It makes sense that Noname, the Chicago spoken word poet-turned-rapper, namechecks D’Angelo on the song “Don’t Forget About Me” off of her endearing new album Room 25. The song, produced by Phoelix, shares the same aesthetic and artistic sensibility as some of D’Angelo’s more famous records—the song even has a few of the feathery, high octave ad-libs D’Angelo was famous for, giving “Don’t Forget About Me” the feel of a Voodoo demo. Melancholic, jazz-inflected R&B is an ideal canvas for both artists, who use their music to search for meaning and try to make sense of a poisonous world.
Much of Room 25 is made up of vivd portraits of Chicago life, desire, the miracle of childbirth, and the existential crisis that fame can bring. On “Don’t Forget About Me,” Noname uses that existential fear surrounding life’s purpose to rap about the fruitless search for immortality. “Thank you for your sweet Telefone, it saves lives / the secret is I’m actually broken,” Noname raps with a soft tenor, referring to her 2016 mixtape Telefone and how its vulnerability acted as a salve for fans but still couldn’t save her. It’s a sobering line, a reminder that those who give others strength still need it for themselves.
The fear plenty of people have regarding the mundane and ultimately tragic nature of being alive is that at the end of it there doesn’t seem to be much of a point. With this anxiety in mind, Noname contemplates the idea of her actions on Earth allowing her to live eternally even when she dies, both through her soul continuing to go on and by the family she leaves behind: “I know everyone goes some day, I know my body’s fragile, know it’s made from clay / But if I have to go, I pray my soul is still eternal / and my momma don’t forget about me.” Noname is not particularly religious or spiritual in her music; instead she portrays a worldliness that makes her seem wise. But her rapping is so nakedly honest that she also shows her seams, making you feel as though show’s still convincing herself of words that feel prophetic. Noname is good at thinking out loud even as she touches on topics as grand as life after death.
“Don’t Forget About Me ” is touching and relatable, but it also has a real bleakness. For one, the song implies that her parents and grandparents will outlive her. That dark outlook is aided by references to alcoholism, drug abuse, and the desire to alter her body to fit in with “Beverly Hills.” But Noname raps gorgeously about death and destruction—a theme that figures heavily into music that otherwise sounds so fluttering and relaxing. When Noname raps about dying it’s not to be cynical or unnecessarily cruel but instead to be hopeful, as though she were trying to transcend it. “All I am is everything and nothing at all / All I am is a shoulder for your heart to lean on / All I am is love,” she says as the song nears it’s end. It’s a touching endnote, full of a hopefulness that is earnest, though it still might take some convincing. That’s all part of living with finality perpetually over your shoulder, though, and Noname is the a pro at conveying that.