Track review by Roger
Full disclosure, I love this artist.
by Noname (featuring Raury & Cam O’bi)
Fatimah Warner first came into prominence under the moniker “Noname Gypsy”, deciding to eventually drop the second proper noun from her stage name. I like to believe that this happened because of a moment of clarity, a realization that the Romani people are a marginalized group of people — the name “gypsy” having become a derogatory term at some point in history. Or maybe it always was. I’m not an etymologist nor a historian. At any rate, I like to believe that Noname learned about this connotation sometime in the past year and a half and decided that lacking a proper term of identification was covered by the mononym.
I want to associate this kind of enlightenment with Noname, a person growing and learning alongside her audience, as her music and words implore listeners to do the same. Or at least try to (proper English be damned). I first began to create these associations based on Chance’s second (excellent, in my opinion) mixtape Acid Rap where she was featured in the soulful trap song/spoken word presentation, “Lost.”
While probably not the most technically impressive feature on that mixtape it definitely had this openness and rawness (clear terms, I know) that many seemed to care less about in comparison to cool factor. To move deftly in a flow similar to spoken word from desire to reality (“fuck me into open caskets / I wanna die with this / I wanna stop seeing my psychiatrist”) to a synthesis of the two by way of acceptance (“the only time he loves me is naked in my dreams”) all within a thirty two second verse demonstrates a level of craftsmanship worth paying attention to. So whenever I see the name “Noname” my eyes dilate a little and whatever I’m doing at the time is put on the back burner.
Imagine my surprise when a reddit thread put me onto Noname’s new project with the title “Finaly [sic] Noname’s new project.” A little embarrassed (“finally” implies a wait time that real fans had to sit patiently through) I waded in. I thought I was a real fan but I guess that’s not as true as I want it to be. Either way, while my wait for her project, which turned out to be a ten track mixtape, wasn’t as long as others may have been — only however many seconds it took for me to read that comment thread then open a new tab in browser and typing in “soundcloud.com” (didn’t even have to search for it, there was the cover art looking me in the face at the top of the page) — I was probably just as excited as anybody’s to consume like a good American.
And it is exactly what I expected. In the same way that Pusha T’s comfort zone is an off-kilter Timbaland beat with coke money bars, Noname’s is a soulful melody set to very loose, off-center synthetic drums influenced in equal parts by Lauryn Hill and Nujabes but with gliding 808s and Chicago swag. For me that’s like a warm, soft blanket on a crisp fall day, maybe some light rain — a place I can be content in for the foreseeable future. Not that this style of music is all I listen to but it could be.
So the project is named Telefone and “Diddy Bop” — named after the dance moves pioneered by Bad Boy leader and frontman Puff Daddy Diddy — is the third track. She doesn’t waste too much time with a build or grand intro but opts for a repetitive, yet short, statement “I’m ready I’m ready.” And indeed she seems to be because it only takes seven seconds for her to finish being ready and begin to spit rose-tinted hot fire. The 90s is alive and well in this track from the beat that would feel as at home following “Prototype” by Andre 3k as it does in my library (this track literally sits beside BROCCOLI by D.R.A.M. & Yachty on my iPhone rn. Not to say that’s what makes sense to everybody but fuck you this is my playlist). A bit of a mini refrain throughout the track resonates with a lot of us who used to be badass little black kids:
“Oooo you about to get yo ass beat”
Regardless of your ideas on corporal punishment, those of us who did face a beating (hopefully, and normally, not as intense as it may sound to those of you who were put in “time out” or “got a good talking to” or whatever the fuck else y’all do with yo white children) tend to look back on those days with both humor and feigned indignance — a story told by the (grown) children of Black parents at any given family gathering that starts with “I caught a good beating/whoopin when I got home” normally connotes a good or otherwise exciting experience. The truly best stories are followed by “yeah, but that whooping was totally worth it.” More often than not parents and kids and aunts and uncles add more details or a different perspective and laughter abounds. These are the best experiences, and I have a couple myself.
This song is a lot like those stories. The humor of doing absolutely stupid shit only ignorant children do mixed with what I can only assume is the true love experienced by a parent for their own personal little dumb ass, like getting in trouble for taking money:
“You about to get yo ass beat / for stealing that twenty dollars / like, baby just ask me / momma said she love love loved us”
We learn a lot more empirically (i.e. fucking up) than we do from any sort of other didactic process. And from the source material of experiencing ass-beatings, wearing K-Swiss and FUBU, lights being cut off from inability to pay, and curfews regulated by street lamps — oh, and of course, hitting the Diddy Bop during a block party with the whole neighborhood — Noname fashions another verse more akin to poetic tapestry than rap bars. Then we get Cam O’bi on the hook, delivering an even if not underwhelming vocal performance. He also handles the beat which isn’t too surprising — his fingers have been all over the production of Chicago hip-hop acts recently, from Mick Jenkins to Chance the Rapper — and he put his goddamn foot in it. It’s simple af but works super well probably in no small part because of its simplicity.
Also Raury is on it. If you don’t know Raury, well you should educate yourself. Watching this video where he makes vegan blueberry muffins with Waka Flocka Flame is a good starting point. But aside from being a decent vegan baker, he’s also a rather deft rapper — doing on this track what Noname did on Chance’s “Lost” track: killing it. He starts by saying he’s not a star but a falling meteor that’s also flying across the cosmos. Then compares that to Jacob’s ladder before descending the stairway to heaven in an act of reminiscence on the times back when he was with the homies on the block where eses can’t receive equal treatment or pay and his mom will still beat his ass if he misses curfew. The narrative is amazing, but more impressive is the alliteration being tackled. His transition from focus on syllables to focus on slant rhymes is crazy and stark. But the heart of his verse is at the end, a wish to be back in these times as opposed to whatever galaxy he resides in now:
“Pray you gonna bring that shit back again / pray you gonna bring that shit back again”
Cam O’bi hits that refrain again, this time achieving a more tangible and cathartic climax from the hook. Maybe because the nostalgia has sunk in fully. Rose tint on the street lamps, I look and try to remember the times I had curfews.
I personally would give it a “5/5″ but I’m honestly taking it down a peg for the audience for two reasons:
1) you may be super against kids getting hit for being kids, and
2) you haven’t heard “Prototype” by Andre 3000 and as a result do not understand electro-soul or afro-futurism.
Anyway this shit is dope. Def support this artist.
Originally published at bloggingaintdead.tumblr.com.