Noname and The Art of Subtlety

I first heard Fatimah Warner, A.K.A Noname when she featured on Chance The Rapper’s second mixtape, ‘Acid Rap’ in 2013 whilst she was still using the full ‘Noname gypsy’ as her stage name. Warner’s verse in Lost instantly had me listening intently and carefully not only to each word she uttered, but the soft and delicate way she managed to express such heavy metaphors.

Noname began her verse, the closing verse, with something that sounds like a beautiful story; “I blessed myself inside his arms one day” — leaving the listener anticipating some kind of tale of love. But of course, Noname’s modern day realism gives the raw and painful love story; in one short verse she manages to share a whole experience of the process of growing up and becoming a woman, which then takes a sharp turn into the strife of adulthood. Noname manages to discuss therapy, pills, sex, and a hard, almost tangible pain in the space of just twelve lines, and she does so with the art which she has mastered so well; the art of subtlety.

Noname’s subtle tone, subtle use of ambiguous yet packed metaphors, subtle anecdotes, even her subtlety in deliverance at times; I take all of these acts of subtlety to be testament to her true genius. She hits us hard when we don’t expect it. I was thrilled to see Noname as a feature on Chance’s latest album, Colouring Book, when it came out and I definitely wasn’t disappointed. This time, she took an almost biblical approach in her lyrics, even delivering the verse similar to the style of a prayer.

“Lord rain down on me so I can move on water

like children at the altar, like God inside my house”

The call to God to bless her is clear in Noname’s lines; asking for God to accept her as one of his children, to give her the power to “move on water” — to combat any struggle. She goes on to praise her God, the God Chance has made this entire album to thank and appreciate, and in my favourite line she thus states and immediately restates that she knows her God, she knows her God. It’s not just the unwavering faith and certainty that moves me here, but it’s also just hearing the extent of truth and emotion in Noname’s voice as she delivers these words that’s enough to move anybody to tears.

Of course, I was thrilled to see Noname drop her own mixtape just last year. I’ve been even more thrilled to see the amazing feedback she’s been receiving for Telefone. I take Telefone as the clearest example of Noname’s talent in the subtle expression of uneasy, truthful, and often painful realities, not to say that album is simply bleak by any means; I’d rather say it’s passionately creative in every sense of the word.

This is another trait of Noname which only extends her artistic genius; how she manages to play with the realm of positivity in her work. For example, in Yesterday, the opening track to Telefone, the first thing we hear is a calm, happy beat with a rhythm that could resemble children’s songs. She then goes on to sing gently, melodically, her opening lines, catchy, and talking about how her newfound fame and money don’t make her whole, but dreams of helping her family do. It’s a positive start, on a positive beat, and it’s friendly and warm almost instantly. So much so that we may not catch some of the depth of the first verse where she spends time talking about her struggles with her vices, with the devil calling her back to drugs to combat her “hollow”-ness, as she puts it. She ends the verse saying “I wish I was a kid again” — this is darker than we realise, but maybe she doesn’t want us to realise, so she masks the fear of emptiness she’s been fighting with a soft voice and a happy beat, she comforts us.

The whole mixtape is incredible. Noname showcases her artistic, and I truly mean artistic, talents throughout. The tape gets more emotional and perhaps more intense but she doesn’t let us realise this straightaway, even though her lyrics tell her stories, Noname doesn’t expose her truths so easily; she makes the audience listen again and again to figure out what’s real going on behind the sweet songs and melodies. Another prime example of this would be in the 9th track; Bye Bye Baby. This song, despite its soothing, lullaby-like feel, is an emotional tale of abortion. Though she never explicitly mentions abortion, Noname gives us just enough to infer the real story; how in love she was, how she was almost ready to have a child. This track is deeply layered with biblical references and we can see Noname consoling herself through her own music; understanding her choice as a choice of love ad acceptance, still loving her unborn baby, and stating this song as a love song for women who have experienced abortion.

When it comes to Noname, without a doubt it’s best to let the music speak for itself. Her unique style and technique in rap is truly artistic gold, it’s not about who she compares to, or who she might sound like. She well and truly holds her own, and clearly pours her heart and soul into every detail of her work, touching on real-life issues in a way that isn’t aiming to be ‘socially conscious’ or objectively successful. Noname is just sharing her truths, and she’s been generous enough to let us hear them too.