The idea of being a celebrity was always something Fatimah Warner, b.k.a. Noname, has been staunchly against since her radical reawakening. And yet, it hits differently when you see her walking down the corner of 43rd Street and Lake Park Avenue in a cool colored floral dress with worn yellow chucks at her own neighborhood Sundial Block Party on a mellow and warm Thursday in August. Coupled with her disarming smile, Noname’s radiant and powerful essence was felt right on that corner as our art director took photographs of her while she took a moment to speak to a polite fan who expressed his adoration for her music, or while taking selfies with small groups of Black women and girls. As humble as she may come across, there’s a reason why Noname’s face shares a mural with Chance the Rapper and Blues pioneer Buddy Guy diagonally above the nearby One Stop Food and Liquor.

“Murals, I feel like they usually do that after people pass so I was surprised that they did one of me and Chance while we’re still here. [It] is very interesting. It feels kind of weird,” Noname told The TRiiBE while at her Sundial Block Party, a celebration of the release of her highly anticipated third album, Sundial, which came out on Aug. 11. 

“I’m, like, I’m still a small fry. I don’t feel like I’ve done anything to cement myself where it will warrant my face on the side of a building, big as hell. I feel like you’ve reserved that for either political leaders or someone who has passed or had done a lot of work and you’re paying homage back to them. But yeah, it is cool, though. It is still cool. I’m grateful for it,” she said.

Noname standing on a street corner with a slight smile & hair blowing in the wind
Noname standing on the block of 43rd & Lake Park where she grew up in Chicago on August 17, 2023. Photo by ANF Chicago for The TRiiBE.

On Aug. 17, Noname brought out Black and brown people from all across Chicago and beyond with her Sundial Block Party, an event independently funded by her, with mostly her own savings, in her native Bronzeville neighborhood. There was a true communal spirit of Black Chicagoans coming together, enjoying Summertime Chi; something that you could only feel at events like the Silver Room Block Party or former Hyde Park Brew Fest (now called the Hyde Park Summer Fest), back when those events were still free to attend. With the Sundial Block Party, a book donation for the incarcerated members of Noname Book Club was the only request for otherwise free admission.

“Well, my initial vision was just to have it be a free event that was similar to a traditional block party where kids can be there, the whole family can be there, like a very PG-accessible event for everyone. I also wanted it to be representative of me, since it’s the Sundial Block Party. So, it is a Noname thing,” Noname explained.

The Sundial Block Party, hosted by rapper and activist J. Bambii, was a radically joyful hood fantasy come true. Food trucks like the Chicago staple Harold’s Chicken and Whadda Jerk were readily available and reasonably priced. Community book vendors and organizations like The Black Alliance for Peace, The Final Five Campaign and Mental Health Meets Hip Hop had booths to spread information to attendees of their causes. And the kids were treated to a bounce house, a skateboarding clinic from FroSkate, and double dutch courtesy of the Jumpin Juniors Double Dutch Club.

But a good block party would not be as authentic if there wasn’t any good weed around. Noname brought out Black-owned cannabis vendors like Vic Mensa’s 93 Boyz, ice cream maker Jane & Mary’s and the famous Sesh Bus. Anyone 21 and older could hop on the lavish bus, grab a free pre-roll and some nearby snacks, and puff-puff-pass with everyone onboard.

Moving and fun performances were given by a set of impressive performers including Navy Blue, Kelly Moonstone, Alex Vaughn, Noname herself and the Block Party’s big surprise guest – Grammy-award winning rap legend Common, who delivered a vibe that felt like the closest thing Chicagoans could experience to what the late Los Angeles rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle brought to his Crenshaw neighborhood with his Marathon Movement, but in a more overtly anti-capitalistic and womanist direction. Common also dropped a verse on “Oblivion,” the final track on Noname’s new Sundial album.

“This feels amazing,” Noname said when asked how it feels to have something like this in her old neighborhood. “This is literally all I wanted. Not just my neighborhood, but just in Black communities.”   

Noname’s dream is to one day turn this block party into a nationwide tour, doing as many as 10 free block parties in 10 other Black cities such as Chicago, New York, and Jackson, Miss. For her, it’s an effort to balance out her paid performances, where she often has to work with companies whose capitalist politics go against her own, something which Noname still finds trouble settling with.

