No disrespect to Chance the Rapper, but last year’s most anticipated Chicago hip-hop release was not Coloring Book, but Telefone, the full-length debut from the relatively obscure and obscurely named Noname.
Hailing from Bronzeville—the Southside neighborhood celebrated by poet Gwendolyn Brooks—Noname (born Fatimah Warner) came up in Chicago’s open mic and slam poetry scene. She applies that same aesthetic to her rap style, a mix of spoken word and offbeat lyrics. Noname made her first official appearance as an emcee in 2013, contributing a verse to the track “Lost” on Chance’s Acid Rap mixtape, and the following year with a verse on Mick Jenkins’ The Waters mixtape.
After promising to release her own record for the better part of three years, Noname finally dropped Telefone last July. Rather than the big production and tabernacle-sized choruses of Coloring Book, Telefone sounds like a quiet night kicking it with your best homie, smoking weed and talking until sunrise. Her delivery doesn’t always fall on time, but jumps around as if playing verbal double dutch.
Over jazzy, laidback beats, Noname waxes on topics both serious (identity, black womanhood, violence against African Americans) and light (relationships, ice cream on the front porch, “only wearing tennis shoes to clubs with dress codes, ’cause fuck they clubs”). While her Windy City contemporaries are falling all over themselves climbing that long ladder to success, Noname has been busy in the kitchen, discreetly cooking up a classic.