There may never be another rapper as well-named as NoName. The simple moniker underscores the artist’s ability to say the most while coming off as real and nonchalant as someone you see at parties every weekend. She’s a star, but on her own terms and in her own right. While many in Chicago have known of Fatimah’s greatness for some time, her sophomore full-length, Room 25, released last Friday is a testament to her ability and a subtly powerful assertion to her spot among the pantheon of great lyricists.
About three years ago and some change, NoName took down all of her previous work. The early videos, interviews, singles and whatever else that had been her outward personality to that point disappeared quite literally overnight. Talking to her at the time, she was typically aloof and abstract with her replies, saying something to the effect of “I got something coming eventually G.” For awhile, the wait for her debut full-length became a conversation locally similar to the tongue-in-cheek discussion surrounding Jay Electronica’s next project. When it arrived, however, no one was quite ready for the impact Telefone would have. Vaulting the soft-spoken rapper who until just before the album’s release would perform with a purse strapped across her chest, into the stratosphere of hip-hop still couldn’t break her typically down-home attitude though, and she seemed to pull back from the spotlight in a way we’ve seen other Chicagoans do at times, like Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa. It’s a perk of being in the Midwest, in Chicago. You can choose when to be famous, when to be around friends. At a listening party for The O’My’s Tomorrow album a little over a week ago, she sat comfortably in the corner with friends, grabbing drinks from the bar and giving out warm hugs whenever a familiar face strolled by, a perfect underline to the sentiments in her music and interviews.
Whereas Lauryn Hill came to Chicago earlier this summer on the 20th anniversary of her only album, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, NoName in many ways accomplishes much of what Hill attempted on the seminal project, with the ability to reach beyond. Hell, she’s already put out twice the amount of work in three years that Hill has in two decades, and the back-to-back of Telefone and Room 25 may just be one of the most impressive in recent memory. If anything, this city’s scene and more specifically the side that count the names above in its roster have proved that nuanced thought, well-produced music with a message can still have an impact in the age of weekly or daily releases.
On her latest, NoName has evolved. No longer the purse-wearing twenty-two-year-old still trying to find herself, she’s more understood, with confidence for days. Spending the last few years crisscrossing the country performing on some of the biggest stages in the world has done a lot for the lovably awkward girl with the heavy-handed bars. There was always a wonder of what it would look like when NoName grew into her vast lyricism, took off the restraints and really let herself dive in and tell it like it is. On Room 25 we get all that and more, to the point Rolling Stone declared her “one of the best rapper’s alive“. At a time when careful thought and empathy are seemingly at an all-time low, she has gotten more personal, more self-assured and less worried about what others will think. The result is a project that is easily one of the year’s best. Don’t waste time getting into this one.