While Frank Ocean might have the most awaited album of the week, Chicago rapper/poet Noname has finally delivered her debut project after a long two-year wait. If you’ve heard of Noname, it’s probably because of verses she’s lent to fellow Chicagoans like Chance The Rapper and Saba. Noname’s talent is clear on Telefone. Her rhythm seamlessly blends rap and something that resembles the storytelling and openness of spoken word without the pretense of theatrics. Telefone is the kind of album you want to listen to on repeat when you swear off dating for the nth time and promise, again, to really focus on yourself for once.
While some are quick to name Noname the “female Chance,” this project wastes no time making it clear that she doesn’t need the comparison. She’s doing her own thing and it just feels magical. If Coloring Book was a Sunday-morning-gospel-filled ode to Chicago triumph and joy, Telefone is a late-night Chicago bike ride spent reminiscing on everything. From relationships, addiction, police brutality, to family—Noname opens up from an incredibly personal place. Noname is skilled at achieving lyrical complexity that feels raw, but never dense. She cruises from the childhood dreams of “Diddy Bop” to the haunting reckoning of “All I Need” over flawless production.
Telefone is rooted in classic R&B/hip-hop fusion; cementing Noname’s sound with the likes of Erykah Badu, Solange, and, most recently, Nao. Her thoroughly Chicago imagery carries the weight of disappointment, loss, and survival with resilient optimism. “All of my niggas is casket pretty / Ain’t no one safe in this happy city / I hope you make it home” she rhymes in “Casket Pretty.” Telefone addresses dark moments, but never forgets the good things in the process—“the little things I need to save my soul,” Noname describes in “Yesterday.” You can’t help but smile during “Reality Check,” a beautifully motivational track that showcases Noname’s earnest dedication to her craft.
This is an album without ego. “Nobody understands my songs,” she says unconcerned in “Forever.” While Chance The Rapper tries to change the music industry with his bid to make mixtapes Grammy-eligble, Noname doesn’t seem interested. “The Grammys is way too lofty,” she says in “Reality Check.” While she may not aspire to such award-ceremony heights, Telefone is a unique project that points to even greater things for Noname in the future.