Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Noname: Room 25 [self-released, 2018]
I got why hip-hop heads were so besotted with her 2016 Telefone. But back then I felt she wasn't quite there yet--"on the brink of a poetic breakthrough" rather than in flight--and segueing directly from Telefone to Room 25 convinces me I was right. Lovely as Telefone is, Room 25 is standing up and waving as of the hummed piano intro to the 1:35 "Self," and soon "My pussy teachin ninth-grade English / My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism" is rendering "And y'all still thought a bitch couldn't rap huh?" a rhetorical question. I can't resist a few quotes: "Africa's never dead, Africa's always dying," "Globalization's scary and fuckin' is fantastic," "Titties 13K, the pretty costs these days." Or mentioning that though Noname is glad you told her Telefone "saves lives," you should also be aware that she "got no money" and "almost passed out drinking." But delivering all this poetry is the dealmaker: a delicate, even fragile vocal pulse that's also complex and eventful, floating a murmured flow so conversational its rhythmic acuity seems modest, uncalculated. Noname carries the first half of the 35-minute album pretty much alone. But when other vocalists join her--Ravyn Lenae, Phoelix, Smino & Saba--their role is to augment and embellish her sound rather than change it up. Not only is she the boss, she's the source. And I admit it--I like Telefone more now. A