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Noname Finds Beauty In The Bleak On ‘Telefone’

Noname Telefone review

Good music feels like friendship to me. The warmth of crackling bonfires. Running for the train in pack formation at the end of the night to avoid splitting a cab. Eyeing the cop car that won’t stop checking your hangout spot. The perfect dap. The missed dap. They live on and constantly share space with new thoughts and feeling of all kinds, but few things can tap into that melancholic sweet spot like childhood memories. In a year where global politics are swirling the drain and police-related death continues to plague Black men, women, and children, few artists have hit that bittersweet spot the way that Chicago lyricist Noname (formerly Noname Gypsy) does on her long-awaited debut project Telefone. The project firmly plants its foot between memories of Rugrats on Saturday mornings, B2K summer nights, and things on the internet “holier than Black death.”

Noname, born Fatimah Warner, lets her rhymes flow wispily through beats before the weight of her words hits your brain on the way out. Her conversational flow has meshed with Mick Jenkins, Kirk Knight, Lil B, and of course fellow YOUMedia kid Chance The Rapper (“Israel” still goes hard), but the promise of Telefone kept eating at fans as weeks turned to months turned to years. I remember the excitement I felt when I heard her cut loose on the Jamila Woods song “VRY BLK” a month earlier. “Everything is casualty, a song I heard, the bullets sing/I know a couple babies gon’ see ’em fly tonight/He wish he wasn’t magic, all he wanna do is be a passage/In a book titled “America the Savage.”

We wanted Noname to have that space for her impressionistic style to bloom, and Telefone dreams up lots of room for its complex strand of emotions. She jokes about bullshit venue dress codes before lamenting the loss of Chicago figure Brother Mike and her grandmother on opening track “Yesterday.” She looks back on a childhood of juke jams and dodging ass whoopings from moms for stealing from her purse on “Diddy Bop.” She’s confused by the forgiveness shown to Bill Cosby post-rape allegations on “Freedom (Interlude)” and wishes poverty would disappear on “Forever” before devoting an entire song to a conversation with an aborted child on the aptly titled “Bye Bye Baby.”

Noname’s childhood and the child she may or may not have lost are consistent themes that inform just about every track here. “Casket Pretty” is backed by splashy synths and a crying child juxtaposed with the notion that her friends are all pretty enough for an open casket; bassinets on the edge of life and death.    

There’s hard-earned lessons to unpack here, but Noname’s “aloe vera sentences” and the production, mostly handled by Phoelix, Cam O’bi, and Saba, keep things balanced and cohesive. And the production really is gilded analog bliss. Muted drums and warbling synths add texture to the nostalgia of “Yesterday” and “Diddy Bop” and the album floats on sun-kissed arrangements like the clanking “Forever.” All three hop on the mic with killer features, joining Ravyn Lenae, Xavier Omar, theMIND, and a standout star-eyed verse from Raury post

Telefone is a child raised by a musical village, but Noname is still the guiding light. Loss, nostalgia, childhood, and the future are just pieces of her never ending conversation. And it’s a conversation you shouldn’t be sending to voicemail. Check out some of my favorite bars below. 

“Yesterday”

 

 “And I know, the money don’t really make me whole/the magazine covers drenched in gold”

“Basket case sillouetee, cigarette in her neck/Check my Twitter page for something holier than Black death”

“Me missing Brother Mike like something heavy/Me heart wasn’t ready; I wish I was a kid again”

“Don’t grow up too soon, don’t blow them candles out, don’t let them cops get you.”

 

“Sunny Duet (feat. theMIND)”

“I used to have a name that looked like butterflies and Henessy”

“I use to dream in parables, partially love you naturally/Happily ever after, cigarettes over blunts now”

 

“Diddy Bop (feat. Raury & Cam O’bi)”

“This sound like niggas complaining when their bitches like Raz-B/B2K in the stereo, we juke in the back seat/Or juke in the basement, in love with my KSWISS/This feel like jumping in the pool and I’m knowing I can’t swim”

 

“All I Need (feat. Xavier Omär)”

“A casanova with catalogs of his dinner dates/Make me feel special, Jay Electro-Soul/I need a nigga to follow me to the rabbit hole/And fall in where I fall in”

 

“Reality Check”

“Opportunity knockin, a nigga just got her nails done/Skeletons in my closet gone open the door when Yale come/They ain’t gonna wanna see my silhouette rap”

“Opportunity knockin’, it’s finally time to answer/The doorbell was only broken cause auntie was fighting cancer”

 

“Freedom (Interlude)”

“Open the DM, I think he like me/Asiatic black man, affinity with lap dance/The walls is caving, the laws is changing/Bill Cosby ain’t the god we made him, they all forgave him/I think i wrote a song about confusion and perception/Messages in bottles”

 

“Casket Pretty”

“Blue and the white/Badges and pistols rejoice in the night/And we watch the news, and we see him die tonight/Tonight the night his baby said goodbye/Roses in the road, teddy bear outside/Bullet there on the right,
where’s love when you need it?”

 

“Forever”

“I’m trying to re-imagine abracadabra for poverty/Like poof I made it disappear, proof I’m made of happiness/Everything is everything, but I still haven’t paid my rent”

 

“Bye Bye Baby”

“Ask me why she said goodbye, why baby dyin’ white walls/Cigarette’s over skyfall, writing this life/this my song, ask me why she hesitated/Almost waited, waiting room, played it up to heaven soon/Soon I will see the King, he reminds me/Some give presents before they’re even ready/I could see that she loves me, I know her heart is heavy.”

 

“Shadow Man”

“Everything I ever loved I lost in the magic/I claim by the river, my body delivered/When I die there’s 27 rappers at my funeral/Moses wrote my name in gold and Kanye did the eulogy”

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