The older you get, the more you actually see the things around you. For some, that clarity comes around age 30, when you notice those first few gray hairs, and your knee makes a little more noise than it used to. Others, like Fatimah Warner—a rapper who records under the moniker Noname—have always seen the light. At 26, she unpacks societal ills with clear vision, dissecting a wide range of topics—like law enforcement, cosmetic drugs, and plastic surgery—with a confident gaze. Much like Kendrick Lamar and Nas, she considers these things with an author’s mindset, quietly absorbing the world as it scrolls past her window. She unloads it all—joy, pain, and stress—in a breathless, ruminating flow that requires deep listening to fully absorb. When Noname raps, she’s leaning in to speak only to you.
Room 25 is a grand coming-of-age record on which the rapper pivots between introspective self-assessment and outward-looking scrutiny, giving equal weight to both. Much like Telefone, Noname’s breakthrough 2016 mixtape, Room 25 presents the rapper as a conflicted soul in the midst of deep thought, embracing life as it comes. On “Prayer Song,” Noname criticizes the facade that America has become, framing its absurdity through the lens of an equally absurd Hollywood. “L.A. be bright, but still a dark city,” she quips, “so come get your happy and your new titties.” Also on Noname’s shit-list: poverty, heart disease, gentrification, and trigger-happy police officers. Elsewhere, on “Don’t Forget About Me,” the rapper gazes into the future, using a lush neo-soul beat to contemplate her existence: “I know everyone goes someday, I know my body’s fragile, know it’s made from clay.” She sounds isolated if not downright lonely; the words elude to premature death and hang a bit heavier following the recent passing of rapper Mac Miller at the age of 26.
Ultimately, Room 25 highlights Noname’s creative and personal independence, and delves into her struggles to cope with burgeoning fame in a new city (she now lives in L.A.). She wants to belong, but there’s no way to forget the struggle to get here, and the feeling that it could all dissolve at a moment’s notice. Room 25 is meant to exorcise that angst, and by the time “Ace” rolls around, she and fellow Chicago natives Smino and Saba use it to tout their local scene and the gains they’ve made as a collective. Nowadays, the venues are bigger and the shows are selling out faster. At that moment, one can hear Noname’s joy. She flashes a smile and enjoys the journey, if only for a second: “Room 25 the best album that’s coming out… I’m just writing my darkest secrets like wait and just hear me out.”