The 27-year-old poet-turned-rapper's fame has been brewing slowly since 2013. With the release of Room 25 and the subsequent critical acclaim she received — Rolling Stone called her "one of the best rappers alive" — her star is now firmly on the rise.
Noname, born Fatimah Warner, spent her childhood years in Bronzeville, Chicago. The historic neighborhood on the city's South Side was home to some of the 20th century's most important cultural figures and thinkers, including Louis Armstrong, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Ida B. Wells. She discovered her passion for creative writing as a high school sophomore, and began to perform poetry at open mic nights throughout the city. Eventually, she made the leap from writing poetry to raps, and upon landing a verse on the 2013 track "Lost" on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap mixtape, she began to appear on the radar of fans and industry professionals alike.
In 2016, her highly anticipated debut mixtape, Telefone, garnered significant praise from Pitchfork, among many other major media outlets. Her follow-up album, Room 25, has received even more laudatory reviews. In a recent interview with NPR, the news outlet noted that Noname's latest album has attracted the attention of many for "its sharp commentary on race, identity, sex, and politics...[and] was one of the most critically-acclaimed records of last year."
The musical quality of Noname's Room 25 is a mix of "cosmic jazz and neo-soul," and the story she weaves throughout the album pays homage to her poetic roots. Throughout the album, Noname brings her interior world to life, that of a 20-something woman of color who traverses a landscape of memories and grief in the aftermath of romantic heartbreak at the same time that she grapples with political and racial realities and her own spiritual questions. Upon careful listening, there is a sense of security to be found in being guided through these questions-without-answers by the voice of an artist who is, at her core, a writer. Noname's Room 25 never abandons a strong self-awareness that allows her to articulate the contradictions inherent in personal and social life. This gives her lyrics the genuine quality that so many are drawn to: Noname's confidence and strongly held opinions don't exist separately from her willingness to be vulnerable and question herself.
Notably, Noname financed Room 25 with the proceeds she earned from Telefone. In the interview with NPR, she discusses why full ownership of her work is so important to her:
“I think it's important because it's possible and it's doable. I think ownership, in terms of just maintaining your integrity and how I feel as a woman of color, I just don't want my art to be owned by a white man. I wish it were more nuanced than just me being kind of stubborn in my own ‘fight the man mentality.’ But for me that's really what it boils down to....I just personally like the role of an entrepreneur. I grew up in that framework because my mother owned her own bookstore, my grandparents own their own landscaping company....Even though it's a lot of work and I have a very very slow rising career, very slow but I'm grateful for it because I've learned so much about myself through owning my own business."
Her rise may be slow, but if the critical reviews and growing fanbase are any indication, Noname doesn't seem to be going anywhere but up.
Noname: Room 25. With Elton. 8 p.m. Friday, February 22, at The Van Buren, 401 West Van Buren Street; 480-659-1641; thevanburenphx.com.