ROOM 25: ALBUM REVIEW
In the early to mid-2010s, Chicago was in the midst of a creative explosion of artists whose voices were being heard and felt all over the country. If you were into drill, there were so many exciting artists to watch. If you loved the classics, Kanye and Common were still two of the most influential rappers in the world. And finally, if you were looking for something more lighthearted you had the SAVEMONEY movement and its affiliates. Five years later, its absolutely incredible to see how many different and weird directions each of the artists in these scenes took their music. Chief Keef is now releasing R&B ballads, Chance is writing songs about Jesus and his wife, Vic Mensa is in a pop-punk band, and Kanye is… supporting Donald Trump. It seems like each of these scenes, instead of dying out, have branched out to a point where they are completely unrecognizable. The SAVEMONEY scene especially was largely abandoned before it ever reached the point of becoming something bigger. The only artist who has really taken this burst of Chciago creative energy to its logical conclusion is Noname.
Noname arose out of the creative explosion in Chicago as a young phenom. Her star, at that time, was largely eclipsed by Chance and Vic Mensa, but listening back to their early works, Noname always showed the most promise. She has so much control over her cadence and the themes that she was willing to take on possessed a ton of emotional depth. Her first project, Telefone, generated a good amount of critical acclaim and buzz. It was a bopping record, filled with bouncy beats and joyful bars. In the years that passed between Telefone and Room 25, Noname grew. So while, Room 25 is still deeply rooted in that original Chicago sound, more importantly, it is rooted in the ethos of what made that sound so special.
On the first song “Self,” Noname says “Maybe this the album you listen to in your car when you driving home late at night. Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches.” It is telling that Kanye is one of the gods she begins to question and gets at the heart at what makes “Room 25” so powerful. The entire SAVEMONEY scene was built on Kanye worship. Remove Kanye's influence from Chicago and Acid Rap, Innatape and Telefone simply would never have been put to wax. The questioning of Kanye is a broader questioning of the sound and how it is meant to evolve. Kanye is no longer a god to be trusted, he is to be questioned.
This sentiment of change is echoed in the next track, “Blaxploitation.” In the song Noname raps about Chicago politics and gentrification, saying “Uh, yeah, anti-political mythical in the picture. Your nigga just moved to Wicker. Your mammy stay on the south side.” Here, she addresses internalized racism and hate in a way that only Chicagoans can understand. Moving to Wicker park, away from the South Side means something, and Noname consistently calls out these seemingly tiny actions. Noname sees the significance in the details of life and isn’t afraid to point them out. This is part of what makes her such an effective political advocate; she calls out the racism and classism that everyone else sees as a minor detail.
The clear highlight of the album is the song “Don’t Forget About Me.” This song brings together the themes of memory and fragility that have always permeated through Noname’s music and presents them in a heartbreaking way. She whispers, “I know everyone goes some day. 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 and my momma don't forget about me.” Over a rising swell of strings and other instruments which create a beautiful atmosphere for her moving words.
Noname has shown that she is willing to evolve in the public eye. She is willing to have hard conversations, willing to take the time to educate herself and educate others on reaching black liberation. She is both more radical and imaginative than any other entertainer speaking out during this time. Room 25 is a testament to her genius and shows the influence and radical nature of that early Chicago music coming to its logical conclusion.