Noname // Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London // 30.3.19

Noname // Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London // 30.3.19

It is hard to put into words in a review the feelings of positivity and togetherness which fill the room when Noname performs.

Chicago, Illinois has produced some of the most prolific acts in contemporary music, including Kanye West, Common, and Chance the Rapper. It was here that Fatimah Warner, AKA Noname’s love for poetry and rap was born and nurtured. Since the release of her 2016 album, Telefone, she has continued to garner international critical acclaim for her unique flow, intricate lyrics and charismatic performance. 

There was a buzz outside Shepherd’s Bush Empire on Saturday night. It’s her first performance in London since last Summer, and her UK fanbase has clearly been growing ever since. Giddy with excitement, we entered just in time to catch theMIND’s set, which turned out to be the perfect starter to the night’s main course. With some really interesting beats and great audience interaction, the anticipation in the room was building. After his set followed a short pause during which punters got their last drinks in and took their places in the crowd, looking eagerly towards the stage for any sign of the woman of the hour. 

Room 25, Noname’s second album to date, was released in September of last year. If Telefone was a coming-of-age album, Room 25 is a reflection on that time from a position of maturity. The beats are different – more modern perhaps – but the lyrics are just as complex and just as witty. ‘Ace’ featuring fellow Chicago rappers Smigo and Saba, and ‘Montego Bae’ featuring Ravyn Lenae are personal favourites. Noname’s Spring tour takes her across Europe to promote the album, before returning to the US this Summer.

The lights dim and the band take to the stage – keyboard, guitar, drums, bass, backing vocals. They play alone for a moment – just a nice beat, a little bass – the audience awaits her entrance. What an entrance it was. Noname appears from backstage and the crowd erupts. A couple of new songs, and then a break before a longer medley of older songs from Telefone. Lines like “with stars in my pocket, dreaming ‘bout making my hood glow” from ‘Diddy Bop’ made the crowd smile from ear to ear. Noname’s vocals are constantly changing pace, squeezing in amongst the rhythm section, complementing the instrumentation and giving the music a constantly fresh feel.

Both her Friday and Saturday night shows at Shepherd’s Bush Empire had sold out, testament to the broad appeal of her music. It was so refreshing to see live rap with a full band accompanying it, allowing the jazz influences in Noname’s music to bubble to the surface and mingle with her vocals. Her stage presence is huge and audience interaction is clearly also a big part of the performance.

Her set finished with an intimate rendition of ‘Shadow Man’ as an encore. The band leave and it’s just Noname on stage, speaking gently into the microphone. She asks the audience to slowly come in closer to the stage, and for silence in the room for this number. Her voice suddenly acquired a new clarity where it had been overshadowed in the mix at times earlier on. That being said, the band definitely deserve serious recognition for their consistency throughout the set, laying down the foundations for Noname’s vocal virtuosity and getting the room moving. 

In a genre often characterised by predominantly male artists, bravado and beef, Noname is a breath of fresh air, rapping about women’s experience, emotion and vulnerability in a beautifully transparent but musically complex way. Within the sub-genre of heavily jazz-inspired hip-hop, Noname’s music stands out for the way it makes you feel. If you do nothing else today, have a listen to Noname and hear for yourself.

George Cooper