Three years after receiving general acclaim for her feature on Chance the Rapper’s track ‘Lost’, Noname finally delivered her debut mixtape Telefone. Her unique nonchalant cadence and soothing tenor lends itself to the conversational style of the album, which constructs a profound feeling of intimacy between artist and listener. The album is very much grounded in Noname’s home city of Chicago, which has seen an emerging creative scene pioneered by artists such as Chance. The music arising from this has been unflinchingly honest in its reflection of Chicago’s social and cultural landscape. On the track Casket Pretty it’s stated “All of my niggas is casket pretty/ Ain’t no one safe in this happy city”. However, within this setting of violence and pain, there is an authentic expression of self-belief and optimism, made more potent by the gospel elements of Noname’s music. In this way Telefone is as much about freedom and hope as it is about the struggles of those whose voices may have been previously silenced. This is most apparent on the track Freedom (Interlude) that incorporates a sample of Nina Simone talking about what freedom is to her (“no fear”) which Noname frames by stating ‘Dance with me/ I know I’m free’.
Words: Lydia Entwistle