Noname’s mixtape ‘Telefone’ fuses rap and slam poetry

By Jenn Zuccaro
Staff Writer

Most people might only be familiar with “Noname” from her features on Chance the Rapper’s popular mixtapes “Acid Rap” (2013) and “Coloring Book” (2016). But the Chicago native is capable of much more than a few select verses, something she has proven with the release of her debut mixtape, “Telefone.

Noname’s lyrics sound more like slam poetry than traditional rap. (Flickr)

Fatimah Warner, better known by her stage name Noname, grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, where she developed an interest in blues music and poetry. She competed in local open mics and slam poetry competitions, and even placed third in Chicago’s annual “Louder than a Bomb” competition, the largest youth poetry festival in the world, according to its website.

But her interest in poetry eventually gave way to a love for freestyle rap, which led to a feature on fellow Chicago native Chance the Rapper’s second mixtape, whom she had met while practicing and performing locally.

“Telefone,” which was released last summer to critical acclaim, is predominantly “jazz rap,” a fusion subgenre of hip-hop and jazz music that emerged in the late ’80s. Noname’s 2017 tour started off with a bang as she continues to amaze audiences with her distinct sound. Noname plans to give Philadelphia and New York City a taste of her music with tours scheduled for June and July this year.

Noname’s use of this genre as a staple of her music marks a key difference in her style of rap in comparison to other popular female hip-hop artists. In short, it allows her to do what so many others in the genre fail to do in their attempts to mimic their more mainstream predecessors. She does not try to rap in the harsh, aggressive ways that are characteristic of some prominent female rappers like Iggy Azalea and Nicki Minaj, and the result is something raw and genuine, a refreshing and honest work of art.

Noname first became known after working with Chance the Rapper on his mixtape ‘Acid Rap.’ (Flickr)

Noname’s roots in slam poetry are extremely evident throughout the entirety of the work. She raps with a smooth, lyrical style that is more reminiscent of recited poetry than traditional rap. Coupled with Noname’s powerful lyrics are a number of notable features and verses provided by an array of talented artists, including Saba and Smino.

The mixtape addresses a number of topics, from love to drugs, death to opportunity, all finding its way to relate back the African American culture that she feels so deeply connected to. The tone varies slightly from song to song, from the mellow, somewhat nostalgia-inducing “Bye Bye Baby” to the brighter, more upbeat “Sunny Duet,” and the almost too catchy “Diddy Bop,” a masterful composition that offers a glimpse of Noname’s earlier life.

While “Telefone” might not be the ideal mixtape to listen to during an intense workout session, it is the perfect listen for virtually all other settings, from a casual walk around the Metzger Loop to background music while you complete your morning routine. Give it a listen — you won’t be disappointed.