And When That Call Comes... - Telefone by No Name Review
So, some time ago, an NPR Tiny Desk concert was traversing my Twitter timeline featuring the rapper Noname out of Chicago. Curiosity and good reviews from folks whom I generally share similar musical opinions with got me to open it, and from her first few lines I considered myself a fan. I instantly went to Spotify to add her most recent album Telefone and made my mind up to listen to it ‘soon’.
Well, that didn’t work out quite as fast as I wanted, because it took me two months to actually spin the album. I was in a creative doldrum that I’m still powering out of, and I needed something to spark the inner fire again. From start to finish, I cried listening to the album. I felt like I found the 4th Flavor of ice cream from the Kids Next Door mythos. Telefone put me at ease while also tapping deep into memories of my halcyon days, simultaneously reminded me what I wanted to write about and why I love writing in the first place.
On Monday was the first anniversary of the album’s actual release and I almost regret not finding it sooner. So, in celebration, I wanted to do sort of what I did with Lupe Fiasco’s The Cool and go through my journey with the album song by song.
Noname starts us off with Yesterday, an ode to her grandmother and the lessons imparted before she passed on. It gets interspersed with moments of self reflection, like so many other songs here, that are heavily grounded in the same religious basis so many of us received over our lives. It segways into Sunny Duet, which sounds like a symphonic exchange between two poetic lovers. The beat switches and light sprinkling of different instruments throughout help set the mood while Noname spits some incredibly creative bars straight from a Chicago raised lady’s mouth.
When I first heard Diddy Bop, I played it back for an hour. Just from that repeat of “Ooooooh, you about to get yo ass beat” twice in the same verse and the perfect placement of both. The same verse where Noname begins in the current day, but then reminisces on times gone by as many young adults in the current day do. The whole song is a school age summer anthem that reminds you of the times you had to beat the street lights home or got caught doing some sneaky shit.
When I finally got to All I Need, I was of the belief that I could not be impressed further. So glad I was wrong. Noname deemphasizes the track name but puts a spotlight on two words before it, “love is…” throughout the entire track. From the beginning where she repeats advice to herself of quitting controlled substances, to describing honey as the colors of the Pan African flag, to all the ‘happy-go-lucky’ times in life, she gives us descriptions of love as a verb and as a noun as well as many of the things. The rest of the chorus that gets sung by Xavier Omar soothingly reminds us about the power of acceptance.
Reality Check is my favorite track on the album, and it took some time to get there. Noname playfully notes several times about “opportunity knocking” and describes all the reasons she didn’t answer for it before finishing the first verse with a powerful set of bars about what her grandmother would think about her inaction and hesitance to become great. The second verse is the steps she took to step into her light as well, answering the door when opportunity came knocking again, and a short reminder of the ghosts that still haunt her. The chorus (and the song ending) provides words of self-empowerment for anyone stuck in a rut or difficult place. Especially me.
A song about finding out what the song is about, the Freedom Interlude jumps around scenes of life and the hopes we keep locked away as well as those we freely project based on the happy moments we had. It’s a fitting transition into the much deeper and darker Casket Pretty, which reminds us of us of the young lives being lost to violence in the community and from those who are supposed to be protecting the people. It says everything that needs to be said, without hammering it on your head as many attempts at social commentary often do.
Forever livens us back up again with the some of the joys of life while not ignoring the pitfalls. She interplays an intimate moment with the hope that her words can one day cure the world’s ills, an exploration of her quirks, and another brief light on her bad habits. Then we get to Bye Bye Baby, which illuminates some of the relationship between mother and child. It’s laden with religious imagery, such as “my baby needs some milk and honey”, that uplifts the spirit and reminds me of all the things my mom used to say to me before my first days of elementary school.
The final track, Shadow Man, is a long glance into the mirror of mortality by Noname and the three-featured artists Saba, Smino, and Phoelix. It’s been the hardest track to write about because of how it reminds me how close death has been to me my entire life. From the casual reminders of what to do at your funeral to the hopeful fantasies of what life after would be like, it’s just more and more evidence of how life can be so terribly short. Hearing it from several young black rappers, two of which are from cities at least as dangerous as my hometown is, it strikes a nerve very few songs can for me. And sometimes I need that to keep going.