Rapper. Spoken-word poet. Political commentator. Stoner. Believer in God. Noname proudly owns each of these identities and so much more in her sophomore album, Room 25, which was released earlier this month on Friday, Sept. 14.
Along with its ethereal sounds and emotionally-raw content, the album portrays a more enlightened version of Noname than her first mixtape in 2016, Telefone. Now two years later, Noname’s new album discusses a variety of important events following the release of Telefone, like losing her virginity, experiencing heartbreak, going on tour, moving from Chicago to Los Angeles and more. Her method of spoken-word rap is also more evident in Room 25, along with the utilization of jazz and gospel melodies.
Works like Room 25 and Telefone present a clear dichotomy in comparison to other rap albums, especially by male rappers. A large portion of rap music is dominated by men — and women — discussing superficial topics such as money, sex, drug use and material items. While these topics also come up in Room 25, Noname presents them in a romantic style accompanied by softer, slower beats, and melodies that allude to childhood or Sunday mornings spent at church.
Additionally, rap songs that do include personal and emotional topics by male rappers are typically angry or depressing, whereas Room 25 is neither overly sad nor exceedingly happy. Rather, it balances lightly in-between and goes through subtle shifts in tone, allowing listeners to interpret her emotions more through words rather than harmonies. There are a few exceptions to this observation, with songs like “Blaxploitation” and “Montego Bay”, which sound heavier and rely the cultural contexts of the tracks. Yet, the conversation between Noname and listeners is what makes the album so unique.
Noname also becomes more opinionated about American society in Room 25, frequently pointing out the mistreatment of black communities by American government and law enforcement. She points out the psychological effects of such mistreatment on tracks like “Blaxploitation”, “Prayer Song”, “Part of Me” and “no name”.
“Blaxploitation” especially stands out from the rest of the album, with samples from pro-black films like The Spook Who Sat by the Door (1973) and Dolemite (1975). A sample from the former movie is perhaps the most jarring moment in the song, as a character named Pretty Willie is heard saying “Do you hear me man? Do you understand? I am Black! I’m a n*gg*, do you understand me? I was born black, I live black, and I’ma die probably because I’m black, because some cr*cker that knows I’m black better than you, n*gg*, is probably gonna put a bullet in the back of my head!”
In “Prayer Song”, Noname points out the ways America has failed its black citizens who are victims of institutionalized racism. During the chorus a choir sings, “I was lost but thinking I was truly free (amen, amen) / Darkness lingers in the wake of slavery (amen, amen)”, alluding to the idea that while racism may appear to be over, it still lingers in American society and is simply less obvious than before.
“Part of Me” analyzes the way politicians try to pander to black Americans by assuming aspects of black culture, like dance trends or popular phrases. In this track Noname says, “Riddle me new, politician do a dance for me / Hot potato, milly rock, devastation of kiddy bop.” She criticizes the way politicians do dances — badly — to win black votes, making them puppets at the hands of black Americans, yet they only do it for profit during elections.
Finally, in “no name”, Noname starts heavy by opening with, “No name for inmate registries that they put me in prison / I sewed the answers in linen, phantom under the thread / Tandom riding in your cities where n*gg*s scared of the feds”. This requires no virtually no analysis, as it’s clear that she’s referring to the unfair policing of blacks and how they merely become another body without a name when sent to prison.
A number of recurring motifs from Telefone also come up in Room 25, giving insight on what topics have had the biggest impacted in Noname’s life. These topics include God, drugs and alcohol, fear of death, sunlight, childhood, depression, family and friends, Chicago and some of Noname’s insecurities.
All this and so much more can be said about Room 25, which is steadily growing in popularity and further proves Noname’s remarkable talent. Her lyricism and sonic range make her an artist to look out for with future releases. Room 25 deserves a solid 5 out of 5 stars.