Telefone by Noname (2016)

After spending her late teens writing and performing poetry as part of the YOUmedia project at Chicago’s Harold Washington Library, Fatimah Warner honed her rhyming skills by taking part in local open mic and slam poetry competitions, gaining recognition by placing third at 2010’s Louder Than A Bomb festival. Competing would bring her into contact with other talented artists in the Chicago area, most notably Chance the Rapper, who would invite her to appear on his Acid Rap mixtape in 2013, leading to guests spots on other Chance projects.

The half-dozen or so contributions she’s made since 2013 have been quietly impressive, but on her debut mixtape Telefone we get to hear Noname rhyme over beats that are made for her and that perfectly complement her languid yet gorgeous delivery. The lion’s share of production is handled by Cam O’bi, Phoelix and Saba, with Noname serving as an executive, and features a dreamy smooth blend of jazz-tinged neo-soul and R&B with a hint of gospel.

Her lyrics are very personal, heartwarming and honest, containing ruminations on family, relationships, abortion, drug addiction, gang violence and police brutality. Noname shows a level of intelligence and maturity in dealing with her realities that you don’t hear often enough, , particularly from someone who’s only 24. It’s the superb combination of content and sound which make Telefone one of the most refreshing and important hip hop releases in recent years, further enhancing Chicago’s reputation as a city producing some of the finest conscious rap talents around.

The jazzy piano of “Yesterday” opens the mixtape, with Noname rapping about “the little things I need to save my soul” and checking her Twitter page for “something holier than black death”. It’s an album peppered with nostalgic references, like on the light groove of “Diddy Bop” featuring Raury and Cam O’bi where she reminisces about growing up in Chicago. Despite examining everyday realities honestly, her hope that there will be a brighter day frequently shines through.

“Reality Check” featuring Eryn Allen Kane and Akenya is an uplifting and motivational track where she finds inspiration in her grandmother and all she overcame. “You know they whipped us niggas? / How you afraid to rap?”, her grandmother’s spirit tells her. Similar themes of overcoming adversity are also found on “Freedom Interlude” featuring a Nina Simone sample and “Forever” featuring Ravyn Lenae and Joseph Chilliams where Noname raps about shining through hard of times.

Then there’s “Bye Bye Baby” which offers a unique and candid perspective on abortion, with Noname questioning whether she made the right decision. Some of its darker moments come during the second half, with “Casket Pretty” mourning all the young lives taken as a result of local gang violence and how “ain’t no one safe in this happy city”. While on the closer “Shadow Man” we hear Noname contemplating her own death alongside Saba, Smino and Phoelix.

Top Tracks: Yesterday; Diddy Bop; Reality Check; Casket Pretty

Released: 31st July 2016

Label: Self-Released

Genre: Conscious Hip-Hop

Producers: Cam O’bi, d Phoelix and Saba

Rating: Solid 8

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