A few thoughts I had about Noname’s impressive album, ‘Sundial’

OPINION: The Chicago rapper’s second album is a 32-minute ride of thoughtful critique, bemusement and stellar performance for the Black community.

Noname, Sundial, theGrio.com
Singer Noname performs onstage during Weekend 2, Day 3 of the 2023 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 23, 2023 in Indio, California. (Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for Coachella)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

Admittedly, I’m not that familiar with Noname’s catalog. In fact, the first time I’d ever heard of her was during the great J.Cole “Snow on Tha Bluff” kerfluffle of June 2020. In brief, the superstar rapper dropped a record where he went at Noname for her thoughts and opinions on any of society’s -isms and felt, kinda sorta, personally attacked. This, of course, spread all over social media, and Noname released a response to it, “Song 33.” That’s all water under the bridge now; point is, that was the first time I’d ever heard of the rapper known as Noname (formerly Noname Gypsy). 

Since then, I’ve heard a smattering of her songs here and there, and she’s popped up in a story here or there about this or that, but I cannot say that I was paying much attention. And then, in August, she dropped her second album, “Sundial,” which had the internet streets talking. There’s a verse from Jay Electronica on the album that is allegedly anti-semitic, and Noname stood 10 toes down and refused to apologize for including it on her album (it’s on a song called “ballons,” which also features one of my faves, Eryn Allen Kane). 

Then I heard she was taking aim at Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar, and frankly, I was over it. When controversy is the driver (more on this later) I tend to tune out. And then I read one of a litany of articles highlighting the death of “real” hip-hop that name-checked “Sundial” as revolutionary in the space. I was compelled, at that point, to hate-listen to “Sundial.” But a crazy thing happened. I ended up loving the album — like loving loving it. It’s been on constant repeat for two weeks now, and I have some thoughts I’d like to share with the room if you don’t mind. Cool? Cool. 

1. Noname, as a performer, is an enjoyable listen; her vocal performances are great. 

The thing that stands out most to me on this album is just how good she is at performing her songs. You can almost hear her smiling through some of the verses — even the controversial ones. You can tell she comes from a performing background. She is both a rapper and a poet. I’ve read she doesn’t quite enjoy the label of poet, and I get it. It’s as if poets are different from rappers in our expectations of them as writers. But, you are who you are and this album is performed like a person who pores over the words and delivery. Her delivery adds so much to how I receive her content, which at times can be quite preachy, but because of how she shows up, it’s not a turn-off; I am compelled to consider her perspective even though she’s telling me how much I suck at times. I want to see her perform live.

2. The features complement her so well on this record that I’ve looked up each one that I didn’t know and listened to their musical offerings. 

I have no idea if Noname was meticulous about picking her guests or if they’re all homies and she asked them to hop on records and do their thing, but Ayoni, for instance, is an amazing vocalist and adds so much to two songs she’s on. On my favorite song, “Hold Me Down” (more on this later), Jimetta Rose and Voices of Creation sound SO good that I listen to this song on repeat on my morning drives to, well, everywhere. Point is, there are a bunch of features and each one works very well in concert (no pun intended) with Noname. 

3. While her criticisms are very pointed, she’s clear that she’s also part of the problem. 

Her own insecurities and missteps run rampant on this album. For example, on the song “namesake,” which is a song where she admonishes Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar for being in cahoots with the NFL and their military propaganda machine (paraphrasing), in quite a playful but serious fashion, she also admonishes herself for saying she wouldn’t perform at Coachella and then doing it. She admits to being part of the system she hates, even if in a different space. This comes up on “toxic” and “beauty supply” as well. As I said before (No. 1), her delivery makes the pill go down easier. 

4. If you’re a fan of lyrical dexterity, Noname has that in spades.

I’ve already said she pores over the words and delivery, well, that only matters because she’s good at this rap thing. If you’re a fan of folks who can do things with words that we mere mortals cannot, she’s worth giving a listen. The album is very much a work of art in that sense. She utilizes different flows on every song, and her wordplay is never sacrificed. Color me impressed, and I don’t say that lightly. 

5. “Hold Me Down” is absolutely my jam. 

I cannot decide why I love this particular record so much. It’s a song about how we, Black people, can be our own worst enemies to one another, a lesson that while true, can be like, “Yeah, we get it.” But she manages to earworm this joint with a super catchy hook that talks about how we’re fine scamming the system only to then hold each other back in the race for survival. Maybe it’s her singing on the hook or the bassline on the song and the choral singing in the background. I don’t know, but I’ve never enjoyed hearing about crabs in a barrel so much in my life. 

Panama Jackson theGrio.com

Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).

Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.