Last year was a gargantuan one for hip-hop, with top artists pulling the genre in competing directions. From Kendrick Lamar to Lil Yachty, the genre veered from lyrical masterworks to political anthems to brash bangers, and it has rarely felt more eclectic. On Saturday at the High Noon Saloon, Chicago native Noname put on an energetic show that ushered in the new year with a blend of rap’s many different identities.
Known primarily for her featured verses in Chance The Rapper’s mixtapes, Noname dropped her debut mixtape, Telefone, in July. The album quickly generated buzz, and with a sold out national tour slated to begin in February, she is, ahem, starting to make a name for herself.
Before Noname took the stage though, a number of notable acts warmed up the crowd. Rich Robbins kicked off the second night of “FRZN Fest” with a dynamic performance, highlighted by a collaboration with fellow Madison artist CRASHprez. Milwaukee rapper Mic Kellogg was up next, with WebsterX on DJ duty. The performance was high on hype and low on finesse, although it was enough fun to keep the crowd engaged. Chicago artist theMIND followed with a stripped-down, crooning performance that was satisfying, if at times so low-key that it depleted the crowd’s energy. My favorite moments from his set may not have been during the songs at all, but in his impassioned monologues on why he was so grateful to be performing and sharing his story.
It was clear, though, who people had come to see. When Noname finally hit the stage just past 11:30 p.m., a previously subdued crowd roared with approval. For an artist just beginning her first major tour, it was remarkable how effortlessly she took control of the stage. Noname fully held the audience’s attention for the entirety of her set, balancing an exuberant confidence with a humility that suggested she was genuinely happy to be performing.
Telefone is a mellow, ethereal album, drenched in xylophone riffs and melancholic choruses. It was surprising then just how energetic Saturday’s performance was. Noname blazed through her setlist, flexing her formidable lyrical dexterity heightened with gorgeous backup vocals. It was impressive and exhilarating, although I found myself wishing that she would slow down for the sake of variety, at least occasionally.
The highlights of the show came when, indeed, Noname did slow down the pace. She intimately performed “Casket Pretty,” a bleak song about violence in Chicago. As she finished the song someone in the crowd shouted “Fuck Trump!” Without missing a beat, Noname echoed that sentiment, and then transitioned into “Forever,” a defiant rejection of black oppression. And in an encore performance of “Shadow Man,” Noname repeated a refrain that succinctly reflected how many feel about 2016 and are looking forward to in 2017: “I know you’re sad, but we’ll make it through.”
Her banter between songs also reflected her range. At one point, she railed against institutional racism; later, she giddily shouted “I love you too!” to an enraptured fan. In these moments, and in her eloquent songs, Noname’s performance demonstrated the potency of a blend of hip-hop’s different flavors and a potential roadmap for the genre in the age of Trump: confronting institutional racism while still emanating love and pure, unabashed joy.