Poetic Justice: Hip-Hop Artist Noname DIYs Her Way to Headliner Status
A seeming Midwestern rejoinder to the “radiant trickster” who is Cardi B, Bronzeville, Illinois-born rapper Fatimah Warner—i.e., “Noname”—drops the waggish bombast for pensive ruminations on life, love and being black in America. Just don’t put it that way to her. “A lot of my fans … I think they like me because they think I’m the anti-Cardi B. I’m not,” Noname told Fader last fall. “I still see people tweeting me sometimes like … I’m like the conscious version of different female rappers who don’t make the type of music that I make.”
Truth is, it is a bit hard to square Warner’s unpretentious, dauntless persona with her elaborate, often-confessional wordsmithing. “I know the money don’t really make me whole,” she muses in “Yesterday,” from her debut album “Room 25,” out last fall, to admit in a later song, “The secret is I’m actually broken … Tell ‘em Noname still don’t got no money/ Tell ‘em Noname almost passed out drinking ….” While lacking the self-righteousness often accompanying the “conscious” label, she eschews the flashy materialism often conflated with contemporary hip-hop.
In a sense, Noname has risen to fame doing what people do when they don’t prioritize getting famous. She released a mix tape, “Telephone,” stayed off the Twittersphere and slowly but surely won over a lot of ears (not to mention a coveted spot on 2018’s Coachella line-up). She then let her verses percolate two years before recording her first studio album with the funds earned from touring. “Africa’s never dead, Africa’s always dying,” she riffs in “Regal,” “No more apples or oranges / Only pickles and pacifists / Twitter ranting for martyrdom unified as capitalists ….”
Reminiscent of the irreverent meanderings of Erykah Badu and (yes) the introspective swagger of Lauryn Hill, Noname’s lyrics betray both her years doing spoken word in Chicago and her merging of personal and political stakes. “I’m struggling to simmer down, maybe I’m an insomni-black,” she puns in “Blaxploitation.” “Bad sleep triggered by bad government / Put a think piece in a rap song the new age covet it / If you really think I’m cooking crack, then pass me the oven mitts.”
Warner addresses the sexism in the hip-hop sphere with a similarly playful sarcasm. “My pussy teaches ninth-grade English,” she jests. “My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism / In conversation with a marginal system in love with Jesus / Y’all really thought a bitch couldn’t rap, huh?”
All images courtesy of Chantal Anderson.