Noname Performs at HVML & Songwriter’s Club Gig
The appeal of Noname’s music has always lain within its intimacy. Noname’s voice always feels conversational, even as she delivers the most heartbreaking of lines. The emotion in her vocals is palpable, her lyrics delivered as if they were a bedtime story. Even her music is produced with a degree of intimacy, from its resonant instrumentation to its acoustic percussion, the music itself sounds close, personal and, most importantly, meaningful. Chronic Town’s miniature size and lowkey stage were thus the perfect setting for such an artist to perform. Barely a foot off the ground and within touching distance of the Chronic Town crowd, Noname took the stage 30 Sept., alongside Joy Postell, Shalom, and W.O.R.D.S. The gig was organized by HVML (Happy Valley Music Label) and Songwriter’s Club.
Running through both classic feature verses and almost every moment of her debut project “Telefone,” the Chicago rapper’s set felt more like a jam than a performance. Singing with the crowd (through what she described as a nasty sickness), laughing at her bandmates’ antics, and talking to crowd members through instrumental sections, Noname simply had fun with the crowd and her music. Even following a medley of the emotionally shattering “Casket Pretty” and “Bye Bye Baby,” which deal with police brutality and abortion respectively, she laughed at the crowd’s emotional response to her lyricism, telling them to applaud and enjoy the music despite its depressing themes. Bringing the night to a close with the beautiful “Yesterday”, the final moment was spent in acapella, Noname singing with the crowd: “When the sun is going down // When the dark is out to stay // I picture your smile like it was yesterday.”
Opening for Noname were local musician Shalom, who performed selections of her acoustic and produced work, and Joy Postell, a Baltimore rapper/singer. Postell was perhaps the most energetic performer of the night, bouncing around stage, singing, rapping, and occasionally shouting, bringing a fiery passion to her smokey production. Alongside the two musicians was Penn State’s very own W.O.R.D.S (Writers Organized to Represent Diverse Stories). Champions of the 2017/18 academic year CUPSI tournament (College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational), W.O.R.D.S. members performed selections of their own work, which focused on themes of systemic racism, individual identity, and loss of faith. The students’ work paired nicely with the spoken word form of Noname’s lyricism, the rapper an experienced poet herself.
W.O.R.D.S. also chose to create a safe space for their members, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, people of color and other marginalized identities at the front of the gig, asking anyone of Caucasian descent to move to the back of the room, stating that they owned the other 363 days of the year, but that night was for people of color. While it was certainly possible to read this as some problematic reverse prejudice, the policy seemed to be generally accepted, with Noname even noting the hilarity in all the “white people” standing down the back looking awkward when she said the n-word. Previously, W.O.R.D.S. member Davon Clark has expressly stated that under no circumstances were any white people to utter the word, even if Noname says it.
For the small crowd, ultimately, the night was an incredible demonstration of exceptional lyrical and poetic ability. In the intimate space, Noname’s music came alive, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one to leave with a smile on their face.