Kyle Ellison told Tony the Tiger not to lie.
Three months after Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap and specific images still linger in my brain. There’s the fear of Chicago summers, morosely depicted in “Paranoid’s” busy beaches and crackling fireworks. There’s the warmth of a mother’s love, just out of grasp on “Cocoa Butter Kisses”, and a friend’s ghost sighted in the lonely hallways of “Acid Rain.” It’s an album of standout imagery delivered in Chance’s excitable, sing-song flow – yet one of its clearest visuals is painted by the sad, mysterious female voice we hear on “Lost.”
That belongs to Noname Gypsy, a 21 year-old from the South Side whose lyrics weave their way into your consciousness and lock in. Her verse on “Lost” contains just 12 lines, but each ripples with sadness while carefully advancing the story. It’s a smartly structured tale of unrequited love, loneliness, perhaps even depression – but most of all it’s about longing. “Fuck me into open caskets, I wanna die with this / I wanna stop seeing my psychiatrist,” she raps calmly, dreaming away the innocence of youth with the silver buttons on her Miss Mary Mack dress. It’s sad as hell, which is a recurring feeling in the songs she’s released in the wake of Chance’s breakout.
Noname Gypsy isn’t always so keen to mature – on “Paradise,” for instance, she sends mixed messages about growing older. “Oh child, stay young for a minute / I’m paying bills like I was only young for a minute,” she begins, recalling memories of cotton candy and golden tickets. Her childhood seems already evaporated, engulfed by hood pressures and stresses. On the other hand, she imagines a glittering rap career, simultaneously getting rich and helping out her neighbors; debut rap singles are usually understandably high on their own bravado, and yet here’s somebody who – in their own words – already wants to “feed the world.”
We’re a long way from that, but the scruffy bits and pieces she’s thrown up on Soundcloud are a strong signal of intent. On the brief, minute-long “Members Only,” she mimics rap cliché and bemoans the black stereotypes perpetuated in rap – it’s like listening to the first half of “New Slaves” sans the drama and hypocrisy. Noname’s songs are built out of dainty melodies and polite drum loops – there’s nothing to go wild over production-wise, but that doesn’t matter so much at this early stage.
Her debut release will be Telefone, said to be the culmination of different conversations and designed to feel like talking to somebody you like on the phone for the first time. Most recent leak “Baby” is written in this spirit, a more straightforward love song that’s buzzing with the excitement of an early relationship. “Cherrypie Blues” is more bittersweet. But whatever tone is dialed out, the imagery is likely to outlive its words.