Friday, March 12th, 2021

Noname – Rainforest

May not have a name, but has a big score.


Aaron Bergstrom: As Emma Goldman never actually said, “If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.” That first bit is harder than you’d think. From a purely academic standpoint, Noname’s revolutionary credentials are unimpeachable, now her challenge is getting those ideas to the masses in a format that isn’t quite as reliant on Chance The Rapper. “Rainforest” is a strong step in that direction, and if nothing else it’s probably the second-catchiest song ever to reference Frantz Fanon.

Rachel Saywitz: Noname skips her words over a smoking wildfire, shifting from charged-up calls for revolution to quiet, unsure lamentations. A consistent staccato drumbeat and finger-picked guitar guide her through every public observation she has; a lyric like “they turned a natural resource into a bundle of cash” sounds as an astute remark rather than a radical cry. Yet that is what makes Noname’s music such a welcome gift, and what makes “Rainforest” more authentic than some other recent protest songs. Revolution cannot happen without constantly questioning the society we live in, and those questions cannot sustain without taking time to embrace society’s small joys, like music that glides into a dying world and allows us to dance beyond it.

Andrew Karpan: The persistence of a solid beat elevates the record above most of the past four years of Noname’s post-Telefone solo work, which has so often taken the form of a long-winded search for purpose, conceptually admirable but consisting, largely, of forgettable whispers of intent. Her best track in that time, in fact, had been her chunk of the minimal, but lively, midwestern joint “Häagen Dazs” — a song where she articulates a fraught tension found inside the mournful melancholy of sexual longing, an old image with a twist. She returns to the form here, a low-key bap built out of cool acoustic loops that give her the space to rap around them and then over them: a manifesto about dancing while the rainforest burns, while she quizzes us about our vicarious interest in tech (and maybe rap?) billionaires. It’s a bit whose earnesty some will eventually find tiresome in a decade, but I buy it. File under: R&B Against the Machine.

Vikram Joseph: “Rainforest” is such an intricate, tightly-wound song and Noname makes it sound so easy. Over flamenco guitars and a shuffling bossa nova beat, she raps warmly and  conversationally about climate change, racist institutions, capitalism and the cult of billionnaires — it’s like a conversation with your most radical, well-read friend, except you’re on a beach with a cocktail in your hand. But “Rainforest” is never preachy; there’s so much energy, so much humanity in it. Noname pushes through these thorny issues at lightning speed, in search of some sort of fulfilment, some sort of joy; in this context, “I just wanna dance tonight,” that most universal of pop cliches, feels like a statement of defiance in the face of society. It’s a little marvel, a fleet-footed expression of pain and rage and radical optimism.

Alfred Soto: Respectful but skeptical, I’ve kept my distance from Noname. The richness of the production — those harmonies, keyboard swirls — on “Rainforest” complements the stiletto sharpness of her rhymes. “How you lemonade all your sadness when you openin’ up?” states the obvious in a fresh manner. “The emptiest hallelujah” could title a short story collection. She has, in short, thought through the problem of a culture promoting positivity because life fucking sucks for many people of color.

Thomas Inskeep: As Noname raps meanderingly against an acoustic samba backdrop, all I know is that I’m bored.

Samson Savill de Jong: This is designed to appeal to me; Noname, whom I’m a big fan of, rapping about leftist politics, what’s not to love? So I was concerned when it didn’t really hit with me to start off with. There’s nothing particularly surprising about this track, as it sounds like a Noname song, and it’s not like her politics have ever been hidden on her albums. Her voice here is maybe less dynamic than on some of her best songs; Noname’s always had a reputation for having a “smooth” style, but her voice has always had an air of mischievous humour to it. It’s definitely in here too (like the cokehead line), but it maybe isn’t immediately apparent. I think the song in general isn’t immediately apparent, but it definitely grew on me, Noname retains her brilliant flow and bars, and it’s possible that simple because this is exactly what I expect it failed to blow me off my feet by being anything other than what it is. I’m glad Noname has decided not to quit music, and I look forward to the album when it comes, where I suspect “Rainforest” will continue to grow when surrounded by the other tracks.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: The first time I saw Noname live it was late autumn, 2017. She was an unsteady presence then, bursting with talent and creativity but not yet at ease with her own skill — she started and stopped a new song three times in a row, waiting for perfection in the inherently imperfect medium of live performance. I saw her again in the spring of 2019. She had moved up, to larger venues and bigger stages, and it felt as if she had expanded to match the brighter lights — she had the command of the audience completely, our trust handed to her on the strength of her lyrical deftness and radical hope. The Noname of “Rainforest” reflects that entire period of artistic growth, that move from uncertainty in your own capacity for change to revolutionary conviction. Making art with a clear political message is hard — you’re trapped between didactic messaging and empty aesthetic signifiers of revolution — but Noname here shows how it can be done gracefully and honestly. She’s not saying she has all the answers, but in between bossa nova-tinged production stabs she at very least forms a schema for change. “Rainforest” is a song that feels like the process of learning, of shedding one’s priors and seeing with clarity for the first time.

Reader average: [9] (2 votes)

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2 Responses to “Noname – Rainforest”

  1. Aaron – not sure where it places in the pantheon, but It’s Gonna Be Okay, Baby by MUNA doesn’t just reference Fanon but also queers him

  2. @Vikram – Yikes, that is an unforgivable oversight on my part (and in the first verse, too!). So my rankings are (1) The Coup, (2) MUNA, (3) Noname. That’s still pretty good company!