Room 25, the latest album from Noname, is lullaby rap. No, really! She says so herself! Luckily, lullabies don’t have to be boring. Noname’s lullabies build a world in which you can calmly and peacefully contemplate your thoughts — regardless of intensity — with the care they deserve.
Noname has only been seriously releasing music for two years, yet her songs have worked their way into the consciousnesses of 20-somethings who share her inner worries of legacy, security and self-identity in a society that has thrown all of them in flux. Her debut mixtape Telefone sounded like a series of intimate conversations about her inner thoughts with only her closest friends. Room 25 takes those thoughts, expands upon them to much greater depth to the point where Noname becomes so vulnerable they’re only suited for her diary. Already, Room 25 feels like its been a part of her catalog for years because of her willingness to share the inner-workings of her mind.
At this point, it’s pretty universally known throughout the hip-hop community that Chicago has become a breeding ground for a crop of artists who are just as much poet as they are rappers. Nurtured from a love of slam poetry she discovered in high school, Noname’s music continues to borrow from the soft-spoken words you might find at a college open mic night. Room 25 makes it difficult to argue against Noname being at the forefront of yet another wave. There simply isn’t a single artist making music quite like her. It’s wise beyond her years yet humble as though she’s afraid to admit that her insights carry weight.
Not only does Room 25 offer some of Noname’s most poignant lyrics to date, but it is also filled with some of her most self-assured and entertaining bars. On the opener “Self,” she raps, “Heaven’s only four-feet tall, I set my ringer to it/ Fucked the rapper homie, now his ass is making better music/ My pussy teaching ninth-grade English/ My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism.” Throughout the album, Noname’s hope for recognition and confidence seem to be at odds with each other, constantly fighting for superiority over the other. Later, on the song “Eternal” she sings, “I know everyone goes someday/ 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/ I pray my momma don’t forget about me.”
Noname has already cemented herself as an extraordinary artist, yet the talk of legacy runs throughout Room 25. Of course, her professional legacy is called into question, but so do her personal relationships. How will past lovers remember her after their paths split? How will her family think of her when she’s gone? How will friends memorialize her? There’s a lot of uncertainty that comes through in Noname’s delivery.
As if an attempt to counteract the uncertainty in Noname’s musings, the production is wholly consistent with her past work. Produced primarily by fellow-Chicagoan Phoelix (who also has two features on the album), Room 25 takes many of the instrumental influences from Chicago’s scene and Noname’s own tastes and blends them into one. Jazz remains the central theme throughout much of the production that gives Noname space to let her voice lure you into an unprecedented sense of calmness.
But still, the chaos in the calmness remains. Ultimately, this 35-minute journey through Noname’s psyche is one that’s just as revealing about ourselves as it is about her. We have moments of relief that are quickly replaced by a worry the relief won’t last forever. Room 25 is a meditation on the neuroses that relentlessly force themselves into our daily lives and a seminar on how manage them.