Noname: Room 25 (Self Released)

For all the narrow corridors, rising Chicagoan rapper Noname unlocks something

Released Sep 21st, 2018 via self-release / By Emilie Kneifel
Noname: Room 25 (Self Released) Google tells me that Room 25 is a board game. Players are prisoners, room number 25 their only chance to break out. That Noname’s newest album has the same name may just be coincidence; according to Rolling Stone, the title is a reference to hotel rooms and turning twenty-five. Nevertheless, Noname does delve into what confines: institutions and politicians and lovers and herself. Maybe as “a remedy for nothing,” or, well, as a kind of escape.

A clear sister to Noname’s 2016 debut Telefone, much of Room 25 goops with the same funky keys, shimmying with R&B and gospel influence. She’s backed by the same band, and collaborators Ravyn Lenae, Smino, Saba, and Phoelix. Even some of Telefone’s words have stuck to her psyche: her “overrun-run-run-run” on Prayer Song like the “run, run, run” on Diddy Bop, or Window and Yesterday’s “everything is everything.” Her voice alone is so identifiable in its skipping, looping like cursive on lines like “No more apples or oranges, only pickles and pacifists.” And she’s somehow sweet-drowsy in her cutting eloquence. In what she calls her “lullaby rap.

For all their similarities, Room 25 is a little less tender. A little starker. Chaos ever-present in the pull. Noname stutters out of sync with the drums on certain songs, wrenching away, straining against structure. This is due in part to new adulthood and her move to LA, which “be bright but still a dark city,” where for every block of sun are its corresponding shadows. Where parts of people die: “come get your happy and your new titties”/ “I just came from the funeral, my ugly passed away.” Where police kill people outright. She poses as an officer on Prayer Song, performing the erection of stagnant power: “Why oh why my dick getting bigger, This violence turn me on.” As him, she tries an “amen” and it flops, flaccid.

She shivers with the dissonance of public personhood, how “all my everything’s for sale” despite the “incredible, incredible emptiness in my body.” On Don’t Forget About Me she reads an email that reads, “Noname thank you for your sweet Telefone/ It saves lives.” (She lops off hearts by letting us know how she did it: “The secret is I'm actually broken.”) The fan’s words stay with her throughout the song, echoing off of every other unfulfilled thing — “Somebody, somebody said it saves lives/ Who holds my hand at night?” — until they warp into scoffs. Ridiculing her audacity to buy into their praise. “Tell ‘em Noname still don’t got no money/ Tell 'em Noname almost passed out drinking/ Secret is, she really think it saves lives.”

But for all the narrow corridors and “halfway hallelujahs,” Noname unlocks something. On the final track she explains that she has “no name for inmate registries,” “for private corporations to send emails to,”for people to call small.” By un-naming herself, she has taken back at least one thing that others think they own. Which reminds me of album opener Self, when Noname conjures what Room 25 could be — maybe an answer to haters’ doubts in her abilities, maybe for “driving home late at night/ really questioning every god” — only to declare, in her steady nonchalance, “Nah actually this is for me.” Which is where her strength reveals itself, with the kind of smile that only shows a bit of teeth. We get to watch her lyrics lift her above walls. Doesn’t mean any of it was ever for us. 9/10