Noname returns to Madison bigger and better than ever

Rapper Noname rocked The Sylvee with her bopping tunes that showcased her raw talent.

Rapper Noname rocked The Sylvee with her bopping tunes that showcased her raw talent.

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Eventually, I wonder, if rapper Noname will change her stage name to just Name, something that hints at the name she’s made for herself in the last few years of her career. 

I’ve watched her grow as I have during my college years — three years back she performed a subdued, brief set as part of High Noon’s FRZN Fest, buried in a lineup. She’s played Madison several times between then and now, always bringing similar setlists featuring tracks from her debut full-length “Telefone.” Saturday, though, she ruled The Sylvee’s stage, confidence radiating through her as she danced under elaborate lighting.

She performed riding a career maturity boost — the release of her second album, Room 25. The title pulsed on a neon sign hanging behind her mindblowing band. Back when she played High Noon on a small, dark stage, she maintained a quiet presence, not letting pizazz seep into showcasing her works. 

But this show honored Room 25 and her growth — she seemed to be saying “I made this and I’m proud,” feelings that showed as she grinned and joked with the packed crowd.

Her latest show was more musically sophisticated than any performance I’d seen of hers. Jazzy piano boldly led music behind her lyrics. Her three backup vocalists replaced impressive features, like Ravyn Lenae and Saba, who appear on the record, almost distracting from the main act with their incredible harmonies. Her smooth, dreamy rap fused R & B, hip hop and jazz into a bouncier tracklist keeping her trademark sound but twisting it for my danceable tunes.

Noname sang of growing up even, in a way, reciting tunes about having sex for the first time well into her 20s and learning what she’d missed. Lyrics touched on experiences of being black in America, like “Prayer Song.” Noname’s most impressive skill is exploring delicate topics in her words through bops, songs that keep the crowd swaying but engaged in the message. She hid in the stage’s shadows throughout the show, only her jamming figure noticeable, so the focus was drawn to her art. 

This is one thing that’s been consistent for Noname’s shows: a dislike of the stage, apparently. Her sets often run short, formerly because she only had a dozen songs to share. In the several shows I’ve been to she gives the audience what they came for — her music — and not much else, running through songs without talk breaks, like we all have headphones in and are listening to the album itself. This show wasn’t different; the audience was cleared out about an hour after she started. She kindly re-appeared with a beautiful encore of “Shadow Man,” a favorite track off “Telefone” featuring layered, infectious vocals, but I still craved more from her. 

Noname’s authenticity stands out every time she appears in front of crowds. She walks around the stage reciting her songs like she’s talking, a natural conversation flowing through her and touching each audience member. She flashes her blinding smile frequently, and dances excitedly like it’s the first time she’s performing a song every time. In a time of turmoil, which she often somberly writes about, she boasts triumph and self-love that infects all present.

The rapper is on an upward trek, dropping singles and appearing on several music festival lineups. It seems like nothing will slow her down, fingers crossed. From someone who’s seen her a dozen times, I still can’t get enough of her and can only hope I get to write another glowing review for her.

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