The Chicago lyricist will perform Wednesday, Feb. 15, at The Crocodile in Seattle.

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Chicago rapper Noname, performing at The Crocodile on Wednesday, Feb. 15, quietly released her debut mixtape “Telefone” last July. Though it’s only 10 songs and just over 30 minutes long, its combination of bright, major-key production and dense, often dark lyrics made it one of the strongest rap/hip-hop releases of 2016 (a field with plenty of big records from major artists last year).

“Telefone” took over three years to go from concept to finished product — but was recorded almost entirely during a one-month stay at an Air BnB rental in Los Angeles, with the production team of fellow Chicagoans Saba and Phoelix and Las Vegas’ Cam Obi. The resulting jazzy, major-key beats provide a deceptively breezy backdrop for Noname to bury her half-melodic, half-monotone musings on life, death, identity and purpose in agile, vivid phrases and couplets.

“I’m the type of person that’s smiling a lot of the time, but internally there is a lot of emotional [stuff] that’s happening that people don’t necessarily see because of how naturally bright and happy I can seem,” the 25-year-old lyricist said during a recent phone call from L.A. “I think my music mirrors that.”

Concert preview


8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15, The Crocodile, 2200 Second Ave., Seattle; $15 (206-441-4618 or

Noname says there’s good reason her lyrics and phrasing can sound poetic.

“My father owned a book-distributing company and my mother owned a bookstore. So that’s how they met, through her ordering books for her store from his company,” she said. “I literally grew up in a bookstore. When I wasn’t in school, I would be at the store.”

A bit turned off to books and literature (“you know, reading when you’re a kid is not the cool thing to do,” she said with a laugh), she didn’t start coming around until her creative-writing teacher in high school started praising her work and encouraging her to join a poetry club he was running. Poetry would end up leading Noname to meet other Chicago artists like Saba, Mick Jenkins and Chance the Rapper, who all collaborated with her in the years leading up to “Telefone,” and helped with her transition from poet to rapper and lyricist.

“Once you get validation from your peers, I think that sometimes that really solidifies you as talented,” she said. “You can think you’re talented by yourself, but that peer validation really helped me to push myself. Like maybe I am good at this; all these kids who thought I was lame now like my poetry, so there must be something here.”