Strong Voices: Noname

We spotlight artists whose voices serve as strong examples to the rest of us. First up: Noname.

The music industry has shifted dramatically in the past year. Now more than ever, there is growing concern about whether we can separate artists from their art. Modern musicians such as XXXTentacion and 6ix9ine have heightened this concern, both facing allegations of sexual abuse (read more about these issues here). With such controversy embedded in the current climate of music, I felt it necessary to highlight artists whose voices, within their music and beyond it, serve as strong examples to the rest of us. So, welcome to the first artist spotlight in WBRU’s new series, “Strong Voices.” We start the series with a closer look at one of the most iconic female faces in hip-hop: Noname.

The cover art for Room 25.

Noname released her debut album Room 25 in September (listen here if you haven’t), and the LP has held to the eloquent truth she first dropped with her 2016 mixtape Telefone. Then, Noname made a name for herself as a female artist ready to talk about feminity, Blackness, and wealth, as well as topics like childhood and relationships. These aren’t new topics for the rap genre, but Noname’s take has brought her message to new audiences. Her music is produced with beats that feel lighthearted and optimistic; only her language informs the listener of whether they’re hearing a happy or sad recollection. For example, Noname processes death in her song “Yesterday” with the lines, “Me missing brother Mike, like something heavy. Me heart just wasn’t ready. I wish I was a kid again.” The sunny sound of the song alone would never clue the listener into this sadness. It takes truly hearing her voice and her past to understand the truth Noname speaks. Room 25 expands Noname’s truth with songs more blatant in their message. The album predominantly covers the time period following the release of Telefone and plays off the maturity she’s developed in that period. In one Room 25 song, “Blaxploitation,” she raps, “Bad sleep triggered by bad government. Put a think piece in a rap song; the new age covet it.” Obviously, Noname doesn’t shy away from the political in her lyrics. Rather, she produces work that prohibits listeners from disregarding the meaning of her music. She stands up for the truth of her experience by rapping honestly, with catchy tunes that make her music too influential to ignore. Off-album, Noname’s actions are just as powerful. She began writing lyrics through a childhood interest in slam poetry, which can be given credit for the power of her words. When I had the opportunity to see Noname perform this summer, she hung out around the stage long before her slot was scheduled, waving to fans as she worked with the band and the festival crew to prepare. When the set began, she emerged in a floral dress, and the stage shone pink, her name written in large cursive letters. Noname’s performance was elegant, generous, and spirited, due in part to the tipsiness she openly admitted to. That moment encapsulates who Noname is for me. She is a woman unafraid of femininity and identity; she’s generous in her joy, but brutal in the truth she slams down with a rawness any poet is familiar with. Her concerts and albums may be a fun time, but Noname will never let you walk away without learning something from her.