I entered into a crowded lobby of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago along with the other bodies streaming in. Spasmodic vocals and electrifying guitar-magic rang through the first floor where Homme played at the bottom of a staircase—towards which everyone seemed to shuffle.
We had just finished circumventing a busy Michigan Avenue choked with parade floats and tourists on a blustery night to attend Prime Time, a monthly after hours event hosted by the MCA working in tandem with Pitchfork. November 2016’s event, titled Ascend, featured a music-heavy bill with performances by Jamila Woods, Noname, and DJ RP Boo to name a few. Music wasn’t the only thing people flocked to, though, as the night was supplemented with local florist, Asrai Garden, making smudge sticks; interactive video installations; and food and drink in abundance.
Though there was no shortage of talented artists at the event, perhaps the biggest draws of the evening was 25-year-old Fatimah Warner, better known as Noname. Warner initially made a name for herself when she was younger, performing in open mic and slam poetry circuits. She eventually placed third in Louder Than A Bomb, an annual youth poetry slam competition in Chicago. When Warner turned her talents towards hip-hop, though, she quickly became a Chicago artist to watch, after being featured on albums by Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins.
Three years and a name change later, Noname did not disappoint with her celebrated debut mixtape Telefone, dropping late-summer 2016 to critical acclaim. Telefone explores themes of growing up, life and death, legacy, and nostalgia for the Chicago native, featuring contributions from many more local artists on the precipice of national attention.
Recently back from her European tour and counting down the days until she kicks off her US tour, Noname embodies a duality: a veteran poet, but new to the hip-hop scene, and yet a seasoned performer with a wealth of experience on stage.
She was a clear magnetic force behind Prime Time. Her show felt exciting and intimate. Where Jamila Woods delivered a loud and confident performance, Noname’s seemed more tender in a way that almost exuded inexperience, not in the way of lacking credentials, but the anticipation of everything being new.
This isn’t to say that the night fell flat save for Noname, though. MCA’s event was laden with beautiful performances that were visual, interactive, and musical, and I cannot understate the powerful draw of Jamila Woods and her band (who absolutely killed it), and the legendary footwork founder RP Boo. When it came to that Prime Time though, Noname stole the show.
Before performing “Shadow Man,” a song that heavily features the stylings of artists Smino and Saba, she told the crowd, “I know Smino and Saba aren’t here,” and went on to express her desire to perform the stripped down track anyway, and did so without the help of a chorus of vocalists. Running tracks back and changing the order of the set list, negotiating with the band before our eye and ears, and keeping fans of Telefone in suspense with which local talents would appear—theMIND and Ravyn Lenae showed—Noname conveyed her music with love, while perforating that stifling idea of a fixed performance. This created intimacy in the performance of the not-so-rookie freshman, wide-eyed and well-informed. Noname will be playing in Chicago one more time for Reaction NYE, December 31 before she heads out on her US tour, where you’ll have to catch her in an adjacent city.