What I’m Listening to This Week: Telefone
In accordance with the new wave of self-love and liberation (I’m loving it!), Noname released Telefone this week. She does not preach on the value of these things, but takes listeners on her actual journey, a skill that is necessary in art and story-telling.
Many, like me, were introduced to the Chicago rapper through collaborations with Chance the Rapper. The album features many indie artists like Smino, Raury, Saba, and theMIND (aka people you most likely haven’t heard of or have only heard features from) to contribute different elements to her poetic flow reminiscent of Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelou over hip-hop beats.
The album is infused with childhood nostalgia (K-Swiss and coming home before the streetlights do in “Diddy Bop”), consciousness of the present state of Blackness in America (“Casket Pretty”), at least one good Hennessy reference (“Diddy Bop”), excerpts from Ms. Nina Simone (“Freedom Interlude”), an introduction to the artist herself (“Yesterday”) and her journey to self-love (“All I Need”).
“Forever” captures the essence of the whole album. To me, it serves as Noname’s manifesto. It relays what/who has shaped her musically (“Ms. Nina Simone, Jimmy Jones, Missy Elliot musically were my relatives, Never forget my Andre”), where she is in life now and the issues plaguing our society that she’s passionate about alleviating. (“I’m tryna reimagine abracadabra for poverty.”). This song lets me imagine the artist as if I know her; it mentions her drug-induced bliss, momma’s worries, losing herself inside herself, being accustomed to wearing hand-me-downs and being a new-age freedom fighter.
“Reality Check” shows exactly what it says it is. It serves as a coming-of-age tale, a realization of who she needs to be. As she waited in the coffee line while Jesus dropped an album, she realized that she needed to let her light shine. The fear of the skeletons in her closet is among the excuses she gives for not seizing her opportunity. “All your uncompleted similes and pages ripped.
You know they whipped us niggas. How you afraid to rap it?” She imagines her grandmother saying while rolling in her grave.
The chorus serves as an affirmation that will probably end up on a Sticky-note on my dorm room mirror.
“Don’t fear the light
That dwells deep within
You are powerful
Beyond what you imagine
Just let your light glow.”
After about ten listens, I realized why I knew that Noname was indeed, “off the drugs.” “All I Need” was released in January but still is just as relevant as the rest of the album. Like “Forever,” it gives insight on the way the artist lives her life. It describes all she needs. In a man, she needs one who will “remind me to love myself for the principle for the kid inside, til the end of time.” She reminds herself that “if it’s not how I want it, it’s just how I need it.” Life lessons, kids.
Likewise, “Diddy Bop” reveals what made her live her life the way she does. It recounts her formative years, reminiscing on “B2K in the stereo, we juke in the backseat,” and being so in love with her K. Swiss that she wanted to jump in the pool with them. She paints a tale of a young dreamer eating ice cream on her porch and watching her happy block and her whole neighborhood hit the diddy bop. Raury joins her on the track speaking of times so happy he risked missing his curfew and hoping momma don’t “whoop on my ass again.”
The light-hearted songs on childhood (Diddy Bop), love and happiness (“All I Need, “Sunny Duet”)are juxtaposed perfectly with more serious songs tackling the grievances that come with Blackness, seeing “too many babies in suits”, (“Casket Pretty,” “Shadow Man”). At some point, a deep melancholy creeps through in the last two tracks.
In “Bye Bye Baby,” Noname struggles to come to terms with an abortion. She reassures herself, “I’m gonna fall in love again,” and that she made the right decision (“I could see that she loves me, I know her heart is heavy.”) The song lovingly laments love as she nourishes herself and her baby. With this song, she personalizes her experience with this baby.
Shadow Man explores the concept of mortality, which seems much more real in Black America. According to producer Cam O’bi, Noname uses the nightingale to represent “the departed souls of the many victims of state violence, colonialism and beyond.” Blackness is implied even more as she urges them to “keep their hands up” as she sends her blessing. “Tell ’em play Metro Boomin’ at my funeral,” she says, imagining dimly grasping her own mortality.
After giving the whole album a listen, I recommend giving “Freedom (Interlude)” another listen for closure. It displays the perpetual human condition of confusion as we strive to rationalize why we’re here and who we are. Even though “Bill Cosby ain’t the God we made him,” life goes on. Like “Forever,” this song summarizes who Noname is, where she’s going and what she’s been through. It may be about confusion and perception, redemption or a mother’s intuition, (she thinks?). All she can say is that it’s for overcoming. Just dance with her. *cue the carefree Miss Nina Simone excerpt*
- “Check my Twitter page for something holier than Black death.” — Yesterday
- “The DJ was religion. I swear on the Pope he know me.” — Sunny Duet
- “Love is all I need.” — All I Need
- “I’m tryna reimagine abracadabra for poverty.” — Forever
- “Tell ’em play Metro Boomin’ at my funeral.” — Shadow Man
- “I need a nigga to follow me to the rabbit hole and fall in where I fall in.” — All I Need
- “Bill Cosby ain’t the God we made him.” — Freedom Interlude
- “Love is just a word, unless you show it.” — Sunny Duet
- “Where’s love when you need it?” — Casket Pretty