Noname doesn’t need your labels. In the years since her breakout mixtape Telefone, she’s been called “the anti-Cardi B” and “the female Kendrick” by fans eagerly awaiting a second project. While her soft spokenness suggests the former and her lyricial knack the latter, she detests both of these backhanded compliments, telling the Fader, “I’m just Fatimah.”
Some already know Fatimah (better known by her stage name Noname) from her stand out features on Chance the Rapper’s early material, or her solo work as Noname on Telefone, a brilliantly warm tape about love, loss and joy in her home Chicago. Even new listeners will get to know her best on her latest project, Room 25. It wouldn’t be enough to say Room 25 has Noname’s most personal rapping yet; its whole aura is singular. Noname trades the clicky bops for an instrumental palette as broad as her ambition. The gospel groove of “Self” is her bread and butter, but she sounds just as comfortable on the off-kilter funk of “Blaxploitation” or the bossa shuffle of “Montego Bae.”
Her verses are better than ever too. As Noname turns her whispered meditations inward, her lines grow more assured and heartfelt. “No actually this is for me … ” she declares on “Self,” before coming up with gems like, “I fucked your rapper homie, now his ass is making better music / My pussy teaching 9th grade English.”
If “Telefone” was soothing and pleasant enough to have on in the background, Room 25 demands your attention at every tick. It contains traces of the vibey offbeat rap pioneered by Noname herself, fellow Chicagoan Saba and Smino (see the excellent posse cut “Ace”). But it’s clear that Noname has carved her own lane here, one that defies expectations as much as she moves past them.