In 2016 I would listen to the record Telefone by Noname when walking in mornings often. It is an easy smooth rap record, good not great. It did show signs of greatness though. Noname has great writing ability and wry sense of humor. Her rapping and rhyming were solid if not quite great yet. Her 2018 record Room 25 is fulfills that promise. It didn’t get a huge amount of notice in 2018 from rap audiences despite her association with mega-star Chance the Rapper. The content is basically tales of a girl from Chicago living in Los Angeles navigating relationships and the industry. There is sexual content and imagery which is much different than Telefone. The guest vocals are timed well and enhance the record greatly. The music and rapping are purposefully slightly low-key and the lyrics and rhyming are intricate. It definitely feels like a Chicago hip-hop record, with lots slam poetry style rapping and lots great lush jazz style arrangements. I know when Noname toured the record she sold out places like the Orange Peel in Asheville, but she expressed disappointment at the audiences being all white and didn’t have a strong desire to ‘dance on a stage for white people.’ She also expressed interest in quitting if this continues to be the case. I hope that doesn’t come to be and her audience expands and is a broad as she would like it to be. She is a unique talent and I think many people hope to hear more from her. It would be a shame to lose her voice in hip-hop.
In the 1980’s I liked rap, but it was one of those things I didn’t pay close attention to until the 1990’s when a friend gave me a tape with the with Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep Squadron and Main Source on it. I realized there was more to the genre than just Beastie Boys, Fat Boys, and Run-D.M.C. There was the top selling tier of rap royalty that was on MTV, but there was a second tier that was maybe better than the first (although not much is better than King of Rock or Paul’s Boutique). I woke up to the idea that rap was record based art form succeeding on a broad scale. The 2019 record Psychodrama by the rapper Dave (full name David Orobosa Omoregie) is a concept album and it is a good as any of the classics I loved in 1991. The concept is a man facing down his demons in London talking to his therapist for one hour. The record follows the trajectory of a therapy session with intros and segues from the psychotherapist and is broke up in sections Environment, Relationships, and Social Compass. Some of the songs are searing, some are introspective, and some are just realistic depictions of the life as the child of Nigerian immigrants in modern London. The poetry and flow of the record are amazing. Dave is an eloquent and insightful MC. The music is low key, more constructed to match the lyrical content than vice versa, but Fraser Smith’s implementation of it is perfect. For me, the highlight of the record is the 11-minute rap epic Lesley a sorrowful tale of domestic violence, but almost every track is great. Dave is a rapper at the height of his powers and this record is a window into him working on growth as a man and self-awareness of the world around him.
I am not a music critic and don’t have the best language for this, but I am going to attempt to tell you why the new #KendrickLamar album is so remarkable. Imagine when you are 16 years old you try something. You are a natural and over 10 years you become the best in the world at it. At some point in the future you are 29 and you learn all the success in your life is based on one choice made 25 years ago. This choice had nothing to do with you. It was arbitrary. You realize there were different possible versions of you based on this choice. Permutations that existed, but didn’t come to be. You decide to undertake an exercise of extreme empathy and make a record based on a version of you who had to deal with the opposite of the choice that was made. The record you make #DAMN represents how narrow the window of possibilities is that we slip through is and how many other possible versions of us exist. For some they are better for some they are worse, but they always exist. In my own life I sometimes feel the echoes and reverberations other versions of me would have dealt with, but I never did. Those tales become coiled in my head despite their non-existence. It is powerful to hear one such tale recorded over 80 minutes.
– Gene Mclaughlin May 2017