Chicago rapper Noname, or Fatimah Warner to her mates, (formerly known as Noname Gypsy) has had popular guest verses on projects such as Chance The Rapper’s cult mixtape Acid Rap, and Mick Jenkins’ The Water[s] mixtape. But now it’s time for the 24 year-old emcee to take centre stage, and she does that brilliantly on Telefone. It’s jazzy and soft hip-hop mixtape, and on it Noname prides herself on dealing with a myriad of topics and telling tales of heartbreak and perseverance. She cuts a positive yet downtrodden figure and by the time the closing song comes around on the project, she has alluded to police brutality, death, love, loss, but most importantly, resilience. The way Noname tells these upsetting tales in a way which suggests an “oh well” attitude to toward life.
It’s apparent that life has tried to throw everything at Noname, and instead of fighting against it like a metaphorical lioness she simply continues to enjoy herself and appreciate the things she does have. This positive outlook doesn’t prevent her from showing nostalgia on this mixtape, such as the delightfully simple line on the first track, Yesterday – ‘Me heart just wasn’t ready/I wish I was a kid again’. The wordplay is not mind-bending and there are no MF DOOM levels of poetry, but she keeps the album together with a cohesive, laidback flow and her signature delivery which sounds like she is rambling on to a therapist over a selection of beats.
Musically, the mixtape is wonderful with jazzy chord progressions played on pianos and keyboards against the live and smooth drums. It’s a hip-hop mixtape, certainly, but the jazz and soul influence is so strong that on some tracks such as Reality Check play out more like an RnB or jazz tune than a traditional rap song. The warm and soulful basslines compliment the beautiful hooks and choruses, whilst Noname’s voice cracks and wobbles as she enters some of the more tender moments of the project, such as Freedom Interlude.
The opening track is a bright and poppy rap song in which Noname introduces herself as an introspective and thoughtful character. Sunny Duet features some pretty harmonic melodies by guest vocalist theMIND and features a sweet hook sang by him. The nostalgic Diddy Bop features great guest performances from Raury and Cam O’bi. Again on this track, there are tight verses from the main artist and a great hook from the guests. After that, it’s All I Need with a delightful and sunny beat alongside great singing from Xavier Omär. It’s a really good summer tune that we can enjoy before the rain and dark skies return in a month or so. In Casket Pretty, our Chicago rapper presents us with her thoughts on police brutality and the pain she has felt through the loss of friends, ‘All of my niggas is casket pretty/ain’t no one safe in this happy city’. The song is hard-hitting but brief, which can be forgiven as the project is only a mixtape. Ravyn Lenae’s singing on the Forever hook is great, and Noname’s positive attitude is so infectious on the track that the weird and wonderful beat is so easy to get into. There’s also a decent verse by Joseph Chilliams, which adds to the stellar guest features on Telefone. Bye Bye Baby is a heart-breaking and touching reflection by Fatimah Warner on her abortion, and the sadness that she feels over it. She closes the song brilliantly with ‘I’m gonna fall in love again/On a lonely road where happiness needs us’. Again, she is looking forward and keeping her positivity through upset.
The closer Shadow Man features Saba, Smino and Phoelix and tells stories of the funerals of young black Americans. Noname references her thoughts on God on this track also – ‘My funeral a Disney fable/Cause the king bout to take me home’. The guest verses are noble and add to the story of the track, and the gorgeous instrumental is complimented by awesome vocal harmonies and singing. On this mixtape, the title pulls all of the themes together- Noname doesn’t want her phone to ring, so that she can be giving bad news about another friend or family member. I have loved this mixtape since it came out and it had already earned a place in my favourite projects of the year. A hip-hop gem with strong jazz influences, Telefone is a remarkable achievement when you consider it’s Noname’s first official release.
Check it out if: You love jazzy hip-hop and introspective, heart-warming/breaking lyricism.
Highlights: Yesterday, Sunny Duet, All I Need, Reality Check, Freedom Interlude, Forever, Shadow Man.