In a year of major releases and haughty postulations by female hip-hop artists, the much ado mantle of the queen of hip-hop has finally found its rightful owner. Artfully ambulating a liminality between spoken word and rapping, while paying little heed to the percussion intended to steer her mesmeric metaphors, the debut album of 26-year old Fatimah Warner, the anonymously monikered noname, is an insistent ode to independence.
Two years removed from her universally applauded mixtape Telefone and five from her standout feature on friend Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, noname’s self-financed, self-released, debut Room 25 is an album born of necessity. Cowed by her economic commitments and the untold investment that comes with the determination to remaining an unfettered artist; Room 25 was an undertaking coerced by the force majeure of financial obligation.
Having left her native Chicago for the first time in 2017 to move to LA, paying rent and supporting her family back home behooved Room 25‘s swift orchestration. After two years of disquieting over her ability to replicate the inspiration that led to Telefone, Room 25 was cut in a matter of mere weeks this summer. For an album apparently born of hesitancy, Room 25 smacks of purposefulness.
Helmed by fellow Chicagoan and multi-instrumentalist producer Phoelix, the enticing album opener “Self” invites listeners into her introspective sphere of social constructs, comfort food and aplomb -“y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?” – while leaving little in the way of uncertainty that her bluster is unwarranted. Noname’s wordplay, deftly assembled over Phoelix’s live orchestration, is soothingly caustic. Delivering dexterous quotables on black trauma, noname’s winsome alignment of syllables are harmonized by a humour rooted in the resilience of the black female condition.
Her honey drip flow bobs effortlessly over Phoelix’s bounce on “Blaxploitation” with flowery furiosity – “when we cool, they cool we die, it’s coon”. Cascading into tired hip-hop cliches with a frenetic billow; she be to rap what sea be to rock. Afrocentricity hasn’t sounded this sweet since Ladybug Mecca was Jettin.
Challenging the mythogensis of America on “Prayer Song” – “I tell Stanley when you grow up you gon’ be just like your dad, a free man in the land of the noose”, noname dulcetly sermonizes on the American civil religion; its cronyism, inequity and inherent prejudice bias. Meanwhile, the chordophone conducted “Window” recall the words and sounds of Jill Scott with a suggestive stream of consciousness and the kind of visceral vulgarity that can only be owed to heartache. Noname’s post virginity sexual exuberance is tempered only by the shattered expectations of a first love and unfailingly delivered with a wistful smile.
Offering more than a nod of the head to D’Angelo on “Don’t Forget About Me”, fellow pastor’s son Phoelix’s gentle salute to the R&B god’s “Really Love” is a pensive reflection on death that could have situated itself sonically on Black Messiah. There are moments on Room 25 where it feels like ?uestlove and Raphael Saadiq were in the studio alongside noname, crashing snares and plucking bass, but this soulful tapestry is the handiwork of noname’s protean musical conduit.
Serene, even when decorating her dismay, the dreamy “Regal” finds noname purring soliloquies, “no more apples or oranges only pickles and pacifists, Twitter ranting for martyrdom unified as capitalists”. By the time she’s ready to bask in her own glory and her belief in the inevitable acclaim her debut will receive on “Ace”, “Room 25 the best album that’s coming out”, we’re already sold on its seminality.
Lauryn Hill’s 1996 paronomasia is currently residing in Room 25. There’s not a wasted syllable or opportunity to jest. The features, mostly drawn from her Chicago circle, only serve to underscore the virtuosity of her musical milieu further. These are the modern day Soulquarians. This is vintage neo-soul and future rap hand in hand; a soulful sanctuary for those turned off by the austerity of mainstream mumble rap. Noname stands front and centre of the movement, existing in the same historical moment as Kendrick Lamar, Toni Morrison and Nina Simone; sincerely engaged with social realities – redefining the contours of rhyme.