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October 8, 2018 | by  | in Music |
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Room 25

Generally by September/October, I feel like the race for Album of the Year has usually run its course. Yet, every year without fail, some phenomenal project will pop up and complicate my list. Noname — of the flourishing Chicago scene, and collaborator of Chance the Rapper, Saba, Smino, and more – is one of my favourite rappers anywhere. Her 2016 mixtape, Telefone, should be considered in the canon of great hip-hop albums of the last few years and, in a way, it came to define a certain part of my university experience. She exuded charisma, humour, and a sharp turn-of-phrase – likely emanating from her previous work as a poet.
Room 25 moves away from the sunny vibes of Telefone in favour of darker, jazz/neo-soul arrangements, while maintaining and building upon Noname’s engagement with prevalent issues in society. “Self” opens the album, as Noname questions criticism of her rapping ability and discusses feminism in rap. “Blaxploitation” showcases Noname’s wit, and the heartbreaking neo-soul cut “Don’t Forget About Me” is a touching contemplation on mortality and legacy, where Noname spits, fittingly, over a D’Angelo-esque instrumental.
“Ace” serves as the posse cut on Room 25 – a tradition following on from Telefone standout “Shadow Man” – and, for me, it’s probably the stand-out track again. Here, the dream team from that first cut (Saba and Smino) returns, and again showcase everything they have to offer. Smino’s sung hook is catchy and befits the general mood of the record well, and I think his sung-rap style is hugely unique and captivating – I don’t think there’s anyone out there that sounds like him. Noname’s verse follows, and again features some of the stronger lines on the album (“And globalization is scary and f**kin’ is fantastic / And frankly I find it funny that Morgan is still actin’”). Saba finishes the song, and absolutely bodies his verse. Flow-wise, Saba could go toe-to-toe with any rapper around currently (I don’t think that’s too hyperbolic).

Particularly in the second half of the verse, Saba’s speed and charismatic delivery really steal the show. One of this album’s strengths, and where it builds from Telefone, is in its musical strength — often Telefone worked as a poetic piece with mood music, whereas Room 25 is more expansive and technical as a musical whole. Noname’s rapping ability has really tidied up – OCD rhythm-inclined listeners will be happier with the incorporation of polyrhythms alongside her reliably complex rhyme schemes. They seem to co-exist alongside Noname’s slam-poet esque style of rapping – a style which dominated the first mixtape.
In addition, Noname has built on her engagement with politics and gender issues on this record in an organic, vital, and topical way. I think Room 25 is an incredible work – funny, charismatic, sharp, and heart-wrenching in equal measure. If you haven’t heard Noname’s music yet, I urge you to get on board now – I think she’s well on her way to becoming one of the most adored names in rap. She’s much more than the “anti-Cardi B”, as Twitter would have it. She’s exactly the sort of voice and personality that all sorts of listeners can get behind. Awesome record.

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