A lot has changed for Noname since the release of her 2016 debut mixtape, Telefone, a release that afforded her a promotion from ‘friend of co-signer Chance the Rapper’ to something of a minor star. Much of that project’s success and popularity can be attributed to a sincerity that eludes the obsequious, post-drill Chicago set; Telefone was mature and warm, a work that immediately announced the arrival of an artist who could thoughtfully navigate the tension between the personal and political without rejecting the pleasures of pop. Two years later, and despite her increased level of visibility, it doesn’t seem like much has seemingly changed for Noname. That isn’t to say that she’s necessarily stagnated or that she’s failing to live up to the hype, just that Room 25 is a very strong lateral move, feeling even a bit like an addendum to Telefone by mirroring that mixtape’s structure and thematic concerns. The production is similar as well, oscillating between dreamy R&B and jazz-rap beats — yet the album is not entirely without a forward progression.
Room 25 finds Noname far more grounded than she was on Telefone; sure, the talking points are similar (race, gender, class), but the tone with which she addresses her audience is more knowing and at ease. Compare each project’s openers: “Yesterday,” off Telefone, is a song about heading into an uncertain future by drawing power from the past, while Room 25’s “Self” sits comfortably in the present, playfully poking at Noname’s newfound clout. That ends up being what defines Room 25 in relation to its predecessor: an ease and sense of humor that existed on Telefone, but that defines this entire project. The album isn’t a massive step forward, but it is a necessary, and welcome, expansion.
Published as part of What Meek Didn’t Do | The Rap Releases We Missed in 2018.