Despite that, the pure joy she finds and displayed on stage at the block party, joy that comes from performing in front of her fans with her friends and bandmates, is part of Noname’s fuel for why she’s filling up her summers with more free shows after having spent so much time away from music.

“I tried. I tried to quit [music],” she said with a laugh. “It’s really hard not to do it because I really f*cking love it. Like not even just for the bread, but I was so f*cking depressed not making music and not playing music with my friends. That is one thing that does bring me true, true joy.”

In the week leading up to the Sundial Block Party, The TRiiBE caught up with Noname to talk about her new album, Sundial, the outrage behind Jay Electronica’s verse on “Balloon,” misogynoir in the music industry, remaining staunchly anti-capitalist while still navigating the music business, the commonalities between her and J. Cole, and who she’s really accountable to. The Bronzeville native also clears the air on what exactly happened to her originally teased Factory Baby, clarifying that Sundial is a completely new and separate album apart from it.

“I was trying to make an album for Twitter leftists,” Noname said about Factory Baby. After the positive feedback she received from 2019’s “Rainforest,” she convinced herself that she needed to make an entire album of “leftist bops” just like it. Instead, she wasn’t really happy with what she was creating.

“I think trying to make art that was going to appease people was making me hate my art more. So with [Sundial], I was just, like, ‘well, I’m just gonna approach it like a mixtape,’” she explained. “The main thing I wanted to get across with [Sundial] is I’m tired. And niggas is not putting me in the rap conversation. So whatever the subject matter, I don’t care. I just want to make sure there’s no way possible that people could say I’m not a rapper.”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The TRiiBE: How does it make you feel when people call you one of the best rappers alive?

Noname: It definitely feels good to see that people are acknowledging what I do. But it’s funny that you say that because a lot of times I feel like people don’t really include me in a rap conversation. I feel like a lot of times people are quick to say, “Oh, she’s a poet.” They always kind of call it poetry. When it comes to the top rappers, like the hip hop conversations, I don’t necessarily see my name thrown into that bubble, but [it] could just be me. I don’t know.

Noname smiling & looking at the audience
Noname live on stage at her Sundial Block party in Chicago on August 17, 2023. Photos by ANF Chicago for The Triibe.

Not even in the Chicago rap conversations?

Yes. Now Chicago, yeah. I always get Chicago for sure.

When you put out such heavy musical content, do you feel some level of self consciousness?

Yeah, I definitely can be so [self]-conscious about it because obviously it’s gonna be consumed by other people. So as much as I don’t want to think about other people’s opinions of the music, I pay my rent because people like it. (laughs). So I kind of need them to keep liking it. 

But with this new record, I really didn’t give a f*ck. I approached [Sundial] kind of like a mixtape. I didn’t want it to be overly serious. I wanted to have the freedom of really being able to say whatever I want.

What led to finding your freedom? What did you have to do in order to get yourself to that place?

For me, it was seeing the reaction to my second album, Room 25. The critics loved it — like, the critics online [at] all the white publications. They were raving about it, but my fans weren’t really as into it. They prefer Telephone, my first project. So that kind of really humbled me to be like, “okay, I need to sort of go back to the drawing board.” And I feel like the reason why a lot of people didn’t like my second project is because it was the sophomore slump of like, “I feel like I gotta prove something. I gotta outdo my first project. I got to show people that [it] wasn’t a fluke.” I was trying to make it sound more serious and just different because I feel like everyone felt like Telefone was so bubbly and they didn’t really take it seriously.

a large crowd of people cheering, clapping, and waving their hands in the air
Crowd going wild as soon as Noname hits the stage to perform live in Chicago on August 17, 2023. Photos by ANF Chicago for The Triibe.

Who do you talk to about music and finding that confidence to be free?

Saba and Smino. My Chicago homies have consistently encouraged me. They stay in LA, too. So when I do get a chance to see them, we’re always pouring into each other. My general team — like, my mom, manager, my PR —  they definitely support me, but I don’t know. I’m kind of, like, [solo] dolo. I don’t really have a clique. Saba has Pivot [Gang], and Chance [the Rapper] has SAVEMONEY. Smino has Zero Fatigue. Everybody kind of has their little crew. I’m kind of just floating.

