In “All I Need”, as Noname laments what she desires in life, she describes herself as an “Unorthodox paradox in a pair of Doc’s.” It’s a smooth line, it might just be three words that end in “dox”, but it melts into the slow groove and the Xavier Omar-backed chorus so well. But more importantly, it gives us the proper vocabulary to describe Noname and her project, Telefone.
Unorthodox. Noname is doing something special here. A bop here, strings there, Telefone is a jazzy collection. It’s a soulful sample. It’s a poetic slow jam. There’s traces of Chance and Common, but Telefone comes together in a way that’s all its own. It’s not surprising to find Saba having a hand in most of the production, his free-wheeling form truly matures under Noname’s development. In “Reality Check”, the light, even airy, production masquerade the heavy messages.
Paradox. It’s in here, with these discussions, that the pillar of paradoxes arise in Noname’s life. “And I know the money don’t really make me whole” is a solemn start to the cold open track, “Yesterday”. Noname threads together the hollowness of fame and fortune in the face of police brutality and the passing of her grandmother. “Check my twitter page for something Holier than black death” followed by “The vacancy of hallelu–Me hollow in my interviews”, riches don’t result in wealth.
Black existence is a paradox in American society. There’s beauty in culture and community–Noname spends much of Telefone reminiscing–and it’s charming, beautiful, and wonderous. Then there’s the somber “Casket Pretty”, where the hook says it all:
All of my niggas is casket pretty
Ain’t no one safe in this happy city
I hope you make it home
I hope to God that my tele’ don’t ring
Black existence and history in America is pain and suffering. Slavery, disenfranchisement, segregation, being Black means never being able to detach from systemic racism and oppression. This weight is never lost on Noname. While she targets this pain directly on “Shadow Man” or the aforementioned “Casket Pretty”, it threads its way across her memories and feelings, like with “Reality Check” or on her ode to a crush in “Sunny Duet”.
Doc’s, other than being nice shoes, is a goofy end to unorthodox paradox. It’s instantly personable, much like Noname, and that goes far in creating the impactfulness and cohesion of Telefone. The jovial tunes never lose sight of the weight, and the dark clouds always come with silver lining. Telefone is a vital perspective in an alluring package; it’s emotional, important, and entertaining. All you need to do is pick up the phone–and listen.