★★★★★

“Maybe this is the album you listen to in your car / When you driving home late at night / Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, b—hes.” Packing a punch in only a minute and a half, the first song off Noname’s “Room 25” sets the tone for the rest of the album: it’s candid, complex, comical and challenging. Noname’s official debut album harkens back to the grooves of old-school R&B, hip-hop and neo-soul while still offering a modern twist that is entirely her own.  

26-year-old Fatimah Warner is a Chicago-born rapper who got her start performing slam poetry around her hometown before she transitioned to rapping in her early teens. She first went by the moniker Noname Gypsy until she learned that “gypsy” is a racial slur.

After catching the attention of fellow Chicago star Chance the Rapper, Noname earned herself a spot on his 2013 mixtape, “Acid Rap.” Joining the ranks of Saba, Jamila Woods and Vic Mensa,  who each gained popular exposure with a Chance the Rapper collaboration, Noname’s verse on “Lost” attracted attention to her 2016 mixtape, “Telefone.” Following the model of artists like Chance the Rapper, Noname has remained independent. The advent of streaming platforms and new distribution services have made it possible for artists to grow fanbases without a label. 

Nevertheless, Noname is paving her own path. Despite social media’s role in helping independent artists garner followers without a label’s marketing team, Noname rarely posts on social media — she only re-launched her Instagram a week ago prior to the album release. She does no music videos and only a few photo shoots. It is hard to find pictures of her on the internet. Noname does things her way: no label, no online spotlight.  

Noname brings this cool confidence to “Room 25.”  On “Self” she raps, “And y’all still thought a b—h couldn’t rap, huh?” She crows about the lyrical gymnastics that are to come — and delivers. Her chill demeanor, however, is not to be mistaken for a lack of potency. On “Blaxploitation” she raps, “Maybe I’m an insomni-black / Bad sleep triggered by bad government.” She flawlessly darts around rhymes and rhythms to comment on everything from police brutality to sex and heartbreak. Her lyricism is subtle and encourages her listeners to revisit the album on multiple occasions, gaining something new from each listen.  

After the release “Telefone,” Noname moved to Los Angeles. A lot of this album deals with the feelings of excitement and hesitation associated with that transition. On “Prayer Song,” Noname raps, “L.A. be bright but still a dark city / So come get your happy and your new t—ies,” commenting on Los Angeles’s beauty standards and the flawed ways people seek contentment. 

In addition to moving cities, Noname disclosed in “The FADER” that she only lost her virginity a year ago out of fear of being naked in front of another person. On “Window,” she raps “I knew you never loved me but I f—-d you anyway.” Though her wordplay on “Window” and “Montego Bae” is confident, Noname simultaneously exudes vulnerability, withholding nothing.

“Room 25” is best understood in opposites: It is vulnerable and confident, somber and jocular, simple and complex, calming and urgent. Noname’s impressive lyricism and polyrhythmic lines are perfectly matched with laid-back drum loops; D’Angelo-esque backing vocals and harmonies; Phoelix’s spacious production; features from many Chicago artists, including verses from Saba, Adam Ness and Ravyn Lanae; and stunning string arrangements courtesy of Matt Jones. In short, “Room 25” is a fine-tuned balancing act whose potency does not sacrifice groove. 

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