March 10, 2017 by Billy Bauer
Despite the moniker, Chicago rapper Noname is gaining nationwide fame.
Noname thrust herself into the underground hip hop consciousness with a melancholy, show-stealing, roughly-40-second verse on the song “Lost” from Chance the Rapper’s second mixtape “Acid Rap.” In those 40 seconds, it was clear that Noname was something special, providing a rare mix of next-level wordplay with a dancy flow that seemed to flutter around a beat rather than just simply flow with it.
After she appeared on another Chance project, this time 2016’s “Finish Line/Drown” from the Grammy Award winning “Coloring Book,” it was clear that her debut project was set to impress.
And impress it did.
Noname’s “Telefone” is the artist exposed; it’s bleak and it’s downtrodden, all with a surprising hint of optimism. Above all, it’s real and it’s revealing, a beautiful glimpse into the experience of a black woman, particularly one in a community in Chicago destroyed by violence and lack of opportunity.
“Telefone” put Noname on the map and her first headlining tour sold out quickly. The Philadelphia stop of that tour, held March 1 at World Cafe Live, showed that Noname has the charisma and talent to carry herself as far into the limelight as she wishes.
Opening the show was another Chicago artist, Ravyn Lenae. Despite having never heard her music before, she impressed. Backed by jazzy instrumentals, she serenaded the crowd with powerful vocals as she primarily performed songs from her “Moon Shoes” EP. Every song was beautiful but “Blossom Dearie” and “Sleep Talking” primarily resonated with me.
“Blossom Dearie” floats around, a whispery, dreamy tale of love and the doubts that come with it. The peak of the song, a rap-sung “Your fears and tribulations they are formed into a painting/They are formed into a painting of us,” forces the audience into the world of this stressful relationship and crushes them with the likelihood of it crumbling.
“Sleep Talking” opens to lovers in a bed together and then closes on those same lovers in their separate beds after a separation lamenting the end of the relationship and also the complicated nature of adulthood. As a performer, Lenae’s talent and personality shines. She prefaces songs with goofy dialogue, including describing what color the song is. During songs, she dances poorly — her words, not mine — and refuses to allow the crowd to decline participation in the festivities.
After that terrific opening act, it was time for the main performer.
Noname was, in short, phenomenal. Backed by three vocalists and a full band, the full power of the music from “Telefone” came to life. She played the entirety of her debut with a positivity that presents itself on the record, but not to this extent.
Halfway through the set, she donned a red sequined cape that read “Noname” in capital letters across the back. Smiling ear to ear the entire time, she ran through her entire catalogue with a few songs truly standing out. Early in the set, the lights came down and Noname approached the mic in the near perfect dark.
From the opening chords, the crowd erupted. A spirited Noname revisited what is for most people their first exposure to her music, playing “Lost” to much fanfare. The lyrics rang out from the audience, growing until the entire venue was screaming.
The highest point in the performance came when Noname performed the most emotionally wrenching track from “Telefone,” “Casket Pretty.” This song runs a little under two minutes long, but it packs an emotional punch into its short runtime. With a simple instrumental and heavy lyrics, Noname was mostly left alone to carry this track.
And that she did.
The vocalists and band impressed throughout and Noname even brought out Ravyn Lenae for an assist on “Forever,” which features Lenae on “Telefone.” When the show ended, the crowd erupted in “Noname” chants, drawing her back out onto stage for a riveting encore performance of the song “Shadow Man.” She then thanked the crowd for coming out and left the packed house more than satisfied with the night.