Do you feel isolated?

Definitely. Even beyond the music, I tend to just kind of be [solo] dolo or, especially with me being as outspoken as I am politically, I’ve sort of — whether it’s for the good or the bad — positioned myself against the industry as if I’m on the other side of it with the socialism shit. It’s very opposite of what everybody in the industry is kind of into so that alone isolates me. There’s not really that many socialist artists. There are some on the underground. And so discovering  people like [rapper] billy woods, and I don’t even know if he would identify as that, but there’s definitely people who are making music that are a bit more to the left.

Noname looking to the right with a slight smile on her face
Noname taking a moment before heading on stage at Sundial Block Party on August 17, 2023. Photo by ANF Chicago for The Triibe.

Who did you learn your Black liberation philosophy from? Who helps to keep you in tip top shape with that?

So in LA, I’m not really in any, like, super specific activist spaces. I’m affiliated with this organization called Black Alliance for Peace. They do have a SoCal [Southern California] chapter, but it’s more of like a national org that has different chapters in different places. But through joining that organization, I was able to just get so many resources. Having camaraderie with people in the org, and them just being helpful sending me documents or books or articles or whatever. 

But also a lot of it was just the internet. Throughout the pandemic, when I was just on Twitter all day long, trying to learn when I didn’t have an understanding, it was strangers. Just random people. I have no idea who they are, sending me all types of materials. I wasn’t really into Black liberation politics when I was living in Chicago.

My mom had a bookstore. But even with that, that was more like the typical Black-owned business, kind of capitalist model. Although she had books, she would sell books from W. E. B. Du Bois and Frantz Fanon, and political prisoners and stuff like that. At the same time, she’s selling Zane and her “Hood Chronicles” books. It’s a Black bookstore, so she’s selling everything in it. I wasn’t reading at that point. I hated reading. I hated being in the bookstore because it was just like I worked there. It was like, “I gotta come to my mom’s job.” 

It really wasn’t until my mid 20s that I even started legitimately really reading again. Because I still struggle with reading. I read really slow. I struggle with comprehension. I have to read things over and over and over again for them to really stick. It’s funny, because the perception now is that I’m like this crazy book nerd, but I feel like I’m more of a music lover. I can listen to music all the time.

On Sundial, I hear all of that nuance. A lot of women rappers are criticized for talking about sex or whatever, but just as Saba once said to me in an interview for Billboard, he’s not really that different from G Herbo as far as what they talk and rap about.I don't really feel like you're that different either. You’re just talking about it in a different way. What do you think about that?

Yeah, I completely agree. I wish more people felt that way. I am very much the same person from the South Side of Chicago that I’ve always been, but I think once you start to put yourself out there as someone who cares about specific issues, people are always gonna hold you to a higher standard. And I’m not necessarily mad at that. I do think that is important. But I also think we have to kind of accept the fullness of people. Folks have the capacity to be trash and also incredible. 

I wish we held more [of] that sort of nuance for women. We allow men that space in rap all the time. Niggas can rap about being violent or whatever, and then write songs about their mom or songs about their community and we can see how both of these things can exist in the same person. But with women, I don’t know. We really struggle to do that.

Noname looking to the left with her hair blowing across her face
The wind gently catching Noname's hair outside of her Sundial Block Party in Chicago on August 17, 2023. Photos by ANF Chicago for The Triibe.

I feel like you exist on two unique intersections. Somebody who takes up this mantle and calls out everybody. How do you kind of deal with that? What does accountability look like for you? And how do you filter when something is criticism or when people are just trolling you?

That’s hard, because sometimes I don’t really know. Usually when it comes to accountability, I think this goes for literally anybody, the person has to want to be accountable. So with me, it is going to be case-by-case because some things, like even with the Jay Electronica [verse], I’m not sorry. I’m gonna just face the repercussions of maybe losing a large swath of my fan base, but it is what it is. 

Now for other things that I’ve done in the past, I have legitimately been sorry for. I tried to be accountable. But that’s also the other thing because it’s, like, accountable to who? The internet? 

