Noname’s fans consider her this generation’s “woke” female rapper, but it’s a notion that Noname herself rejects. In a recent interview with The Fader, the Chicago rapper otherwise known as Fatimah Warner insists that her music shouldn’t be pigeonholed as “real hip-hop” (shorthand for old-school rap, usually invoked by the same people who think the four elements represent the only true hip-hop culture). “A lot of my fans . . . I think they like me because they think I’m the anti-Cardi B,” she says. “I’m not. I’m just Fatimah.” And with her debut album, the brand-new Room 25 (2016’s Telefone was technically a mixtape), Noname achieves a healthy balance between the serious outlook of the conscious poet-rapper her fans have come to know and the sillier, funnier facets of her personality.
On the track “Self,” Noname refutes her critics, who were already in short supply: “Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap?” Her self-assurance teeters on the edge of cockiness, and that confidence fills her tales of adjusting to adulthood and exploring womanhood. In the same song Noname raps, “Fucked your rapper homie, now his ass is making better music / My pussy teaching ninth grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism.” While raunchy jokes haven’t previously been the norm in Noname’s self-possessed music, they demonstrate how she’s grown since Telefone—she’s exploring sex and sensuality in her lyrics in a way she hasn’t before.
In “Ace,” which features Saba and Smino, she raps, “And globalization’s scary and fucking is fantastic / And frankly I find it funny that Morgan is still acting.” The jokes about pussy and fucking don’t detract from her storytelling and social commentary—if anything they make her serious points easier to absorb by giving your brain a little breather. Her lighthearted tone, delicate voice, and bouncy flow make it easy for her to move back and forth between the two. “Blaxplotation” includes sampled dialogue of black people discussing revolution in two 70s movies as Noname delivers a fast-paced rap about systematic racism and corruption over a brisk, funky beat: “Bad sleep triggered by bad government / Put a think piece in the rap song, the new age covenant.”
Primarily produced by Phoelix, the instrumentals on Room 25 impeccably blend jazz, soul, hip-hop, and funk. Noname chose to work with a modest group of good friends for the album, which includes a number of other Chicago natives such as R&B singer Ravyn Lenae and rapper Yaw. And while Noname is more extroverted on this new album than we’ve ever seen her, she still manages to maintain the intimacy she achieved with Telefone.
On Room 25‘s “Don’t Forget About Me,” she delicately reflects on her mortality and the legacy that she’ll leave behind. She’s quieter here than on any other track, speaking so softly that it feels like she’s whispering in your ear: “All I am is everything and nothing at all / All I am is a shoulder for your heart to lean on / All I am is love, all I am is love.” As her voice caresses your ear, it feels like a private moment with a close friend—a friend you’ve just gotten to know a little better.