Review: Noname, ‘Room 25’

The Chicago poet develops a sense of identity on her debut album.

In a genre that has lacked prominent female lyricists, Noname of Chicago set out to claim the title. Ever since being introduced to the world by Chance The Rapper on his Acid Rap mixtape, the rapper has grown out of her shell without the need for further cosigns thanks to the 2016 breakout mixtape Telefone. Her soulful spoken-word approach to rap has seen Noname remain prominently underground while garnering the critical acclaim to back her thin discography. Returning with her debut full-length album, Noname is expected to match if not better her previous effort.

On Room 25, Noname presents her identity. It is revealed rather than built, shaped by life experiences painted over a canvas of neo-soul production and gentle raps.

Noname’s lyricism is artistically sporadic and the selling point of Room 25, musing over American despotism (“Prayer Song”, “Blaxploitation”) and subtle sexual analogies (“Window”) like they’re second-nature. It leaves plenty for the listener to decipher, undoubtedly a product of her background as a poet. The intro “Self” briefly advertises the purpose of the album, with the main goal to permanently make her mark (“Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap huh? / Maybe this your answer for that”). That conviction is the focus of “Don’t Forget About Me”, a smooth, gentle track about the fear of post-death remembrance. Despite her stage name, Noname is out to leave a legacy behind without compromising her values.

The first half of Room 25 is merely a setup for the brilliance of the second half, where the guest appearances significantly elevate the project. “Ace” is a testament to the new-wave sound of Chicago; Smino offers a buttery hook while Saba’s double-time flow is flawlessly executed. It is followed up by “Part of Me”, featuring the sweetest melody of the album. Both songs improve on the hooks side of Room 25, an element that was absent during its first half.

The production of Room 25 is strongly reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered, particularly “Prayer Song”. Just like Lamar’s throwaway cuts, the jazzy staging lacks replay value. The jazzy influences do not benefit “Montego Bae” either, which comes across as lounge music that quickly falls into the background. However Noname’s performance has to be lauded, who flows seamlessly across the difficult production.

Aside the additional funky “Blaxploitation”, Room 25 is at its best when the production is sparse and downtempo. The twinkling guitar of “With You” and lavish strings on “Window” compliment the subject matter of the respective songs, the former of which boasts one of the best verses and best line of the album (“I’m Mayblack music”).

Room 25 is Noname’s therapy session with herself in the comfortable space of the album title. Improvements on replay value and ranging her flows will see Noname unlock the next level of stardom, and is bound to grow her independent brand with time and further experiences.

Rating: 8 / 10

Best tracks: “Part of Me”, “Ace”, “Don’t Forget About Me”, “Regal”, “With You”