Out of the thousand and some Tiny Desk concerts to date, it’s seldom an artist returns to the Desk. But when they do, there are a couple requirements: come in a new iteration or present something completely different. In this case, the Chicago-bred, emcee-activist Noname does both when she performs some revolutionary raps from her third album, Sundial, and premieres an unreleased single from hip-hop trio Ghetto Sage, made up of her and frequent collaborators, Smino and Saba.
A lot has changed since Fatimah Warner dropped her classic debut, Telefone, in 2016 and made her first appearance behind the Tiny Desk in 2017. She released a stunning follow-up, Room 25, and she even briefly paused her music career to delve deep into her work as an activist. However, holding a mirror up to herself, her community and the music industry is a signature that persists across her career, and even more so on her album Sundial.
Complemented by her dynamic six-piece band, she performs a few selects from this album including the gospel-infused “Hold Me Down,” which Noname describes perfectly as “a petty love letter to my community.” Then she gets into “Boomboom” featuring the vocalist Ayoni, who delivers a raw and powerful performance. She then invites Smino and Saba up to perform the unreleased “Kush and Love Songs,” delivering clever and conscious bars on top of a swing groove. Concluding the show in true Noname fashion with “Balloons,” she asks the audience: “Where better to do my most controversial song than NPR? Real journalism.”