Chicago rapper Noname has been a mysterious figure in the music industry. First appearing in the public’s eye through featuring on a few Chance the Rapper songs as well as releasing a debut mixtape in 2016, Noname has since developed a strong cult following. “Telefone” was a playful sounding, airy debut anchored by non-stop stream of conscious bars that unapologetically described Chicago life. It sounded like we were listening to a young woman trying to find and assert her place in music.  

“Room 25,” Noname’s 2018 follow up and first studio album, reveals an artist who is even more honest and candid than before. The rapping is denser and more confident. “Room 25” is the sound of a woman who knows exactly what type of music she wants to make and refuses to shy away from any topic. Honesty and openness are what make “Room 25” such an interesting and enjoyable listen. Compared to other female rappers who populate pop culture, Noname is a breath of fresh air. She avoids anything that could possibly be seen as gimmicky or trendy and instead relies on clarity and sincerity. “Room 25” is the perfect antithesis to the slew of Cardi B guest verses and whatever beef Nicki Minaj has that made it into Buzzfeed articles this week.  

Opening track “Self” finds Noname exploring her hopes for her album and the new self-confidence she has found since “Telefone” was released. Paired with a warm, sunny beat, Noname’s confidence comes through in her lyrics and her distinctly delicate delivery. The following track “Blaxploitation” shows her more politically charged, and her rapping becomes more tightly packed and more urgent. This track perfectly sums up the beautiful contradiction that is Noname’s music; politically minded lyrics and fast paced delivery that still feels playful and comforting. Darkly tragic tales are paired with a myriad of sounds that are almost unimaginably bright and comforting.

“Room 25” uses this same balance and employs it wonderfully. Album standout “Ace” employs frequent collaborators Saba and Smino, and the trio expertly find the perfect mix of lighthearted lines and quick but honest snippets of each artists’ real life. The song sounds like you got the chance to listen in on three close friends catch up with one another.

Noname has always prided herself on being an independent rapper, but in 2018 it is difficult for independent artists to gain recognition or popularity while still releasing their music for free on sites like SoundCloud. Spotify recently tested a new feature that would allow individuals to directly upload their music to the site for free, erasing the necessity for record labels or distributors. Noname’s “Room 25” was the first album allowed to use this feature. As an artist, Noname has always made it clear that artistic freedom and independence is important to her, and by being the first person to release music in this way on Spotify, she has set the stage for other independent artists to potentially do the same.

There has also been controversy surrounding the artwork of “Room 25.” The Chicagoan artist who created it, Bryant Giles, was arrested on October 8th on charges of domestic battery. Noname’s response was swift as she announced that she “will be working to replace the cover artwork of ‘Room 25.’” Both of these stories only add to the growing biography of one of the most interesting voices in music right now. Noname remains a fiercely independent force, certain in what she wants and how she will get there, but maybe more importantly, she knows what her listeners want in terms of artistic integrity and honesty.

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