The young rapper/poet lit up the stage at Tipitina's with her easy charm.
Fatimah Warner snuck onto the scene in 2013 as Noname Gypsy, outclassing Chance the Rapper on his own track, “Lost,” from Acid Rap, the mixtape that catapulted him to unprecedented levels of indie success. Her verse, delivered with an instantly mesmerizing monotone and featuring rhymes like “Miss Mary Mattress, geriatric / Fuck me into open caskets,” got the world wondering who this mystery woman was.
Most of us wouldn’t find out until three years later, when she released her own breakout mixtape, Telefone, last August, dropping the “Gypsy” from her stage name due to its racist connotations, but sticking with Noname. Telefone was an overnight smash, critically admired for its poetic, confessional style and its political nuance, not to mention the gorgeous production on every track. Last Monday, she brought her song-poems to Tipitina’s, with Arima Ederra opening.
The press whirlwind surrounding Noname since Telefone dropped has created a narrative of a shy, reclusive artist with no desire for the limelight. It’s an image she’s contributed to, describing herself as an introvert and rarely giving interviews. Even her name paints a not-so-subtle portrait of someone who wants to remain as anonymous as possible.
That’s not who came to Tipitina’s Monday night, though. From the moment she stepped onstage to the moment she left, she radiated a joyful confidence, smiling, clapping and dancing through a short yet satisfying set.
Her energy was contagious. It spread to her six-piece live band, composed of bass, drums, keys, guitar, and two backing vocalists. They were as tight as any I’ve seen at a hip-hop show, providing the perfect canvas for Noname to paint her word-pictures on. The band also colored in the sonic range that her voice lacked, allowing her relatively static voice to remain as engaging as it is on the album. But even when the mix was at its loudest and the backup singers, who she introduced as Jimmy and Sophie, hit vocal runs that would have stolen the show from most frontwomen, Noname was the undisputed star, making up what she lacked in dynamics with her smooth, shimmering flows and her unmatched lyricism.
Noname’s presence at Tip’s felt like a miniature sun, filling the room with warmth and light. But many of the folks further back didn’t really seem to be there for the show. Standing stage left about halfway back in the crowd, I noticed a clear divide right around my area. Much of the audience didn’t participate in the singalongs and call and responses she actively encouraged—sometimes even forcing the issue—throughout her set, and then talked loudly during the softer portions.
The most awkward of these moments came during “Casket Pretty,” easily the most serious track on Telefone. It deals with death in the black community, especially the epidemic of police brutality that’s come to light in recent years. The song is just as relevant today as it was when it was written, but the crowd didn't give it the respect it deserved.
Noname clearly felt awkward about the lack of attention, and stopped the song after the first verse, though she returned to it later. She played it off, though, making a joke about how she didn’t care if people in the back weren’t paying attention because she was still going to get herself a massage with their ticket money. It was the sweetest way I’ve ever seen a musician deal with a shitty crowd.
More than anything, Noname seemed comfortable in her own skin Monday night; enough to brush off the audience’s inattention, scold us when we weren’t singing along loudly enough, and interact intimately and intensely, from jokes about being gassy to heartfelt expressions of happiness about how far she’s come in such a short time.
She finally managed to get the whole crowd engaged during her encore, “Yesterday,” Telefone’s opener. Maybe she’d weeded out anyone who wasn’t interested by that point, but it seemed more likely that her charm had finally won the entire audience over. Regardless, it was a beautiful moment.