By Cameron Lee
October 25, 2023
The evening got started with an impressive showcase of some of Charlotte’s brightest rappers featuring Kash Kyla, Reuben Vincent, and a special guest appearance by Mavi. Fast-rising Kash Kyla has grown a sizable audience on social media following the release of her debut mixtape, Kashed Out, in March. While Kyla follows the similar braggadocious rap stylings of her contemporaries, there’s no denying her lyrical prowess and stage presence. While small in stature, Kyla’s voice and energy packs a punch, quickly turning over an unexpecting audience into fans by the end of her short set.
Coming off his his extraordinary BET Hip Hop Awards freestyle performance earlier this month, Jamla/Roc Nation artist Reuben Vincent hit the stage donning a khaki suit, Timbs, and “Third World General” emblazoned on his shirt with DJ and fashion designer Johnny Kaine backing him on the decks. Starting his set with “Point of View” from his latest album, Love Is War, Vincent wasted no time engaging the audience, and had everyone singing the chorus to the Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis-produced Janet Jackson song, “Funny How Time Flies.” The track is sampled on “2ime Flies,” his ode to the musical icon and the hip-hop love songs of the Poetic Justice era.
Vincent also made it very clear what his stance is on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict exclaiming “Free Palestine” multiple times mid-set encouraging everyone to speak out on their opinions, an idea that came to be an underlying theme of the evening. Following a preview of his rousing new track “Grand Cherry,” Vincent brought out his friend and fellow Charlotte lyricist, Mavi. “You ready to sing with your boy?” Mavi asked before the scratchy sample from “Self Love” played, invoking a sing-along of the hook “just because I love you.” The audience was treated to the full album cut from his debut project, Let The Sun Talk.
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Walking out onto the stage at Charlotte’s The Underground on a Tuesday night for her first headlining tour stop in the city, rapper and poet Fatimah Nyeema Warner, better known as Noname, performed “black mirror,” from her latest album, Sundial. Wearing a sleek blue dress with a bucket hat and a full band in tow supported by angelic backup singers, Noname received resounding cheers. Following the lyrics, “we smoking positivity like dust, trust,” from “black mirror,” she stopped the band to properly greet the audience. Following the warm salutations, Noname got right down to it, asking the audience, “You ever been mad at a rapper and felt like, ‘I gotta be really petty and write a little response,’ it’s a Cole, Cole world, ain’t it?”
The comment referenced her highly publicized lyrical altercation with North Carolina’s own J. Cole, though it was more of a playful jab than a direct shot at the Dreamville head honcho. Noname performed the Mad Lib-produced “Song 33,” her response to Cole’s 2020 track, “Snow On Tha Bluff.” The song seemingly critiqued the Chicago rapper’s social communication methods during the turmoil of Covid and racial protests in 2020. Warner, who got her start in slam poetry as a spoken-word artist and the founder of her own book club (Noname Book Club), has a way of flexing her intellect while balancing it with humor, conveyed through her complex poetry devices. It’s what makes her art so distinct in a world of cookie-cutter rap, repetitive hooks, and backing tracks.
Following Noname’s intro and melodic rendition of “Song 33,” she shouted out her radiant band, a moment that was reminiscent of her breakthrough NPR Tiny Desk performance in 2017. While it may seem to many that Noname’s intent in music is to push her political and social agenda, her spirit is probably best exemplified by her lyrics in her song “rainforest”: “Because a rainforest cries / Everybody dies a little / And I just wanna dance tonight.” During the performance of the song, she pointed out and grabbed a sign in the audience that read “PALESTINE WILL BE FREE,” and planted it in front of the drummer for the entirety of the set.
Her social consciousness is cloaked by her clever wordplay and playful demeanor. It’s rare to be hypercritical of a capitalist society while being as accountable as she is in her song, “namesake.” The track takes shots at artists like Jay-Z, Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, and Rihanna for performing at the Super Bowl, but she’s also cognizant of her own actions: “Coachella stage got sanitized / I said I wouldn’t perform for them / And somehow I still fell in line.”
Performing most of the songs from her new album, Sundial, with some splendid vocal interludes during the 2019 single “Song 31,” she shouted out Mavi who was rapping along in the audience to “toxic,” before she moved to “oblivion,” which features fellow Chicago rapper Common on the album version. Noname slowed things down for “Don’t Forget About Me” and then sailed into a divine performance of “gospel?” followed by the controversial track “balloons” featuring Jay Electronica. She finished the set with “beauty supply” and a round of solos highlighting band members. But it wasn’t her last track– Noname returned to the stage for an encore acapella version of her 2016 hit that put her on the map, “Diddy Bop.” She then brought the band back out for the luminous track, “Reality Check,” from her debut project, Telefone.
It was a satisfying night of hip-hop that saw a range of lyrical mastery, showcasing rap in its true essence. In many ways, Noname is just working out her consciousness through her craft, trying to find reasoning in a world that has no morality. It often feels like her lyrics reflect our own inner conversations when thinking in a global manner. The 32-year-old poet turned rapper has been vocal and critical of corporations and celebrity culture over the years, but she admits to her own shortcomings, and does so with a carefree smile, standing tall in her platform boots and dress. We may not all agree with her opinions, but sparking serious conversation through music is something we’ve lacked for decades.
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