A lot of the time, I think about my community. Those are the people who hold me accountable, the people who I’m actually in the real world with, and they have a vested interest in my accountability process and me actually becoming a better person. That, I think, necessitates real change. Me saying sorry to people online… they’re not checking me. They’re not being like, “hey, I thought she said she was gonna stop drinking. Like, I see you back on it. Like, what’s up?” People in my community who I see day to day, they want to do that for me.

Noname fans looking at Noname on stage & cheering her on

I feel like that's what you've been telling us the whole time, that you are human. You have a lot of commonalities with a lot of the people that you either hold accountable or have had skirmishes with like J. Cole. Ultimately you both are expressing the same sentiment about being aware, but also rejecting being placed on a pedestal.

That whole situation was so interesting because it really was not a beef. It was a conversation between two rappers who are on the same side of the spectrum of hip hop. I’d say people place J. Cole in the conscious bubble and they place me as a conscious rapper too. And so we had an ideological disagreement over some dope instrumentals. That’s it. It’s no real beef between us. 

[I] actually hit him up to see if he could pop out for the [Sundial] Block Party, but he wasn’t able to [make it]. I was trying to get him to be on the “special guests” roster. But he hit me back and it was like all love and he’s super supportive. He was like, “let me know how to support the event. I’ll try to donate to the prison chapters” 

The beauty of hip hop is that we can hold each other accountable and have certain kinds of conversations. So even with the pushback I’m getting for including Jay Electronica on my shit, I’m not really mad at it. I think it’s important. We do need to have a conversation in the Black community about antisemitism and why it’s running rampant, or why we feel comfortable with certain aspects of the Nation. It’s like, how are we going to be in the room and even have these conversations, if we’re not willing to be in the room with certain kinds of people.

Have you had any conversations with any Jewish people about the Jay Electronica verse specifically?

In person? Not in person.

Even among Black Jewish people?

No. I’m sure it’ll happen at some point. It’s also like the album just came out a few days ago. I haven’t really been out and about, but usually that’s more like an online thing. Anything I’ve ever done, it’s very rare that someone will comment about it in-person to me. Like, it’s almost never happened. Unless, like I said, it’s niggas who I’m actually in community with. And they actually have a vested interest in seeing me change because they’re in physical spaces with me. 

If I’m thinking about all the things that people have been mad at me about, like weighing them up against actual harm, I haven’t really caused anybody harm. People are upset about my opinions. There’s no allegations [against me]. There’s no nothing out there that’s actually violent about me. I haven’t done any harm to anybody. I’m just opinionated, and people don’t like it. They don’t like the opinions. 

If you take a moment and listen to “Balloons,” and look at the very particular kind of people who's critiquing you the loudest, that song is really talking about those very same people.

It is. I find it very convenient that they ignore my whole second verse and just only talk about Jay [Electronica]. I’m literally aiming the whole verse at them. You can take me rapping about all these people dying, but this other side of Blackness, this more unpalatable side, y’all can’t take it. OK.

Noname smiling holding a bottle of water outside of Sundial Block Party
Noname before the show at Sundial Block Party in Chicago on August 17, 2023. Photo by ANF Chicago for The Triibe.

A lot of the harshest critics seem to be white men.

Yeah, which is interesting. White men make up the bulk of hip hop consumers in this country, I would say. But again, if someone made a song, and I felt like there was anti-Black sentiment in it, maybe I wouldn’t want to listen to it. But at the same time, I think there’s a lot of anti-Black sentiment in most hip hop. When niggas is rapping about certain shit, like, who their OP is, [and it’s] another Black person, you doing f*cked up shit to Black people. I still see that as kind of anti-Black. I’m not gonna hold you. I don’t see it as just, “oh, it’s ‘cause we in the same community. I don’t see it as that bad.” Nah. You’re trying to be disruptive to Black life. I don’t give a f*ck if you Black or not. Why are you doing it? But at the same time, I get where it comes from. 

With the antisemitic shit, I wonder if people are going to really try to just understand where it comes from. Like, why [do] so many Black people feel like that? Why [does] that type of rhetoric spread as quickly as it does in certain spaces in our community?

You being from the South Side of Chicago, there's a particular familiarity that all Black people from the South Side have with the Nation of Islam. How do you work within that very real relationship between the Nation of Islam and the South Side, while also navigating you being a feminist and the Nation of Islam’s history of upholding patriarchy?

