WORDS BY DYLAN MOORE
PHOTOS FROM TWITTER
I first saw Noname at an open mic in Chicago in December of 2012 (quick shoutout to Young Chicago Authors, the organization that hosts the city’s longest running youth open mic and has graduated much of the Chicago talent known nationwide today). I don’t remember the first song I heard her perform, but I remember her standing out immediately. The open mic, with its modest stage, a few rows of chairs in the crowded second floor of 3 story city building, latecomers standing in the back, and a long list of performers, ranging in age from fifteen to their late twenties, always has variety. There’s usually a mix of poetry, singing, and rapping, but Noname’s flow was even more like poetry than it is now. Her laugh and loose stage presence, moving quickly from side to side, brought me in. I remember googling her as soon as I got home, looking for a soundcloud or a website, and coming up empty handed. From then on, I always hoped that she would be there when I went. If any of my friends were at the open mic and she performed, I would get a slew of snapchat videos, frustrated I’d missed it.
When I heard whispers that Noname would be coming to Wesleyan, I was skeptical. I can confirm that she most likely had never heard of Wesleyan (I constantly get, “Oh, Illinois-Wesleyan? That’s nice”). In Chicago we know very little about Connecticut, and I wondered how anyone could have convinced her to make a detour to little ‘ol Middletown. But it didn’t matter. The fact was, she was coming.
I continued to see Noname at small shows at local Chicago concert venues later in that same winter I had first seen her, watching as she slowly built herself up from open mic nights. Then, a few months later, in April of 2013, the rest of the world would finally hear her on “Lost,” featured on Chance the Rapper’s name-making Acid Rap. A little over a month later I saw Noname perform at Chance’s first Acid Rap show, in late May of 2013. She came out from backstage to perform “Lost,” and slowly slipped back once finished, allowing Chance his moment. Her’s was coming.
Noname’s raps seem to float over the beat, slithering across chords that sound like candy, bubbly rhythms that remind you of her laugh. It was what made me google her after the first time I saw her on an open mic stage. She says she’s no longer the poet she was in her teens, when she was finding her way as a rapper on the open mic stages I frequented. Songs like “Paradise” and “Sunday Morning,” songs that those of us from Chicago have been enjoying since the day they dropped, no longer find their way onto her setlists, but that is the process of an artist, always evolving, and we’ve been able to watch her grow.
The basement of X House was not busy. There was space, and the pinkish-red of the lights from the stage cast a strange glow on the stage. Noname puttered on the side of the stage, looseleaf sheets in her hand, disappeared into the back, and then promptly reappeared on stage to shouts from the crowd. I stood amongst the crowd, grinning to just myself as I imagined her on a cold Chicago Tuesday night and then saw her here, in Middletown, miles away from home. It was strange to see her here. Random, but beautiful. It was as if someone had known, had had her follow me here, from high school freshman then to college freshman now. She asked goofily, “Y’all know this shit?” She smiled a bubbly laugh and then burst into her raps.
Her setlist was all songs off of Telefone, her well received first full length project, with a brief interlude of features from two of her prominent guest verses, “Lost” off of Acid Rap and “Comfortable” off of Mick Jenkins’s The Water[s] . Hearing her perform “Lost” was surreal. The last time I had seen her perform in any context, if I thought about it, was that Chance show so long ago. The darkness of the concert hall and the smell of sweat made me think about the stretch of 3 years and a few months between hearing those lyrics. The last time I’d heard that verse I had also been a freshman. The words hadn’t changed, but I had no conception of college, of time, or where I’d be 3 years and a few months later. Neither could Noname.
But here we were, in a small town in Connecticut, a plane ride, 3 years, and a few months later, music making me think I’ve known her this whole time. Her verse slithered through the air, my mouth echoing the words as I had the last time I was a freshman, Chicago on my mind. I grinned.