When I was flying home last night from a 3-day work trip, I started to think about this blog. I need to do more with it, I thought. Heck, I don’t even know what to write about this week. Fun thoughts like that.
Then an overly nice lady brought me a tiny bag of peanuts. My mind moved on. But the point remained … what am I going to write about this week?
Once I got back home, I caught up on the last few days of new music, and that’s when I first heard Telefone, the self-released debut from Chicago emcee Noname. As soon as the album started, I realized I had figured it out; I knew what I’d be writing about this week.
You might remember Noname from her verses on Chance the Rapper’s “Lost” and “Finish Line/Drown.” Or maybe you don’t—but that’s OK. What matters is that this album is flipping great. It’s laid-back, but serious. It’s raw, yet polished. I’m legitimately ready to name Telefon one of 2016’s best rap albums after only living with it for about a day and a half.
Every single song here is strong, though I do need to dedicate at least a sentence of two to “Diddy Pop,” which is so good I had to listen three straight times before I moved on to the next track. That drum break? That keyboard? That bass? As Noname raps, the song just keeps growing layers, getting more and more dense. And then the hook hits, and you’re ready to fly.
Other standouts include “Sunny Duet” and “Casket Pretty,” and … well, just take your pick.
Telefon does end with a definite highlight, and perhaps the album’s finest moment, with “Shadow Man.” Noname, Saba and Smino spit over a beat that sounds straight out of Blu & Exile’s Beneath the Heavens, each one recounting their own funeral.
Here’s a few lines from Noname’s verse: Shadow man shadow box, dance in the dark with me / This resurrected agony there’s apathy for caskets / Everything I ever loved I lost in the magic / I claim by the river, my body delivered / When I die there’s 27 rappers at my funeral / Moses wrote my name in gold and Kanye did the eulogy / Remember all the bashfulness, understand the truancy / Here I stand in front of a college dropout / My music was a church when my spirit hopped out.
… and, later in the same song, Saba: Preach church tabernacle, Tallahassee sunshine / Southern is my bloodline we know it’ll come time / To go, and though I leave like alumni/ I’m lying like a lullaby and quiet like my tongue tied.
Insane, right? This is not a drill, friends. This is a phenomenal song on a phenomenal record.