By now, the Chicago rapper needs no introduction, but to open her second album, she makes one anyway: “She’s a shadow walker, moon stalker, Black author, librarian, contrarian.” Or maybe it’s less of an introduction than a stab at defining her own complicated identity. Noname’s been frank about the ethical and existential concerns her own success inspires—specifically the ways in which Black art is regularly exploited by white platforms. She’s working through these issues out loud on the long-awaited Sundial, which arrives five years after her acclaimed debut album, 2018’s Room 25, and in her mission toward total Black liberation, the former slam poet spares no one accountability. On “balloons,” she coolly examines the morbid voyeurism of white fans’ obsession with rappers’ tales of trauma. (“Why everybody love a good sad song, a dark album, like?/Tell me that your homie dead, your mama dead/Your brother bled along the street.”) She’s got bars for capitalists who disguise themselves as activists, superstar opportunists, and an unnamed peer who receives the album’s knockout blow: “You sound like cat piss on popcorn.” Then she turns the lens onto herself: “I said I wouldn't perform for them, and somehow I still fell in line,” she raps archly, referring to her Coachella set this spring, which ran counter to an earlier pledge not to perform for predominantly white crowds. She’s fallible, too. Maybe most astounding is how lovely Noname makes these knotty moral quandaries sound. Sonically, these are gorgeous songs, with breezy jazz, soul, and boom-bap beats that sound like Chicago in the summertime. And though she’s serious about her art and her message, she sounds like she’s having fun with it, too, cracking jokes and dropping sexy double entendres. Resisting the aforementioned incentives toward an endless stream of trauma, “gospel?” is alive with joy, with guest billy woods rendering a stirring scene from the end of the Zimbabwe War of Independence. Elsewhere, a controversial guest verse from Jay Electronica hit the discourse like a small bomb. But Noname’s not scared of a little messiness. That’s how you figure it out.

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