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New American Songbook

Noname's 'Telefone' | New American Songbook


The 2016 album “Telefone” from Chicago emcee Noname opens with a song centered on her grandmother. As Noname struggles with growing fame and its attendant problems, memories of her grandmother enter the verse, grounding her in a reality that is also grounded in reality. Here, a line like "don’t grow up too soon, don’t blow the candles out, don’t let them cops get you," is encompassing in a way that nostalgia often isn’t—it’s complex and sad, wistful and heartbroken.

I first heard Noname on a track from Mick Jenkins’ excellent first album "Water[s]," where, in a bit of foreshadowing, she raps about fans awaiting the release of "Telefone." There, as in her album, her flow doesn’t stay on the beat so much as it casually inhabits it. There’s a poetry slam flavor to her lyrics, but it doesn’t overpower the hip hop rhythm of the verse.

"Telefone" is a gorgeous release, incredibly ranging in emotional scope and technically striking. In many ways, it is an exceptional hip hop album but it’s also more than that: "Telefone" is exactly a hip hop album, doing what hip hop does regularly. As such, it’s a perfect album for listeners who are just learning about hip hop, and for those who’ve known it all along.