Album Review: #16: Noname - Telefone

by Sarah Muhammad


First on the roster for the year comes out of the young artist scene in Chicago, the scene responsible for spawning the likes of rappers Mick Jenkins and Chance the Rapper, to name a few. In fact, you can hear this artist delivering a memorable verse the song “Drown”  from Chance’s widely acclaimed mixtape Coloring Book. Yes, I would be referring to none other than rapper Noname (formerly Noname Gypsy) and her much anticipated mixtape, Telefone. Coming out of the Youmedia and Young Chicago Authors community with her cohort of equally talented performers, Noname has been able to maintain her unique delivery of rapping with colorful character and the hard cling-on to true slam and spoken word style of poetic delivery, which is signature to just about all of her work, including her latest project. Telefone is equally a beautiful and vivid story of childhood nostalgia as much as it is a dark tale of reminiscence to simpler times of innocence and the alluring aesthetic of attention to detail. It is a dichotomy of playfulness and childishness as well as seriousness and urgency. The project begins with the track “Yesterday”, where Noname talks about the death of her grandmother and Brother Mike, a prominent mentor in the Chicago poetry scene, and the realization of the truly important things in the journey of life. The opening lyrics “And I know the money don't really make me whole/The magazine covers drenched in gold/The dreams of granny in mansion and happy/The little things I need to save my soul” and “Me missing brother Mike, like something heavy/Me heart just wasn't ready/I wish I was a kid again” refer specifically to the harsh realities of the progression of life despite any tragedy and the understanding of having to cope with those realities. The tone of the album is both somber and gleeful simultaneously, particularly on tracks “Diddy Bop” featuring Cam O’bi and Raury, where Noname delivers deep and relatable interpretation of the track’s sound, a flashback to childhood in Chicago that is representative of most with the same experience (“This sound like kiddies on the playground when mama was running up/Ooooooh, you about to get your ass beat”), including myself and I listen and smile with the feeling of shared understanding. Perhaps one of the more stand out tracks on the project “Casket Pretty” presents a chilly and undeniably moving story of the common narrative of death of black youth in Chicago and all over the country, with murder rates climbing through the roof every year. Noname lends a high level of justice to the story of these fallen individuals saying “All of my niggas is casket pretty/Ain't no one safe in this happy city/I hope you make it home/I hope to God that my tele' don't ring”, speaking to the high level of paranoia in the midst of times where anyone and everyone is a target, particularly in the eyes of police authorities failing to protect and serve the community. A highlighting of skill in lyricism comes at the end of the tape on the song “Shadow Man” featuring Phoelix, Smino and fellow Chicago rapper, Saba, who also takes production credit on a large part of the album. The song also features a charming harmonization on the outro from Phoelix, TheMIND, and Cam O’bi. The project overall is a mood project in the sense that one has to be willing to commit to the stylistic deviation from the normal sound of hip hop album, with large jazz undertones through the project and instrumental arrangements that match the content to the core; in other words, this is not your Friday night turn up but something so much more profound and meaningful. 

Overall Rating: 7.4/10

Best Tracks-“Diddy Bop”/”Casket Pretty”

Best Production- “All I Need”          

Adam WilliamsComment