A rapper needs a name. How else will we know who is saying all the fly shit? Yet, the newest album, Sundial, by Chicago’s very own nameless rapper, Noname, speaks for itself. With just 11 tracks and a length of under 32 minutes, it contains multitudes. Sundial is as much a work of catharsis as it is a proclamation and a celebration of black joy.
On Sundial, Noname raps like her voice is holding the sky from falling. Love of oneself and one’s community, no matter their failings, is a struggle front and center in Sundial. Noname and the guest artists let the listener know they will fight for what they believe. Sadly, Jay Electronica’s anti-semitic beliefs are abhorrent, as heard in his controversial verse in “Ballons”.
In the opener, “Black Mirror”, she proclaims, “Burnin’ in the rearview while I’m driving with a clear view. As a socialism sister, Am I supposed to feel this different? Like my rent’s paid?” She makes a point to speak directly to those that feel self-righteous. This subject matter is interwoven throughout Sundial with stories of self-love and self-hate. Not surprisingly, Noname’s politics are on full display here.
Sundial‘s greatest strength is how it feels like a gathering of a community – crazy uncle (Jay Electronica) and all – sharing stories and strategies for getting over—no judgments, just learning from one another. There are outstanding performances throughout Sundial. Rapper billy woods in “Gospel?” spews magma, and Chicago legend Common drops a verse on the song “Oblivion” that could have easily fit into his great album Be from 2005. The singer Ayoni adds her voice on two tracks to make Sundial feel like a momentous occasion.
Sundial has been compared to Kendrick Lamar’s Mr. Morales & the Big Steppers, an equally eclectic album with similar subject matter but whose major flaw is its demanding run time. Sundial’s neo-soul production is deeply indebted to the sonic influence of Chicago. It makes for an easier listen, even though its subject matter is as complex and tortured as Lamar’s album. Stand-out tracks are the aforementioned “Gospel?” and “Oblivion”, as well as “Namesake”, produced by SlimWav, a triumphant song whose rolling beat propels Noname as she ridicules her contemporaries and herself. On the same track, she bemoans, “I ain’t fucking with the NFL or Jay Z!” What a way to make powerful enemies.
Twenty years ago, Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces predicted that “the golden age lies ahead”. We have arrived at that golden age. Artists like Noname, Armand Hammer, Open Mike Eagle, Moor Mother, Earl Sweatshirt, Danny Brown, and Quelle Chris, contribute to making the past few years of rap music truly remarkable. They elevate the art of MCing by using words and rhythm to paint verbal pictures that challenge our understanding of the human condition. As Earl Sweatshirt articulated in 2019, “Rap music is slave music. Slave communication was encrypted, spoken in code, so really this is the new version of it.” Telling without encoding will get you caught. So, to find the path depicted, one must learn to see with one’s ears. Noname with Sundial is playing her part by providing a tool for those to see with their ears. It’s cryptic by design, yet it also shuns elitism.
Sundial embraces a community working for a better future. Listen to Sundial if you want to know what time it is and if you want to have a good time. No exploiters of the community are allowed.