Noname, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, review: raw talent and outstanding charisma from the Chicago rapper

Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

On Saturday night, Chicago-based rapper Noname brought her poetic, jazz-infused hip-hop style to London in a short but electrifying set for a packed house at the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

Noname has gained a loyal fanbase for her brand of mellow, introspective rap, rising to fame in part through her numerous collaborations with Chance the Rapper, with whom she honed her craft on the Chicago spoken-word circuit. She has received particular praise for her honest, well-crafted lyrics and musical fluidity and her recent album Room 25 is a pensive mix of jazz and neo-soul, with lyrics that combine her personal experiences with insights into contemporary America.

Her two-night stint at the venue sold out fast, and it’s small wonder why. Her material is punchy, thoughtful and idiosyncratic- “Maybe I’m a hypocrite, maybe I’m hypochondriac / I’m struggling to simmer down, maybe I’m an insomni-black”, she raps on “Blaxploitation” – and her effervescent stage presence elevates the material into something else entirely. With a full band – a tight, jazzy outfit with two terrific backing singers – this was more bassy and up-tempo than on record, keeping the crowd rapt and lively throughout.

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Noname’s (real name Fatimah Warner) performance was animated and articulate, exuding an infectious enthusiasm for her own material. Starting with the one-two punch of “Self” and “Blaxploitation”, the opening tracks of Room 25, she then reached back into her acclaimed debut album Telefone – playing a truncated version of “Diddy Bop” which received a huge reception from the crowd, followed by “Sunny Duet”. She blasted through a selection of Room 25 tracks, including the intricate “Prayer Song” and the catchy and jazz-inflected “Montego Bae”, which had much of the audience singing along to the hook. Throughout, she connected effortlessly with the crowd, at one point beckoning the audience to move closer to the stage for a more pared-down section.

In interviews, Noname has expressed how bored she grew of over-performing much of Telefone, although from those few ecstatic selections she played on the night, you wouldn’t know it. It was fascinating to see older tracks rearranged for her band, who shone throughout, and particularly during the final number of the main set, “no name”. For the encore, she performed a stirring a capella version of “Shadows”, feeding off the energy and input from the crowd.

The only complaint from the evening was that at just 50 minutes long, it felt too fleeting. Perhaps this was down to the brisk 35-minute runtime of Room 25 and that reluctance to revisit too much of her back catalogue. Regardless, her magnetic musical and lyrical styles continue to innovate and push the genre in unexpected directions. Live, she thrives on the oldest tenets of the music industry: raw talent and outstanding on-stage charisma.


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