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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

A Soulful Confrontation: Noname’s Room 25

Room 25 is the refreshingly soulful confrontation of mortality and immorality you didn’t know you needed until now.

Fatimah Warner, better known as Noname, started her artistic journey in the Chicago slam poetry scene. None of that talent is lost in Room 25, where Noname maneuvers effortlessly through phonetically and metrically rich prose. Her uniquely conversational and composed tone introduces itself on the album’s opener “Self,” where the discourse jumps from unseasoned chicken to the American crack epidemic, engaging the listener in stimulating conversation from start to finish. The poetic roots of Noname’s lyricism create a powerful feeling of motion and flow that doesn’t ease up in her profound and elegant exposition.

This effect is best exemplified on the sinister “Prayer Song.” Noname’s artful condemnation of American injustice is reminiscent of poet and soul-jazz pioneer Gil Scott Heron’s work in both delivery and content. The electrically driven drum work of Luke Titus Sangerman creates a dynamic vehicle for references to various political strife, such as the ever-lingering impact of slavery and the shooting of Philando Castile. Noname’s adaptation of Heron’s compelling style strengthens the “connection between generations of organic, mindful, black music,” as Pitchfork contributor Briana Younger writes.

Noname’s transfixing cadences are only elevated by her outstanding supporting cast. She employs multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Phoelix for the album’s live and digital production, as well as fellow Chicagoans and frequent collaborators Saba and Smino on the verbally and metrically impressive “Ace.”

Smino’s infectious chorus and opening bars pave the way for two of Room 25’s most captivating verses. Noname criticizes the simplicity of modern radio-rappers, dreads the imminence of globalization, and questions the acceptance of Morgan Freeman within her first four lines; her commentary flows with such agility and blistering pace that you may find yourself rewinding just to catch every bar.

After Noname affirms the listener that they are, in fact, hearing “the best album comin’ out,” Saba takes the baton, delivering a technically stunning and shamelessly braggadocious verse. He tells the story of his triumphant independence from the music industry, all while making nods to the NFL and referencing Barefoot Contessa, a 2002 Food Network cooking show.

The mellow, neo-soul aphrodisia of “Don’t Forget About Me” gently ushers in the album’s most intimate moment. Noname paints the sullen picture of a mother with cancer, simultaneously presenting the stark truth of her own personal concerns and anguishes. She goes on to lament the fleetingness of life: “I know my body’s fragile, know it’s made from clay / But if I have to go, I pray my soul is still eternal / And my momma don’t forget about me.”

Adam Ness, yet another Chicago singer and multi-instrumentalist, drives home these solemn, existential musings on the album’s closer, “no name.” As Noname poetically contextualizes her stage name, Ness’ dreamlike melody urges us all to appreciate the ownership of our lives– after all, we truly are all made from clay, and we can’t let our brief moments in sculpture pass us by.

With Room 25, Noname has solidified her place in hip-hop as a charismatic and socially conscious “insomni-black” who, much like the rest of us, worries for the future of America. Noname delivers pointed social commentary while nimbly dancing over tightly woven R&B grooves for one of this year’s best releases yet.

8.8/10

-John Lisi

Listen to Noname’s Room 25 on Spotify here

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