It seems like every time I open a newspaper or magazine these days, all I get is technicolour murder in Chicago. While a whole lot of other shit that went down this year might have made it seem like ‘2016’ was a labeling error, there is perhaps nothing more anachronistic than tens and hundreds of young kids getting gunned down in one of the biggest cities in the nation held out to be the leader of the free world. Ensconced in the relative safety of New York City, the warzone that is Chicago’s south and west sides seems like a distant tragedy, too impossibly sad to be true. And yet, at least 27 people were shot, 7 fatally, this weekend in Chicago. Christmas weekend. In a city where this time of year it is fundamentally too cold to function outdoors for more than 5 minutes. It’s astonishing and ridiculous, especially when you consider the hotbed of creative talent that is Chi-town.
While the deaths and injuries that plague Chicago should be mourned, and deserve every column inch rightfully devoted to them, reading these tales of mindless violence jars intensely with the image you get of the city from listening to its contemporary historians – including Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Joey Purp, and now Noname. One of the city’s first, leading lights of hip-hop, Common, released ‘Black America Again’ just last month, seemingly exasperated by having to even contemplate the same thematic concerns he’s been dealing with since debuting as Common Sense in 1992. But the kids, particularly the Save Money family which includes Mensa and Chance, tell a different, more uplifting story of life in the urban Midwest. Associating herself with many of these artists from an early stage, it was only a matter of time before Noname (25 year-old Fatimah Warner) added hers to the chorus of impressively optimistic voices coming out of Chicago.
Instead of highlighting the gang warfare, drug use and easy access to guns that has turned certain parts of the city into battlegrounds, its youth could be better engaged with the stories of Chance and Noname, who first met as teenagers at the YOUMedia community culture project run out of the majestic Harold Washington Library, downtown on State Street. Noname (then Noname Gypsy) first appeared in the public eye on Chance’s revelatory ‘Acid Rap’ mixtape in 2013. Apparently, the slam poetess has been promising her debut mixtape, ‘Telefone’ since then, but only finally delivered, to critical acclaim, in July this year. Having played it intro to outro four times in a row this overcast Boxing Day afternoon, I can say with no misgivings that it is a neo-soul masterpiece, as refreshing and sophisticated as the city that it was born out of. ‘Diddy Bop’ is just one soulful cut demonstrating Noname’s mellifluous lyricism and obvious passion for her craft; a valuable reminder of the beauty and resilience of Chicago.
Noname – Diddy Bop Ft. Raury & Cam O’bi