Expectation: Chicago rapper Noname (formerly Noname Gypsy) burst into prominence 3 years ago via her guest verse on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, but only this year has she finally released a solo project. Known for her distinct, melancholic, spoken-word delivery, Noname has always seemed to be more poet than rapper, but nevertheless appeared on several songs with other Chicago artists. While there was some doubt over whether she would ever release Telefone, it finally dropped this summer, and it was everything her fans had been waiting for.
- Yesterday – Despite the quick, almost frantic drum beat, this track is wonderfully peaceful. The keyboards provide flourishes to the groove without ditracting from it, and Noname flows so effortlessly that one could almost believe the beat is following her.
- Sunny Duet – Several tracks on this project demonstrate the power of placing a sound slightly behind the beat, an idea that has appeared sporadically in hip hop since J Dilla and the Soulquarians filled several classic albums with it. The effect of the slight desync is immense, and the entire song seems to breathe with a rare life.
- Diddy Bop – Raury is a perfect choice for a guest verse here. Noname still owns the song, but there are few rappers alive today who could match her on these types of beats.
- All I Need – When Noname wakes up, her flow is a thing to behold. The contrast between her lazy, spoken delivery and the sharp rapping on this track is sharp and distinct, but the overall mood of the track flows perfectly with the rest of the project.
- Reality Check – One of the best tracks lyrically on the entire project, delivered in a quick but smooth cadence. Also, I don’t know what instrument the melody is played on, but its absolutely perfect for the tone of the song.
- Freedom (Interlude) – My favorite track; absolutely gorgeous. Noname is uncertain of herself, but she certainly shouldn’t be, as her mastery of imagery and stream-of-consciousness lyrics are incredible, and it fits over one of the most unique instrumentals on the entire project, too.
- Casket Pretty – Several songs on the project contain traces of Noname’s background in slam poetry, but this is an outright poem itself. In under 2 minutes Noname paints a somber picture of fear and sorrow over what should be a cheerful instrumental, but by the end the recurring laugh of a baby becomes almost sinister in the fear for the future that it represents.
- Forever – Just another incredible track. The sound is optimistic, and Noname preaches optimism with incredible finesse.
- Bye Bye Baby – An incredibly sad track, but one overflowing with love. Noname ignores the politics of the issue and expresses herself in way that makes both sides’ popular narratives seem incredibly shallow.
- Shadow Man – Despite being another melancholic track about death, this is one of the best tracks on the project, due in large part to the beautiful harmonies on the hook.
Overall: I was blown away by this project. I liked Noname’s verses on ‘Lost’ or ‘Israel’ as much as the next guy, but I had no idea she could create a full project like this. Every track fits perfectly into a sort of sunny melancholy; Noname’s sorrow is immediate and expressive, but she remains optimistic to her core. Rather than the typical musical melancholy which borders on nihilism, Noname cares deeply about the world and those around her; she is fully willing to live with doubts and regrets, and happy to do it. The 33-minute run is brief but perfect, as Noname draws you into her contemplations just long enough to convey her message without becoming repetitive. The production is unlike any project I’ve ever heard, creating a peaceful, vibrant atmosphere for Noname to live in. If you ignore this project for any reason, you are missing out.