Room 25 by Noname
Written by Jeff Ramella on November 21, 2018
Reviewed by Luke Winnicki
When Telefone was released in 2016, it marked a high-water point for the jazzy, spoken-word style of Chicago Alt-Rap. The floodgates were opened by Chance the Rapper’s breakout Acid Rap in 2013, but the scene waited with baited breath for the culmination of the style, which Noname executed beautifully. The record was child-like yet concise, cute but sometimes haunted, political yet purposefully naïve.
Two years later, we weren’t sure if Fatimah Warner would go the path of her idol, Ms. Lauryn Hill; the drop-a-classic-and-disappear approach. But now we are here with her long-awaited follow-up, Room 25. This record did not disappoint. In fact, it sharpens every weapon Ms. Warner brandished on her debut; the raps are tighter, the poetry is prettier, and the delivery is even more soft and unique. And I haven’t even mentioned the instrumentals yet.
Executive production is handled by her long-time collaborator, Pheolix, who, I believe, also plays bass on most of the album. The live band instrumentation lays down an elegant comforter for Noname’s bedroom flow, proving constantly soulful, yet danceable when needed. Seriously, watch her NPR Tiny Desk performance, it’s the same band, and they SLAP.
The record opens with “Self,” plunging powerfully forward with the most soulful chord progression physically possible, all while delivering the album’s thesis, sprinklings mentions of God, politics, sex, relationships, and the quandary of our day: that maybe our heroes aren’t so heroic after all. Another late-album highlight is “Ace” featuring Smino and Saba, other Chicago based artists and frequent collaborators, laying down some of their best hooks and verses, respectively.
Some of the record tends to bleed together, and some tracks are sleepers, but as a whole, the record feels totally cohesive and worth an all-the-way-through listen. Room 25 represents a step forward for Noname, proving that she has more to say and more to do. However, part of me wonders if this sharper, more mature, timelier album will be able to maintain the magic the way Telefone has for me and the rest of her fans.
Rating: 4.2/5 stars
Best Track: “Ace”
For Fans of: Chance the Rapper/Lauryn Hill/Kendrick Lamar