Noname: Sundial Album Review | Pitchfork

August 11, 2023 - Music

Sometimes the only way to work through the bullshit is to point at your close friends and ask, “Do you all see this, too, or am I bugging?” Their confirmations stop you from feeling like you’re on a different planet from everyone else. That’s the driving force behind Noname’s first project in five years, the eye-opening and disruptive Sundial. On the first track, with her typical buttery, head-in-the-clouds delivery, she raps, “We smokin’ positivity like dust, trust.” It’s a cutting quip: She’s fed up with anti-critical positivity, the kind that leads corporations to dress up and commodify Black art, turning an artist’s politics into a commercialized performance. She has no time for the idea that It’s all good as long as they’re Black, no matter what they’re selling. Sundial pushes back against that complacency in a real regular-person kind of way. It’s not preachy or too heavy. Noname is not trying to sell herself as a revolutionary. She’s also unafraid of biting self-reflection that leaves her own contradictions out in the open. In rap, where it’s so often about seeming indestructible, hanging yourself out to dry is a gutsy move.

With her loopy, shapeshifting flow and gentle, dynamic voice, Noname uses her sense of humor to seamlessly thread together everyday reflections with anti-imperial ideology. Bars like “Get that pussy to drip/Wear that drip in the hood” live cozily alongside “We is Wakanda/We queen, Rwanda/First Black president, and he the one who bombed us.” They’re both distinctly provocative, the former because of the wordplay, the latter because of the bluntness. Criticizing Disney or Obama is still low-hanging fruit, but Noname lays the line down so matter of factly, as if she knows that. I guess she won’t be on the next playlist.

Noname doesn’t just land blows at big targets for the fun of it; she isn’t getting some takes off or being a hater. Instead she uses these musings to interrogate herself. On “Namesake,” producer Slimwav’s sonorous funk bassline and forceful percussion set the tone for some of the most inspired rapping of the year. “’Cause if you want some money you can say that/You deserve the payback, these niggas took everything,” she spits, seemingly addressing other Black entertainers, less agitated by the single-minded ambition to deepen their pockets than by the fact that they’re pretending otherwise.

Then, the synths deepen, and her fiery raps switch to a cheer-squad cadence as she shades Rihanna, Beyoncé, and Kendrick Lamar’s working relationships with the NFL (she got Jay-Z in an earlier line). Throwing grenades without taking shelter; it’s shocking to hear another artist challenge them. Eventually, she circles back to herself: “Go Noname go, Coachella stage got sanitized/I said I wouldn’t perform for them and somehow I still fell in line, fuck.” On one side, it’s a slight cop-out, softening her condemnation of the megastars by making sure not to position herself as impervious to the same temptations. And at the same time, it’s incredibly honest rapping that leaves her vulnerable to scrutiny. Being that real about yourself only sharpens the darts you throw at others.

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