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Review: Room 25

Room 25 is the debut album of Chicago rapper Noname, a follow-up to her acclaimed debut mixtape Telefone which was released in 2016. Whilst this is no Frank Ocean type of wait, the two years between that and Room 25 are significant. Unlike many other artists who are serially releasing albums and mixtapes, Noname is a patient exception, describing to Fader how she “incubate[s] for a long-ass time” to create the music she desires. And we are all the luckier for it. Room 25 is a lyrical masterpiece, with agile word-play and a pace so smooth that you could almost be rocked into heaven whilst listening. Much like Telefone, the album mixes a delicate jazz sound with contemporary rap beats that creates for the listener a shared sense of joy with Noname, that is inescapably bound to moments of melancholy, creating music that reflects life.

In an interview with The Fader, Noname explains how she was able to explore her sexuality in her music as she became aware of it between her two albums, declaring “I say ‘pussy’ like a thousand times on the album. I was just like, OK, now that my pussy is like this character that’s in the book, how do I colour [that story in]?” This is illustrated in the crescendo of the song ‘Self’ as listeners are introduced to more confident lyrical mastery than they found in Telefone, as Noname confidently quips, ‘my pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English/ my pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism’ in the opening song ‘Self.’ Through expressing her sexuality in such a way, Noname allows herself to explore the power that her ‘pussy’, i.e. her sexuality, has. Moreover, both the title and the content of the song set out what Noname hopes for in her music: a uniqueness that doesn’t need to be compared to artists such as Lauryn Hill to still be successful.

Undoubtedly, she achieves this. Moreover, Noname manages to explore her identity as a black woman in 2018 through the song ‘Blaxploitation’, a song which gets its name from the film genre, popular in the 1970s, that focused stories based on racial stereotypes. The name itself is a portmanteau of ‘black’ and ‘exploitation’, an issue which Noname explores as a contemporary evil in the United States. The line ‘maybe I’m an insomni-black / Bad sleep triggered by bad government’ gives the listener an insight to the turmoil that she faces due to the broken politics of America. The production of this track, a constant heavy mix of funky bass and drums that harkens back to the titular film genre exacerbates this political overtone. In the hands of a lesser talented artist this track could come across as preachy, but Noname isn’t attempting to claim any political superiority. Instead, the album gives way to a credibly truthful, yet emotional, exploration of life.

In ‘Don’t Forget About Me’, a gentle exploration of Noname’s own anxieties about her life, she raps ‘All I am is everything and nothing at all… / All I am is love, all I am is love.’ Noname’s reliance upon loving, and being loved in return, is what defines her. The existential fear of losing this is intimately relatable and the efforts to which Noname grapples with the subject to no conclusion offers us affirmation – that we, her listeners, are not alone. Room 25 offers no concrete comfort, instead reconciling itself and its listeners with a classic conclusion that many of us find in our twenties; that loneliness is okay, and joy can still be found. Noname offers this conclusion in a cohesive, melodic, and emotional eleven-track album that everybody should be listening to.

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