Chicago-based rapper Noname — despite her stage name — clearly made a name for herself in Madison, because she will return to a local stage Monday for the third time within a year. She’s built up her reputation from being part of a stacked lineup at last year’s FRZN Fest at High Noon Saloon, followed by a small, free show at The Sett, to finally having her own ticketed headline show at the Majestic Theatre.
Having seen Noname at her two previous visits, I’m eager to see what will be different this time around (fingers crossed for new songs!). During these shows, the rapper delivered her words in a steady, tight-throated tone, breathlessly flowing with a voice that gives away no emotion. She’s backed by a band who supports her with a funky keyboard, bass and the occasional jazzy wind instrument, along with traditional hits and beats of hip hop.
The artist dropped her long-anticipated debut mixtape, Telefone, in August of 2016. In the compilation of tracks, featuring artists such as Ravyn Lenae and Saba, she tells stories in her matter-of-fact, quickly paced vocals about experiences of black people — specifically lives she’s seen in her Chicago neighborhood. She jives with grief in a couple tracks, including the somber “Casket Pretty,” and discusses abortion in “Bye Bye Baby,” a track complete with samples of infant giggles to give the full effect. To the unknowing listener, these songs may seem like gentle, smooth hip hop jams, but to understand the true depth of Noname’s lyrics, one should see her wide, thoughtful eyes that shine from theater lights grow stern as she recites these tales.
I think about her past shows frequently — I recall her smiling softly and bouncing ever-so-slightly to her own songs as if she was an audience member. She radiates humbleness and she’ll undoubtedly live up to, or surpass, the greatness of her past shows. Madisonians will once again have the opportunity be enthralled by the thought-provoking poetics of Noname while still being able to move to the groovy music supporting the lyrics.