Chicago MC Noname played her second sold-out show at Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Steel on Sunday night (Jan. 6) while nursing a developing case of tonsillitis. Outside, the wind relentlessly whipped around lonely street corners, but inside the venue the rapper made herself comfortable, inviting everyone into the Room 25 experience. There was a styrofoam cup sitting on a stool to her right as she blazed through “Regal,” from the aforementioned debut studio LP that dropped in September. The band, although rich in sound, proved to be a bit overwhelming at times, perhaps due to the rapper’s emerging ailment.
Noname winced when she finished the last bar. “My throat is fucking burning. Can I drink this tea throughout the show?,” she asked a full house of fans. As they shouted their approval, she coyly added, “Also. Thank y’all for coming out.”
Noname is sort of an anomaly. A millennial rapper who rarely does press or shows her face online in an effort to push her music rather than an image. But onstage she’s effervescent, open and honest — a reflection of her recorded work. Even with a sore throat, she captivated the audience, jumping between tracks from her 2016 mixtape debut, Telefone, and the more recent Room 25. The crowd was diverse — of course, there was the expected set of youthful Williamsburg hipsters in their Urban Outfitters finest — but there were just as many 30-somethings in the crowd, smartly dressed in tweeds, flat caps and free-flowing naturals.
There’s something undeniably appealing about the rapper’s vibe, which projects that she doesn’t take herself too seriously. But her music, poignant, thoughtful and layered, is made for unpacking and decoding by her fervent supporters. For example, later in the set she moved into “Bye Bye Baby” from Telefone, which she’s previously described as being a sort of love note from a woman to her aborted child. As heavy as that seems, sonically, the track is light and airy. “You my baby/ You my baby…” she sang, ending the song while peering into a corner of the audience. “Did you just throw up The Roc?,” she asked with a laugh. Then, filling the rest of the crowd in, she mimicked hand gesture popularized by Jay-Z and company years ago. “It’s just so random,” she giggled, almost to herself. “He’s like, ‘It’s the Roc n—a!’ And it’s like, ‘What? This song’s about abortion…’” she trailed off, still grinning.
On New Year’s Day, Noname released “Song 31” and on Sunday, she prepped the crowd before running through it, warning that although she’s attempted it live before, she’s never gotten all the way through it without a stumble. The music began and the first verse was fine. Hook, no issue. A few bars into the second verse: “Shit! It’s always the second fucking verse,” she said. The crowd, unaffected by the mistake, laughed, loving every bit of the MC’s outward will to “get it right.” “Okay. Let’s do it again. Fuck. Nose running and shit…” Then she quipped, with a heavy sigh. “I’m outta shape.” But she got through the second verse just fine.
Saba and Smino garnered a deafening response from the room as they appeared for their performance on Room 25’s “Ace,” lighting a spliff onstage and grooving seamlessly like longtime friends often do. “Ain’t nobody out here outrapping my n—-s!,” Noname shouted proudly at the song’s end about her cohorts. A couple songs later, the music for Smino’s “Amphetamine” cued up and fans screamed in anticipation of the St. Louis rapper returning to the stage. She shut that notion down without pause. “Before y’all get too excited,” Noname said, chuckling, “I’m not bringing him back out. I’m doing my verse from his song.” Then, feigning intimidation, she playfully growled, “This my show n—a…” (The two male MCs ended up returning to the stage to end the show with “Shadow Man.”)
Even while battling an ailment that sounded painful, Noname took Brooklyn for two days in a row, exposing her flaws and triumphs onstage, gleefully swinging her thick mane back and forth and joking with the nearly 2,000 fans in attendance. She was just being herself while sharing the most inward parts of psyche and it showed. At one point, a fan shrieked out, “I love you!” Noname didn’t miss a beat: “I love you too stranger!”