In the never ending, open seas of modern rap, Fatimah Warner, known better by her stage name, “Noname” is like a glimpse of land or a taste of fresh produce. She is so many things that I, as a hip hop consumer, crave in modern rap: she is lighthearted and fun while taking on important topics, her songs are complex and beautiful, and more importantly she is having the time of her life doing it.
Noname grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, and her roots are very evident in her music. She takes pride in her hometown, and consistently credits the city for her musical inspiration and success. She began as a slam poet, which led her to many open mics around the city, even bringing her to land 3rd place in Chicago’s “Louder than a Bomb” competition. Before long, she began rapping, and in 2013 she was featured on Chance the Rappers “Acid Rap,” with a verse in his song “Lost.” After this, she became visible to the industry’s eye, and over the next few years she was featured on a number of other artists albums such as Mick Jenkins’ mixtape The Water[s], Ramaj Eroc’s track “I Love You More“and multiple tracks on Kirk Knight’s album Late Knight Special. She also released a full unofficial mixtape called What the F*ck is a Noname Gypsy on youtube in 2014. In 2013, with a name change from Noname Gypsy to just Noname, Fatima Warner announced that she was recording her own mixtape, and three years later, in July 2016, her first full mixtape and biggest hit yet, Telefone, was released.
Her decision to remove “gypsy” from her stage name in 2016 reflects on Noname’s ability to learn and understand her mistakes. For those who may not know, the term “gypsy” is a derogatory term to refer to the Roma people whom have faced an extreme amount of discrimination; being pushed from nation to nation and often denied legal status. The word has been appropriated in the US to mean “carefree” or “traveler,” however to many people across the globe it is still extremely offensive and hurtful. So if you have an instagram bio or forever 21 t-shirt that reads “gypsy soul” or “free spirited gypsy,” it’s time to toss it. Noname was open, understanding and apologetic about her name change, as you can see from this tweet in March:
In November 2016, Noname announced a US tour and by March 2017 half the shows had already sold out. Queen Beats DJ Jinx, along with KZSC staff member and mentee Kaviar were lucky enough to attend her show in San Francisco on February 18th, and have a quick chat with Noname and her incredible opener, Ravyn Lenae, after the show.
While standing in line outside the venue, and waiting in front of the stage for Ravyn Lenae to come out, the excitement and respect was palpable. It felt like every person present was there to witness Noname and her art, not just for a good time. The venue was packed and people were up to typical concert shenanigans, but there was no shoving or hostility; it smelt like soap and flowers. When the DJ backing Ravyn Lenae came out to hype the crowd (with tasteful yet banging throwback jams) people were getting down and dancing together. Not in a “imma do my thing over here as I try to ignore Steven over there groping Sally-May” kind of way, but just sincerely having a good time together. All of this goes to show that Noname has mastered her art and is speaking truths in a way that is immediately recognizable and impossible to disregard. She talks about tragedy and resistance, but is also honest about her experience and insecurities in a way that makes it easy to recognize her humanity.
You don’t have to see Noname in person to know she’s going to give a good live performance. Her vocal style and lyrical personality set her up to be an incredible performer, and as expected, she didn’t disappoint on Saturday evening at the Chapel. Both her and Ravyn Lenae held a kind of on stage presence that is unforgettable; they interacted with the audience in a genuine, sincere way, and it was easy to tell that in that moment, the Chapel stage was exactly where they wanted to be.
Ravyn Lenae made it a point to talk about each of the songs she sang. She emphasized that her intent was communication and gave her words weight. During her set she projected stars and a moon on the ceiling of the Chapel and it fit seamlessly with her bubble-bath low-fi production. She carried herself with an ease that was admirable and soothing. Similarly, Noname had this endearing way of prancing around the stage while the instrumentation was taking over, her big smile and wide eyes not once slipping from her face. She was so clearly living by her own rules and needs, it’s refreshing to see an artist so unconcerned with fitting into the industries expectations and regulations. Her music speaks to her own experiences and feelings, and that’s what makes it so unique.
Once the show finished and the audience was filing out, we decided to hang around for a bit to see if Noname was planning on making an appearance at any point. We introduced ourselves to the security, and they told us they would send the message along that we would love to chat, despite being previously told Noname was not doing any press that night. While we waited in the main bar, we were lucky enough to catch Ravyn Lenae and ask her about her own work and her experience working with Noname, along with the many other artists featured on Telefone.
Lenae, who just like Noname comes from Southside Chicago, was noticeably nonchalant and humble about her impressive success at the young age of 17. When we asked her about working on Telefone, and touring with Noname she explained that it was “all very organic,” going on to note that her and Fatima had been good friends for a while, and working on music together was really just hanging out with a close friend. She said that her part on “Forever” wasn’t even pre written, she just came to the studio and they perfected it together day of recording.
After about ten minutes, Noname came out into the bar and introduced herself to a few fans. We talked to her about KZSC and Queen Beats and what an inspiration she is for the show. She was flattered and happy we were doing our radio show and even though she was clearly exhausted from two back to back concerts, she was more than willing to engage with us (and even take a picture!)
Walking out of The Chapel and making our way to the Bart that night, it was hard not to feel like we had been imparted with a small piece of Chicago magic. Noname’s Telefone tour swooped through town propelled by respect for craft, words, hip-hop, people, and Chicago. MC Lyte’s utopian view in “If women ran hip-hop” was a reality at Noname’s show, and it was not because she is a female MC, it’s because for that night, she really ran hip hop.
— written by Jinx and Kaviar, for more fun articles about the women of hip hop like us on facebook and tune in every Friday night from 12-2!