Chicago rapper Noname cultivates mystique as carefully as her rhymes

What we do is secret

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Noname Photo by Chantal Anderson
NOnAME with Elton Aura 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17 The Beacham 46 N. Orange Ave. 407-246-1419 $25-$28

What do you call a modern-day artist who dodges interviews with the press, avoids photo shoots, refuses record label offers, seeks privacy the way others seek more followers, and yet pens poetic confessional raps about losing her virginity in her mid-20s? You don't call her anything. She's Noname, and that's all she wants you to know.

Born Fatimah Nyeema Warner, Noname grew up an insecure outsider in Chicago, raised mostly by her grandmother, whose big-city paranoia fenced Noname into a sheltered upbringing. Her mother owned a bookstore, so naturally, Noname rebelled against literature until late in her teens, when she discovered not just a passion for reading, but for writing poetry. Binge-watching old Def Poetry Jam videos online helped cultivate her direction, and somehow, despite admittedly not having grown up with much exposure to music, her poetry began to take on a loose, jazz-like flow. Soon the words evolved into a bedroom rap style that sounds little like anything else in recent memory. Having more in common with Alice Walker or Toni Morrison, Noname's full-band production and lullaby style feel closer to Nina Simone than any contemporary rapper.

She honed her craft in the same scene as Chance the Rapper, and even appeared as his guest during a 2016 performance on SNL. She was initially going by "Noname Gypsy," because she considered herself nomadic by nature, but later dropped the "Gypsy" because of concern that others might take it as slander. And, though wildly private, she has openly discussed the fact that at age 25 she finally had sex and the experience spilled into her lyrics.

Room 25, her self-produced and self-released second album, is the coming-of-age R-rated sequel to her PG debut, Telefone. Evolved not only are the beats and the production – on this album, her pussy gets top billing. "My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism," she quips on the album's opening track, "Self," before following up with, "Y'all really thought a bitch couldn't rap, huh?/Maybe this your answer for that?/Good pussy, I know niggas only talk about money and good pussy."

A mysterious contradiction – a millennial who just performed on The Tonight Show a few nights ago, but who slips in and out of her management team's grasp like a ghost when it comes to committing to an interview – Noname is a refreshing breath of fresh anonymity in an age of over-sharing. She may appear to be laying it all out there in her lyrics, but, like a magician, a true writer never reveals her secrets. And, we're guessing Noname has got plenty.

Most of her upcoming shows are sold out, but there are still some tickets available for her Thursday engagement at the Beacham. An artist as enigmatic as this could disappear in a harsh wind gust, so catch her now, or risk losing your chance. [email protected]

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