It’s a struggle to navigate it. You’re aware of the work that we do with incarcerated folks in terms of sending them books, and including them in our book club meetings and stuff? So we are not just sending books, we actually are in community. We’re writing letters. These are our members. And it’s the same as our outside members. Most niggas in jail, who [are] Black, reading, are likely to be in the Nation. It just is what it is. So it’s funny to me, because our entire programming is funded through subscribers. I stopped selling merch, and I was just, like, “look, this is how you can support me. Subscribe to this thing. I want to send books to incarcerated people.” So it’s just interesting to see that y’all are willing to pay for me to literally send money and resources to niggas who are in the NOI but they’re in prison, but when it’s Jay [Electronica] on a song, that’s too much. There’s a level of cognitive dissonance, I think. 

I’m not a fan of most organized religions. So if you were to ask me about the Nation, I probably have similar tastes to Christianity. It’s another highly patriarchal religion. When it comes to the Nation, though, Black people just generally have more positive experiences with that one than other forms of organized religion. As far as I know, I’ve never seen the Nation literally colonize other swaths of the planet and shit. Are they perfect? No. Do I agree with everything that they espouse? No. I’m not even, lowkey, fully aware of all of their teachings or practices or if they get into the conspiracy side, I really don’t keep up with it to be honest. But yeah, I love Black people. So for me, that means I’m gonna love all kinds of Black people. And it’s not easy to have that position. But it just is what it is.

It’s a lot of niggas who cause harm! Going back to the prison shit, most of the niggas we send books to, they’re not innocent just because you’re Black, and you’re in prison, [and] you shouldn’t be there because that shit is literally slavery, doesn’t mean you’re f*cking innocent. Now, does that [mean you should] receive carceral punishment for the rest of your life? Nah, I don’t believe in that, but  everybody’s not an angel, and I still support them. 

I still believe that they are deserving of the same level of love as anybody else. If we don’t start moving like that, we will never actually get anywhere. The Black community is so divided over really petty shit, and the stakes are too high globally for us to really be this divided. I support trans folks. I’m in spaces with people who are queer and all of that. And I know a lot of it, in the Nation, they don’t gel with that. So it’s hard. Even as I’m talking, I’m like, I know this isn’t going to be a clear cut answer, because I’m figuring it out as I go myself.

People don’t know this, but when we first opened up the library, somebody broke into our space. They threw a fat ass, boulder-type rock, and completely shattered our front window and everything. It was pretty f*cked up. After that, we had to hire security for the library. We’re also [on our]local community shit. We don’t really got bread like that to be paying for security for our f*cking community library. But we were doing it to make sure we’re keeping people safe. And the Nation was really down to support us and help us for the low, low. Some of the members who showed up and were working security, they would be in some of our meetings, and we read them books about all kinds of shit. We read them books about homosexuality, about Black trans people, what they experienced in prison and all kinds of shit. Do they necessarily agree with everything? Nah, but the fact that they were willing to support us knowing that we don’t necessarily agree with everything, at least [we] got them in the room with us. You know what I mean? 

I think I’m on my Pan African shit right now. I don’t want to judge people to the point where I can’t even start to have conversations around what our commonalities are and where we can shift if need be. If you really are violently hurting people, fine. But if it’s talking points, if it’s rhetoric that you picked up from somewhere? I don’t know. I don’t see it as the worst thing in the world because I’ve had that rhetoric before. And I would hate for the people who helped me to have thought that about me. Like, I used to be trash. I’m better now. I’m still not perfect.

Talk about the role misogynoir plays in that.

Well, I mean, I am dark skinned. I don’t look like our average female rapper of 2023. I think with the misogynoir, it definitely is interesting to see because all of the women rappers are experiencing it on some level, some worse than others. For me? Sometimes I’d be looking at the way folks have treated and talked about Megan [Thee Stallion] and I’m like, I’m not even experiencing the height of how violent the shit can get. But I don’t know. It just seems so fundamental to the genre that it doesn’t seem like it’s something that can be eradicated unless the men who uphold the genre feel the need to do anything about it. The rest of us have to navigate around if we want to have a career in this shit, but it’s hard too for me because as much as I am impacted by the misogynoir, I’ve almost exclusively made most of my music with men, not because I haven’t tried to work with women. It’s just a scarcity trying to find female producers, women engineers and stuff like that. But also I’m a fan of a lot of these artists and they just so happen to be men, and they treat me incredibly well. I don’t want to just sit here and be, like, it’s all misogyny because it’s really not. Hopefully, as the future continues, we will just be able to really deal with the uncomfortability of nuance. It’s really not as black and white as we would want it to be. 

