Although Noname had been rapping and performing poetry locally since 2010, it took a feature on fellow Chicagoan Chance the Rapper’s “Lost” for the hip-hop community to start paying attention to an astonishingly creative new voice (Chance himself calls it the best guest verse of his career). And while more and more features steadily poured out for listeners over the next few years, it wasn’t until 2016 that Noname gave us her free debut mixtape, Telefone.
That release has been met with wide acclaim, with many regarding it as one of the best albums of the year. Noname’s love of poetry shines, as she cherishes nostalgia over childhood ice cream and crushes while also grappling with bleaker realities such as poverty and police brutality against her community.
Despite facing those travesties with unapologetic honesty, she doesn’t fall into total despair: even in light of devastation, Telefone remains warm, comforting, and determined. Its lush production and Noname’s leisurely style (reminiscent of Frank Ocean at times) strengthen that, offering a lifeline without becoming saccharine or vapid, and it means Telefone is an uncompromising but ultimately hopeful listen.
The album opens with “Yesterday,” a song which welcomes you while allowing Noname to explore the grief of losing her grandmother. Hints of blues slide through and gospel harmonies soothe as she mourns and fondly looks back: “I remember your smile like it was yesterday.”
It’s one of many conversations that Noname has over the course of the album, painful and earnest recollections of telephone calls that shaped her before spilling out like seeds that bloomed, offering wisdom, hope, and beauty, for all who pass by.