It’s no secret that there’s an insane amount of talent coming out of the Chicago music scene, and one of its brightest stars right now is 25-year-old rapper Fatimah Warner, better known by her moniker Noname. In support of her debut mixtape Telefone, Noname embarked on an 18-date tour across the U.S., stopping at U Street Music Hall on last Tuesday for not one, but two sold-out shows on the same day. In fact, the entire tour was completely sold out, so I felt especially lucky to get into the late show that night.
Finesser the DJ warmed things up with a mix of hip-hop hits, ending with Chance The Rapper’s verse from Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam”—a true Chi-town anthem at this point, and fitting for the upcoming performers—which hyped the crowd up to the max. He then introduced singer and fellow Chicagoan Ravyn Lenae, who delivered a captivating opening set that featured her delicate vocal runs over a mix of R&B, soul, and house music.
Lenae described herself as a “communicator more than a singer,” and paused before each song to open up to the audience and offer some insight to her musical and lyrical intentions. She often related her songs to different colors too, helping to set the mood for each performance. A few standouts included the infectious beat of “Sleep Talking” and the sunny vibes of “Right Of Spring.”
It was after midnight when the lights dimmed for the main event, but the room was as lively as ever. After a brief musical introduction from the backing band and vocalists, Noname appeared and launched straight into the tracks of Telefone. She wove through the poetic verses and choruses over a jazzy musical foundation, perfectly recreating the style heard on the record.
At one point Noname left the stage and reappeared with a sparkling red cape and big round glasses, which drew massive approval from the crowd. Her set was a joy to experience, in part due to moments like this, but also because of how easily real emotions and stories came to life through her words and rhythms. On some songs, like “Diddy Bop,” it was all smiles and happy nostalgia as she recalled summers in her hometown; on others, like “Casket Pretty,” the tone got more despondent as she worried for her friends—”I hope you make it home / I hope to God that my tele don’t ring.” The crowd sang every word to every chorus, making sure that those stories would be remembered.
For her encore, Noname returned to the stage alone and took a minute to collect herself before performing “Shadow Man.” She asked the audience to help her sing the chorus, leading to an intimate final moment as the long night ended with everyone singing together.