And I’m also like, hip hop is an art form that is produced under a system of patriarchy. So I can’t expect the singular piece of culture to be different from the larger culture that it’s coming from, you know?

A close up Noname looking softly into the camera
Noname in her hometown posing for a few photos at Sundial Block Party on August 17, 2023. Photo by ANF Chicago for The Triibe.

Do you think that's how the artists that you mention on “Namesake” — such as Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar and Rihanna — feel?

No, because I don’t think you become a billionaire feeling that way. I’m making certain decisions, but I’m also not making them kinds of moves. Like as much as I was shitting on myself for playing Coachella, Coachella is not the NFL. I think there’s a spectrum of f*ckery. That’s why I am as hard on myself as I am because I don’t want to slip up and start moving further down the line of that spectrum. I’ve always told myself as an artist, like, I will never do anything that will make me a mil’. I know, that’s an arbitrary thing. If I could just stay at  $100,000, then I’m not like a really, really, really f*cked up capitalists. If I don’t do business within the stock market, or if I don’t have my money making more money unnecessarily, then I’m not the worst kind of a capitalist, which I know is a very irrational logic. But that’s just how I’ve been moving.

Thinking about how you’re anti-capitalist, but you’re still kind of entangled in this capitalistic system, do you feel like you’re kind of a slave to the industry?

I don’t want to use the term slave just because I do feel a lot of freedom with my job that I would never under-state. I feel so liberated to be able to make art. I used to work really shitty jobs that I hated. But when it comes to having to sustain myself under the umbrella of making something like music, yeah, I do feel like I have to compromise myself. 

I do have freedom, on some level, to [say] no to Coachella. I could have said no. Did I really want to play Coachella? No, but I need money for the tour bus to get down to Mississippi if I want to be able to go. I need the money so I can buy the rooms and pay the band. It’s all really coming from me because I am independent. Like even with this one-off [deal] from Awal Recordings, they gave me an advance on Sundial but it’s not like it’s free money. All [of] that has to be recouped. None of this shit is free. And even on top of that, which is why I’ll never do a deal again, even after they recoup, the way labels are set up is that they still make a percentage off of your future streams or sales of the music for years after. I do have a very, very, very artist-friendly deal. But still, the fact that these niggas is collecting a dime off of me is insane (laughs). I didn’t have to make that decision but I did it because I needed bread. I needed the upfront money to do what I wanted to do. And so I made compromises. 

It’s a very frivolous, self indulgent thing to make art. I didn’t have to make that move. I think I’m just really hard on myself. That’s one thing I struggle with, even though I’m starting to care less about what other people think, I care about what I think of me too much. I wish I could let go of my own desire to live up to this version of myself. We are living under these systems, I’m gonna have to play the game. And I’m trying to get to the point where I can be more gentle with myself for the fact that I’m playing it. You cannot not play the game on some level, no matter what field you’re in.

Noname on stage rapping
Noname moments before bringing Common on stage with her at the Sundial Block party in Chicago on August 17, 2023. Photos by ANF Chicago for The Triibe.

Do you feel guilty? Even with you performing at Coachella, how do you navigate that being a job versus your passion? Are you at a better place with that than you were when you initially were trying to quit rap?

I’m definitely at a better place. But I don’t think I’ll ever make peace with it fully. Because I think most of us have some type of survivor’s guilt, especially coming from Chicago. I always feel like I should be doing more, giving back, learning more, challenging myself, trying to show up for folks more. But I’ve also, throughout these few years, let go of that a little bit too, and been okay with [not being] perfect. 

Hip hop comes from youth culture. It comes from poor Black communities. So for me to be in the genre that I didn’t create, I just was born Black and got lucky that I could write and now I get to make money off the shit I do. I have an obligation to the community that it came from. It didn’t come from me by myself.

is a freelance writer for The TRiiBE.