Noname, “Room 25”
“Maybe this the album you listen to in your car when you driving home late at night / Really questioning every God, religion, Kanye, bitches,” Noname muses just seconds into Room 25, her official debut. Reflecting on the role of an album when you haven’t even reached the thirty-second mark feels overeager, but it reveals a certain thoughtfulness that permeates the entirety of her record. Room 25 finds a more mature Noname than the one she introduced on her 2016 mixtape Telefone—wiser, more reflective, and maybe a bit more cynical, too.
Room 25 doesn’t altogether abandon the precocious sunniness of Telefone, but it doesn’t ensconce itself in that comfort zone, either. The instrumentals here tap into free-flowing jazz not unlike what Kendrick dabbled in on To Pimp a Butterfly; elsewhere, songs lean on lush orchestration or sweat-drenched neo-soul. The organic production has a real pulse to it, which gives the songs a spirited, fluid underpinning that feels uniquely suited to Noname’s reserved but dexterous delivery.
While the palette sounds ambitious, Noname has no interest in letting these songs meander. This is a compact, concise album, with songs that are sometimes startlingly brief. With this approach comes the risk that Noname’s ideas don’t quite blossom in the way you want them to, and some songs (like album opener “Self”) feel like they could have been given more room to breathe. The result is a pleasantly breezy run time, but one that leaves you wanting more.
Even if some songs stop short of their full potential, many are remarkably dense—Noname touches on everything from race relations and politics to anxiety over her own mortality and recent sexual awakening. A fresh breakup provides a lot of fuel; on “Window,” she smirks at an ex who wanted “a nasty bitch, psychiatrist, that cook like your mama”; elsewhere, she acknowledges that her own ego was largely to blame.
While it can be fascinating to hear Noname aim her fire externally (“Prayer Song” offers a barbed look at police corruption at its ugliest), the core of the record hinges on self-analysis, most pointed when she is dissecting her breakup. This isn’t a heartbreak record, however; it’s about a person undergoing major formative changes (failed relationships; sudden fame; a move to LA) who is still figuring out how to grapple with them. Noname doesn’t have the key to navigating all these pivotal events, but Room 25 demonstrates that she’s as good as anyone else right now at articulating what it’s like to stare them down.