Photo Credit: Chantal Anderson
By Jonny Malyon
Noname hit the music scene strongly with her debut album Telefone in 2016. Since then, Noname has continued putting out great music and amassed quite a following.
I saw her in concert on her tour for Room 25 and loved following her singles, activism posts on social media, and brief beef with J. Cole. However, when I first listened to Sundial, I knew something had changed. Watching her recent Tiny Desk Concert from NPR and then attending this show only confirmed that for me. Noname has always been great, but it seems clear to me that she has recently come into her own in a powerful way and is beginning to firmly cement herself as one of THE Greats.
I walked into the venue during STOUT’s set and immediately knew I was in for a good night. Only STOUT and her drummer were on stage, but the energy was overflowing. As the song came to a climactic close, STOUT tore her bright pink wig off in what felt like a celebration of life, music, and beauty.
After a brief interlude, Noname’s band entered the stage and started playing. Cisco Swank played a double stack of keyboards, Kamilah and Claudia Abena covered vocals, and Kamilla handled the triggering of some loops as well. Brooke Skye played a beautiful six-string bass, and Greg Paul was on the drums.
After a brief instrumental opening, Noname emerged and began her first track, “black mirror”, an apt opening as it is also the opening track of Sundial. The song ended strong with an emphatic “she a rapper too” and if it wasn’t apparent previously, everyone knew we were in for a treat.
After a quick “Shout out J. Cole, he loves this song,” Noname jumped right into “Song 33”. She continued rather quickly through her set, taking short breaks to get us to all yell “Fuck Billionaires!” before she played Rainforest and had us calmly say “I’m enjoying myself” together.
Her set spanned her career, including tracks from all three of her albums, biased towards Sundial of course, with singles from over the years sprinkled in as well. During “namesake”, the band dropped out and the crowd joined Noname for an acapella, culminating in a joint scream “I ain’t fucking with the NFL or Jay-Z.”
As a musician myself, one of my favorite aspects of the show was how deliberate Noname was in giving props to her band. Every band member was given time to shine. Skye played a Thundercat-esque interlude that led into “namesake”, both Claudia and Kamilah took scat solos during “boomboom”, along with singing various choruses throughout the set, and Swank took a keys solo during “potentially interlude”.
While Paul didn’t have a specific drum solo, he threatened to steal the show for me. His drumming was incredible throughout the night. He has outstanding chops, technicality, and feel. If it wasn’t for Noname’s bars, I could have gotten lost in Paul’s playing all night.
The band shoutouts, along with STOUT’s reemergence to sing the chorus on “gospel?”, a group effort acapella of diddy bop as part of her brief encore, and a collective “FREE PALESTINE” added to the community feel of the show that made this show what it was.
Noname cares deeply. That is so evident in the way she carries herself, makes music, and performs. She is invested in her community and strives to expand that community in a very genuine way. Towards the end of her set, she asked everyone to be quiet and very sincerely thanked us all for being there.
A few days ago, she posted on Instagram her gratitude for the support on this tour and how she has the funds for another album because of it. While interacting with the crowd she commented, “I can see you, it’s okay to make eye contact, we’re just people.” That love and connection was real, not in an overbearing way, but in a deeply human way.
This community that Noname is building is possible because of how grounded she is. She knows her abilities and isn’t afraid to call out abusers of power in society, even fellow rappers who might have more of a following than her. Noname’s authenticity stands out in a world of social media, re-posting stories, and co-opting opinions.
Her insane technicality and lyrical ability have never been in question. Pair that with her reinvigorated messages of community, dismantling power structures, and humanity, and if she continues on her current trajectory, I might be inclined to agree with her when she ends “gospel?” with a slight chuckle and “I’m the best rapper alive, it’s not even a contest.”