Since her featured verse on Chance the Rapper’s “Lost” in 2013, the artist formerly known as Noname Gypsy set about creating a full-length offering to complement the hype surrounding her mainstream introduction.
On July 31, Chicago rapper/poet Noname released her long-awaited debut project entitled Telefone.
A product of Chicago’s budding young music scene, Telefone explores a sonic landscape that emanates the new sound of the city.
The heavy Kanye West influence on artists like Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Mick Jenkins, Donnie Trumpet, and Noname herself has boded well for the city with the decline of the ‘Chiraq drill’ sound.
An acute mixture of upbeat and muted airy beats with soulful, jazzy, and gospel undertones carry Noname’s cerebral, multi-layered rhymes and melodic hooks.
On the project’s opener “Yesterday”, the 24-year old addresses her true aspirations and mixes in some social commentary about racist dress codes, as well as police violence—a theme that would reappear multiple times on the project.
A shining highlight on the mixtape is the track “Reality Check”, where Noname speaks on opportunity passing her by and how life’s struggles put things into further perspective. On the track, Noname makes a poignant comment on some rappers’ inability to address racial issues stemming from slavery in their music.
“Granny gon’ turn up in her grave/And say,’ my granny really was a slave for this?’/All your uncompleted similes and pages ripped/You know they whipped us niggas/How you afraid to rap it?”
For the most part, the overarching theme of the project carries the throughline of Noname being aware of her eventual death. In many ways, she chronicles her maturation process knowing that life can end at any minute. This is represented by the skull in the cover art—death is always hanging just over her head.
With Chicago being one of the most crime-ridden cities in America, part of Noname’s preparation for death stems from the amount and frequency that African-American men and women are murdered in her city.
“All of my niggas is casket pretty/Ain’t no one safe in this happy city/I hope you make it home/I hope to God that my tele’ don’t ring,” says Noname on “Casket Pretty”, perhaps the most depressing in the tracklist.
“Forever” lightens the mood slightly and in the second verse we are told that she “sold her name for seven bags of Skittles on Sunny Set Boulevard.”
On the stunningly beautiful closer “Shadow Man”, which features stellar guest verses from Saba and Smino, the three artists go about planning their funerals.
“When I die there’s 27 rappers at my funeral/Moses wrote my name in gold and Kanye did the eulogy/Remember all the bashfulness, understand the truancy,” says Noname confidently, despite the grim subject.
You could say that grim confidence is the overall lesson from the project—ultimately, you just have to live even though we know we’re all dying.
Throughout the relatively speedy 10-song project, Noname establishes herself as a rising star, an artist demanding of your attention going forward.
A unique female voice in hip-hop is sometimes harder to come by than it should be, and it would be easy to say that Noname’s artistry harkens back to someone like Lauryn Hill, but why not to her influencers in Kanye West, Jay Electronica, and Andre 3000?
Along with her peers in Chicago, it seems like Noname is intent on representing her city on the ride to greater fame. If anything, Telefone provides a direct line into what Chicago is all about—it seems that another star has been born in the Windy City, this time without a name.
Listen to Telefone here: