Album Review: Noname’s Room 25 (2018 LP) is one of the best releases of the year

Noname (FKA: Noname Gypsy) is a central figure within the underground Chicago rap scene. Her debut album Telefone was an incredible, melancholic project – dealing with sexism, introspection, and wider racial and social issues, all delivered in her trademark wispy yet warm delivery.

Following the great reception this project received, the level of anticipation for her new album Room 25 was palpable with fans and critics alike. She has well and truly delivered with this album.

Noname has incorporated a number of new styles and dimensions to her music, adding immeasurable depth to the project and showig a development of artistry, rising out of the melting pot that is Chicago’s music culture.

“Blaxploitation” features a quick and dizzying flow, allowing Noname to effortlessly drift between beautiful and jarring lyrics; comparing some of the beauty in her world with the deep rooted issues that she dissects and analyses through her art. Having numerous songs with a greater rap backbone at the front end of the project sets the momentum beautifully, leaving space for more mellow songs to creep in, providing a more sombre tone.

But the high quality of her lyrical content dispersed throughout the album is consistent, regardless of the individual stylistic and instrumental elements of the song. The combination of a strong conceptual basis for her lyrics, with the beautiful, diverse tapestry of instrumentation brought in, deeply entrenches many of her messages and ideas throughout the project.

The jumbled and angular album artwork acts as a perfect prelude to Room 25 as a whole. Pastel illustrations with the dark lines and the white backdrop feel as if they are part of the album. Multi-faceted, despite the smooth and captivating backdrop, many of the lyrical fixtures in the foreground are much more jarring and evocative. Her delivery is extremely palatable and smooth, beautifully juxtaposing her observations of the world. The classic Mary Poppins quip comes to mind – a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

Featured guests are well utilised in this project as well – with Noname collaborating with long-time friends and artistic peers Saba, Smino, and Ravyn Lenae (amongst others). Saba and Smino assist the almost shockingly-laidback “Ace”, a song that grapples with the terror of fame and notoriety. Saba’s verse deals with isolation, and the feeling of never being truly based somewhere as he can’t find time to exist separately from his art.

This sentiment is similarly touched upon by Noname, the lyric: “I’m just writing my darkest secrets like wait and just hear me out.” It reflects the demanding nature of fans in modern music, not allowing her to properly explore her innermost thoughts because they simply demand more music. The hastened delivery with this line at the close of the verse further accentuates this sentiment, as it feels as if someone is about to cut her off, before she can introspect and share her feelings.

“Don’t Forget About Me” is a true standout; a beautifully sombre song that struggles with identity. Despite the adoration from fans, Noname still describes herself as ‘broken’ as she shares how truly sad she feels at times. She’s aware that we are all fragile, and simply hopes to leave a lasting impact, hoping that her mother and grandmother never forget about her. The poignantly personal lyrics on this song tug at the heart strings, and speak to the human desire to want to be cherished and remembered despite their shortcomings. Hope shines through as the song progresses, but the existential drawbacks to this emotion are tempered by the idea of fragility established in the hook. The song features a simple drum beat, with a bouncy bassline and a string section that features rising instrumental support, evoking a feeling of ascension that feels almost morbid as the topic of death shifts more and more into the forefront of the lyrics.

Across the 11 tracks, Noname’s consistency is exceptional. Allowing instrumental and lyrical variation to morph and progress, each song fits within the progression of the album – and there are none that fall short, each playing a part in establishing the sonic and conceptual features of the truly perfect record.

There is no fault that springs to mind when thinking about this project. Room 25 is a truly remarkable release, deserving of acclaim and love. It deserves a score of this tier, and will be an album that has replay value for years to come.

FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Room 25 is out now. Noname kicks off her tour around Australia this Friday.

Fri 21 Sept – Melbourne – The Forum w/ Genesis Owusu + Colette
Sat 22 Sept – Melbourne – Listen Out (SOLD OUT)
Sun 23 Sept – Perth – Listen Out (SOLD OUT)
Tues 25 Sept – Sydney – Metro Theatre w/ Genesis Owusu + Flex Mami
Sat 29 Sept – Sydney – Listen Out (SOLD OUT)
Sun 30 Sept – Brisbane – Listen Out (SOLD OUT)

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