Indulge me in a memory: At the turn of the century, I was a broke-as-hell college student, culling together five crumpled ones and trooping in the cold down to The Five Spot on Black Lily night. Those were some incredible times. Black Lily was an all-woman music series started by The Roots crew, which boasted a collection of rappers, poets, rock musicians, and soul singers. Underground acts like Jazzyfatnasties, Jaguar, NouRa, Flo Brown, and Kindred the Family Soul meshed perfectly with acts that had busted through to the mainstream like Erykah Badu, Floetry, and Jill Scott.
When I listen to Noname’s Telefone, which dropped just this Sunday, I’m transported back there again. If I were restricted to a single word to describe this mixtape*, I’d have to say ‘smooth’. Each track seems to glide into being. Some bring nostalgia and a little bounce with them, like Diddy Bop, a track featuring Raury, another artist I’ve heard good things about. Others, like Casket Pretty, tackle far more painful topics. The new normal of police terror against Black bodies is lamented in this deceptively cheerful-sounding, one minute and fifty one second song. A baby’s giggles are layered in for added effect; life’s potential snuffed out by “badges and pistols rejoice in the night.”
“All of my n**as are casket pretty
Ain’t no one safe in this happy city
I hope you make it home
I hope to god that my tele don’t ring…”
Noname tells stories that create pictures in the mind and feelings in the spirit. Her wordplay is clever and complex, her flow sing-songy and dreamy. Claps, tambourine chimes, excerpts from Nina Simone interviews and live instruments weave a cohesive sound. It’s an odd comparison, but I’m also reminded of Take This To Your Grave by Fall Out Boy. Every song on that album was perfect for that album. TTTYG sounded like a complete and structured thing, even though there are 12 separate (awesome!) songs. As blerds, we’re comfortable with oddness and complexity, it’s where we live.
All I Need, featuring lovely and lilting vocal accompaniment by Xavier Omar is the single I’ve had for a few months now. It’s still enchanting, still the song that never fails to evoke a “Hey who is this?” when I play it in front of others. It lives well among the other tracks on Telefone. In fact, a broader context makes it even better.
Other themes that seem to be threaded throughout are recreational drug use, religion, and growing up. I can’t pick a favorite track just yet, I may need several more listens.
Enough of me yacking about it, give it a try for yourself, link in the picture below. At a little over a half hour, Telefone is definitely a must listen.
♥ – I don’t see it.
♥♥ – Girl, I guess…
♥♥♥ – Now we’re talking!
♥♥♥♥ – I’m here for it!
♥♥♥♥♥ – Shut up and take my money!
* – I love how this term has come to mean something completely different from what it meant originally lol.