Two years since the debut of her critically acclaimed mixtape Telefone, 26-year-old Chicago rapper Fatimah Warner (a.k.a. Noname) wears her heart on her sleeve in Room 25. Fully financed by herself, the album is a combination of distinct, symphonious sounds that complement the rapper’s melodic discography. While the rapper was known for her slam poetry roots as a teen in the Bronzeville neighbourhood of Chicago’s South Side, she gained notoriety after appearing on Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap in 2013. After delivering a solid project with Telefone in 2016, Noname proves why she’s worthy of all the press and praise with the arrival of Room 25.
Citing Missy Elliot, Toni Morrison, Nina Simone and more as some of her stylistic influences, Noname has crafted her own signature sound that electrifies listeners with every single play. Her knack for implementing poetry remains one of her greatest strengths as it stays true to her origins and defines her artistic vision. Rap, jazz and neo-soul serve as the perfect soundtrack on Room 25 while Noname raps about black womanhood, loss, healing and self-discovery. Despite the explicit lyrics, there is a particular softness the emcee exudes throughout the "uncouth” subject matter that provides the perfect balance. The 11-track debut album features appearances by newcomers Ravyn Lenae, Smino and Saba, and string arrangements by Matt Jones match the rapper’s multifaceted energy effortlessly and quell any mention of a sophomore jinx.
The album begins with a soulful track titled Self, which perfectly encapsulates her witty rhymes and flavourful prose without flaw. Reminiscent of Sunday mornings and worship, Noname’s lyrics are her own testimony. Blaxploitation follows the lead song, sampling clips from the vintage era that dominated in the 1970s. The rapper thoughtfully combs through a plethora of black stereotypes and the effects it has on her psyche (“My people started running a long time ago. And they are still fighting,” ) making the feature one of Room 25′s standout tracks.
Prayer Song continues with the themes of America, freedom and resistance. While exploring police brutality and corruption, she touches on how she fits into the narrative and highlights her move from Chicago to Los Angeles, a re-occurring subject on the album – contrasting the rugged yet comforting place she calls home to the superficial space that is L.A. Moving forward, Window explores remnants of self-discovery and vulnerability, which are also beautifully illustrated on Don’t Forget About Me ("But if I have to go, I pray my soul is still eternal. And my momma don’t forget about me”) and With You. Intertwining the art of her infamous cadence, the rapper reflects on change and the fear of being forgotten.
The next string of tracks, Regal and Montego Bae, follows the overall vibe of the album and double as an ode to self-confidence and playfully reminiscing over sensual memories ignited by a West Indian lover. Ace, featuring St. Louis rapper Smino and fellow Chicago native Saba, is a personal favourite because of the fast-paced, infectious rhyme style that will have various listeners begging the rapper to make this an official single. Part Of Me, featuring Benjamin Earl Turner and Pheolix, gives off a sound that will satisfy D’Angelo and neo-soul lovers. Closing off the 34-minute album, the song no name left me wanting more from the talented writer and musician.
Noname’s voice and fervent (and often explicit) lyricism stand on its own in a climate where redundancy often floods the rap airwaves. Despite the anonymity behind her stage name, the emcee reveals parts of herself in Room 25 that makes the stay worthwhile.