A Balancing Act: Noname Interviewed

“If I’m really being vulnerable then I need to tell my own story...."

Noname sounds different. She’s bright, her voice effervescent – it’s even perceptible on the phone from Los Angeles, where she’s in an Uber on her way to the airport.

The tale of the 26-year-old Chicago native goes something like this: she started gaining a loyal fan base from her poignant verses on Chance The Rapper’s 2013 mixtape ‘Acid Rap’ and Mick Jenkins’ 2014 ‘The Water[s]’. She almost exclusively did features for some time, while teasing ‘Telefone’, a project she promoted for three years before its release. She is notoriously private, isn’t extremely active on social media, and declines most interviews.


It was almost as if the rapper, born Fatimah Warner, was a ghost – until ‘Telefone’ dropped in July 2016, and her world changed. With the release of ‘Telefone’, she gained a more solid footing, moving to LA, selling out her headline tour, travelling the world, and having sex for the first time. Indeed, Warner is unhurried; only now, just over two years later, she’s released her sophomore tape, the 11-track ‘Room 25’.

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I didn’t even see my apartment. I spent all of my nights in a hotel room…

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If ‘Telefone’ introduced us to Warner’s gripping freeform writing style, storytelling abilities, and nuanced imagery, then ‘Room 25’ makes good on that promise. While it took Warner only a month to finish ‘Telefone’, it took her around five to complete ‘Room 25’. The year has been a long haul for her; working on her new project became a balancing act between touring and recording. But then, that made the tape that much more significant for her, as the title became a nod to her time spent on the road.

“‘Room 25’ is supposed to be about my year as a 25-year-old and what those experiences were for me,” Warner says. “I spent most of that year living out of hotel rooms because I was traveling non-stop, touring ‘Telefone’, so I didn’t even see my apartment. I spent all of my nights in a hotel room, where a lot of those experiences were also new.”

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On the hook-less opening track ‘Self’, Noname comes out swinging, her confidence nimbly wrapped around her words: “Fucked the rapper homie now his ass is making better music / My pussy teaches ninth grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism.” Specific references to her hometown – like on the cut ‘Blaxploitation’, where she hints at the neighbourhood Wicker Park and the city’s South Side – can be uniformly lost on non-Chicagoans and Chicagoans alike.

Nonlinear rhyme schemes that are in equal parts a result of self-analysis, allow the listener to be more imaginative and create their own story within the tape. She slows down on songs like ‘Don’t Forget About Me’, as she considers death, fragility, and family; elsewhere, over a chorus of cinematic strings on Phoelix-featuring ‘Window’, Noname quietly says: “Everybody think they know me / Don’t nobody really know me.”

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I’m just more comfortable now…

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She makes an effort to lift the veil: there’s a freedom on the project that’s imparted both in its complex raps and straightforward statements. If she was lost on ‘Telefone’, then on ‘Room 25’, you could say, she is present, as she intrepidly explores her own humanity. Really, though, she just takes herself less seriously.

“I’m constantly just trying to challenge my vulnerability,” Warner says. “If I’m really being vulnerable then I need to tell my own story. As uncomfortable as it may be, I think they’re necessary because other people have similar experiences, who can relate to it.”

“However,” she adds, “if you can put this in perspective for people like, ‘Aw damn, like you can be 25 and still not sexually active and be a totally normal, functioning adult person.’ I think things like that are really important for people to like consume. I guess it was a conscious effort [to let people get to know me], but also I’m just more comfortable now. Like as much as it was conscious, it also wasn’t because I’m just so much more comfortable.”

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'Room 25' is out now.

Words: Tara Mahadevan
Photography: Vicky Grout
Fashion: Justin Hamilton

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