The Chicago-based rapper and singer Noname, known for her 2016 album “Telefone” and her features on some of Chance the Rapper’s projects, released her sophomore album “Room 25” on Sept. 14. Recorded in just a month, “Room 25” includes commentary on everything from revolutionary politics to the history of slavery to Chick-fil-A waffle fries.
Despite its short format — the whole thing is only about 35 minutes — Noname manages to explore her own life, especially her sexuality, and the status of the United States, particularly in regard to race relations, with nuance and artistry.
Noname talks with a refreshingly thoughtful honesty about her femininity, subverting the domination of the genre by male rappers who openly discuss their sexual exploits. At times, Noname combines this brash language with a cultural critic’s precision about current events.
“Maybe this the album you listen to in your car / When you driving home late at night,” Noname raps on the album’s opening track, “Self,” conjuring up dual senses of the wonder inherent in a nighttime drive and the danger of driving while black. These lines somehow manage to sum up the whole album.
Bookended by samples from “Dolemite” (1975) and “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” (1973), the aptly named track “Blaxpoitation” has a ‘70s feel with its groovy, soul beat and these samples.
“Blaxploitation” also features the best of Noname’s humorous side, with lines about the hypocrisy she feels while eating waffle fries from Chick-fil-A and Hillary Clinton’s comments about keeping hot sauce in her purse.
In “Prayer Song,” Noname takes an artistic risk, rapping throughout the second verse from the perspective of a corrupt male police officer, whose masculinity hinges on “keeping the streets clean” of black people. With this decision, Noname — who began performing slam poetry in 2010 — shows her literary prowess, deftly writing from the persona of a different gender, race, career and sociopolitical viewpoint.
Getting into the middle of the album, Noname alternates between forgettable tracks such as “Regal” and “Window” and decent ones like “Montego Bae” and “Don’t Forget About Me.”
The fifth track, “Don’t Forget About Me,” is the only song that feels like it could fit in with Noname’s previous album “Telefone,” which was characterized by silky productions and whimsical lyrics about her childhood and family.
In the song, Noname prays, “I know my body’s fragile, know it’s made from clay / But if I have to go, I pray my soul is still eternal” before asking that her “momma and granny don’t forget” about her.
In “Ace,” Noname calls out radio DJs, globalization and Morgan Freeman, who was accused of sexual harassment in May but has received little consequence since then, in rapid succession before reflecting on her own writing process and why Room 25 is “the best album that’s coming out.”
“I’m just writing my darkest secrets like wait and just hear me out,” she raps. “Saying vegan food is delicious like wait and just hear me out.”
Both “Ace” and the next song, “Part of Me,” have impressive features from fellow Chicago rappers Saba and Phoelix, Smino from St. Louis and Benjamin Earl Turner from the San Francisco Bay area.
“Room 25” finishes out with a package of slow-moving songs, “With You” and “No Name,” that feature beautiful, twangy guitar instrumentation and thoughtful lyrics. While they sacrifice a bit of Noname’s trademark humor, they allow “Room 25” to end with a serious juxtaposition on the personal and political.
While “Room 25” as a whole is willing to be critical about topics from Clinton’s failed attempts to appeal to voters of color to the over-taxation of medicine, the final lines of the album leave listeners with a sense of hope.
“Your life, you life, is your life, baby,” Adam Ness sings in those last lines. “Don’t let it pass you by / Don’t let it pass you by.”