Hailing from the same Chicago music scene as other prominent artists such as Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and Saba, Noname shines with an album that may be the best of all. Initially known for her verses on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap and her own mixtape Telefone, which has gained a cult following, Room 25 shows Noname cementing her name among some of the best lyricists in rap music today.
“Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?” Noname spits on “Self,” the opening track for the album, before reminding us that she’s at the top of her game. Tracks like “Montego Bae” hammer this point home as she flows with a cadence that seems to duel the drum beat of her track. Even more unique than her flow throughout the album is her ability to craft narratives. In her debut mixtape Telefone, Noname used this strength to tell stories of everyone around her in Chicago, often at the expense of the listener actually getting to know Noname. This all changes in Room 25; Noname’s storytelling is as good as ever, only now she’s using it with a newfound confidence to tell us all about herself.
This new self confidence doesn’t come out of nowhere — in an interview with The Fader, Noname explains that in the two years since Telefone, she has gone on her first headlining tour, moved to Los Angeles and had sex for the first time at the age of 25. This shows up throughout the album, as Noname gets personal for the first time, often rapping about sex through lyrics such as “The sacrifice for my hoes, I’m gonna rob the church for the steeple / I bought you Game 5 tickets, made my pussy the sequel,” or her own struggles with alcoholism that delayed the release of her first mixtape by almost two years.
Noname’s lyricism shines most on tracks such as “Blaxploitation,” a song that sees Noname get political for the first time in the album. Lyrics like “Put a think piece in a rap song, the new age covenant / If you really think I’m cooking crack, then pass me the oven mitts” showcase a powerful self-awareness combined with a unique storytelling ability, a hallmark of any Noname song. The fact that she manages to succeed at rapping through political lense without coming off as though she’s lecturing her audience is an achievement in its own right.
While Room 25 is packed full of personal lyrics and worldly observations, it’s also full of witty moments that will have you laughing on your first listen. Part of this is her personality; in an interview with The Fader, Noname admits that she’d much rather hang out with comedians and get “drunk in the back of a shitty comedy club” than hang around rappers. This sense of humor is most apparent on the opening track, “Self,” in which she raps “Maybe this the album you listen to in your car when you driving home late at night / Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches.”
The standout track of this project is “Ace,” a soulful song about Noname’s move to Los Angeles and her decision to stay musically independent. R&B singer Smino lays down a perfect chorus before Noname raps harder than on any song on the album. Saba complements this with one of the best guest verses of the year, fresh off the heels of his own album Care For Me with a show-stealing double time flow. All three combine to create a song that should be the highlight of any end of summer playlist.
For every bar that Noname impresses us with lyrically, the production takes it one step further. With a style that producer Phoelix describes as “moving like water,” Room 25 is recorded with live instrumentation, creating a lush, human atmosphere that compliments Noname’s rumination and storytelling. At times it’s hard to tell which is more impressive, Noname’s rapping or the production behind her, but the two manage to seamlessly weave together and create a nearly flawless product. Most impressive is the work of drummer Luke Titus, whose drum tracks throughout the album are among the best and most unique of any hip hop project this year. It’s also important to note that this album was released independent of a record label, meaning that Noname had to foot the bill entirely for the live orchestras and instrumentation throughout.
Two years after her debut mixtape Telefone, Room 25 has Noname at an introspective peak, sailing over jazz melodies to create another cult classic that should be in the discussion for album of the year, reminding us that a bitch can, in fact, rap.
Daniel Moran is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. He can be reached at [email protected]