Album Review: “Room 25” by Noname

“I kind of talk in scramble think,” Noname muses as she introduces herself and her band at their NPR Tiny Desk Concert recorded in 2017. Fresh-faced, eager and in the middle of her “Telefone” tour, the 26-year-old rapper and poet described her flow, hopeful that audience members could glean some meaning from her complex and seemingly disorganized lyrics. In her new album, “Room 25,” which was released this past month and met with enthusiasm, Noname takes on the tone of an artist who has been through the hardships of tour life and come out the other side wiser and with a greater security in her own worth and talent. “Room 25” is ultimately an exploration and declaration of Noname’s confidence as a maturing artist entering the next chapter of her black womanhood in a racially turbulent America.

Noname was born Fatimah Nyeema Warner in Chicago, Illinois. Raised by her grandparents, she grew up listening to blues musicians like Buddy Guy and Howlin’ Wolf, though later was influenced by the likes of Nina Simone, Andre 3000 and Missy Elliott. As a teenager she spent time in her mother’s bookstore reading the poetry of Toni Morrison and Patricia Smith, and soon began writing poetry and performing at open mics in the Chicago area. She gained recognition after appearing on Chance the Rapper’s track “Lost” in 2013. Three years later, she released her first solo project, “Telefone.”

Warner chose the name “Noname” because it allows her, she said in an interview with The Fader, to “exist without binding myself to labels.” Noname prefers to be uninhibited in her artistic choices and doesn’t like the idea of being boxed into a certain style. This lack of limitation definitely shows, as her instrumentals vary from the funky and bass heavy  “Blaxploitation,” which deals with black fear in America and her struggle with her own culture and pride, to the orchestral “Window” with Phoelix. Her seamless transitions between styles is a testament to her growth as an artist and confidence in experimenting with different sounds. Her lyrics assist in this maturation as she speaks on similar topics highlighted in “Telefone,” but with a new twist. In the first track, “Self,” she sets up the album as an important milestone, vocalizing her thoughts on religion, politics and family but makes sure listeners know that her goal is internal. She raps, “Nah, actually this is for me.” In “Montego Bae” a track with Ravyn Lenae and “Window” with Phoelix, Noname switches to sexy, jazzy sounds and matches her lyrics to it, writing uncharacteristically about a love affair. Before her year on tour, Noname confesses she had never had sex before and experienced a slew of other significant “coming of age” moments. In these tracks she plays around with vulgarity and boastful language but also her vulnerability in the face of love, addressing her ex-lover in “Window,” “So you really don’t think about me? And you really don’t miss me?”

Noname continues her trend of writing on emotional themes from “Telefone,” but what makes this sequel album so meaningful is her personal transformation since then. Her intimate delivery and raw, beautiful instrumentals accentuate her struggle with the self-doubt that her first project’s success was merely chance. Well, she doesn’t have to worry because with hundreds of thousands of listens on Spotify and a rapidly growing fanbase, Noname won’t be going away anytime soon. Unique and earnest vulnerability combined with clever social commentary make Noname incomparable to other rappers of her time. Her remarkable ability to click into her own internal workings and those of the world around her will continue to serve her well as she finds more success.