
Noname wraps up the album with “Shadow Man” a song with three features: Saba, Smino, and Phoelix. Saba is a close friend of Noname; they traveled together to LA and lived there for a few months, working on and polishing their new albums. “Shadow Man” is a culminating glimpse into Noname’s inner thoughts. She explores death, faith, and her relationships created through her musical career. She raps, “Moses wrote my name in gold and Kanye did the eulogy.” Noname flirts with death and what it would be like at her ideal funeral. She ends the verse with “My funeral a Disney fable ‘cause the king ‘bout to take me home.” Noname is discussing death, God, and pop culture and its influences on her life. She wants God to be her prince that takes her to heaven, she wants to believe that there is more to death than just dying. This conversation with her close friends about death concludes her album and has the imagery of closing doors. Up until recently, one could argue that it was a metaphor for her career, that the Shadow Man killed her artistry. Noname toured around the United States in 2017, stopping in Chicago for two nights in March. Since her 2017 tour, her career was close to stagnant with only a few features since her 2016 release. But alas, the Shadow Man did not kill the beloved Noname. At the Pitchfork Music Festival in Union Park, Chicago, IL, Noname performed a few of her new songs off her new album Room 25, her first new music in two years. On Twitter, she released the eleven song tracklist and wrote in at the bottom, “Featuring the homies” hinting that we may see her friends and neighbors again.
Noname’s Telefone is a landmark for Chicago art and a tribute to Noname’s narrative. Her success and her story aren’t over. Room 25 will provide a new platform for Noname to share her experiences from touring, traveling the world, and continuing to live in Chicago. Noname has claimed her city and Chicago has claimed her. As Noname grows, she will continue to make Chicago and its people proud.