I was never too good with articulating the words that truly comprehended how I felt. So I never really bothered to try to speak my thoughts into life, let alone share it with anybody. Since forever — I’ve had trouble with speaking — I stumble on my words, stutter, and am sometimes slow. That’s why I relied on music to speak for me. And no one spoke for me like Noname did when I first heard her guest verse on Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap back in 2013.
As much as hip-hop has been a vital part of my life and growth over the years, I never really had a female artist to look up to or relate to. Kanye West rapped with confidence and taught us to be fearless, original and passionate with our art. Kid Cudi spoke for the lost souls and lonely stoners coping and searching for purpose, as he shared his thoughts about suicide and depression. While Tyler, the Creator, spoke for the newer generation of youth and taught us to be ourselves regardless of what the fuck other people thought. These were all important narratives that found a home in the hearts of millions of people, including myself. However, I was still missing that connection with a female voice in hip hop that could truly speak my feelings and thoughts into life.
Nicki Minaj was the dominating female voice in hip hop throughout my teenage years. This was a time before the shine of SZA, the discovery of Princess Nokia, and the sounds of Noname. No shade towards Nicki, she has made countless hits that came with mad punch lines and memorable hooks. She had a glamorous image and her presence radiated confidence. Nicki was comfortable in her own skin, and that wasn’t me.
The previous generation had Lauryn Hill. The way she fused r&b, neo-soul and hip hop was beautiful, and her lyrics were always honest. “What Lauryn is doing is opening doors for female artists who aren’t materialistic and flashing their titties,” RZA told MTV. “She represents a beauty and a wholesomeness that’s more down-to-earth. She makes music that people can relate to, which is why she’s done so well.”
When Ms. Lauryn Hill blew up, I was barely 5. I wasn’t able to fully grasp onto the sounds and power of her music— I was too busy listening to Radio Disney and the local Chinese news radio station my mom put on. Despite the depth and allure of her music, there still was a disconnect.
Photo by Bryan Lamb
Noname, however, came at a time in my life when I needed her music the most. She was the latest female artist to walk past those doors that Lauryn had created. Her voice was soothing and there was a kind of warmth to Noname’s effortless flow. It might’ve been the way she danced with her words, or maybe it was just her lyrics that was so reassuring. Either way, her music gave us a peek into her reality in Chicago and took us on a journey to discover her self-worth.
“I blessed myself inside your arms one day / Swear to God there I was when the dress / And the silver buttons fade away / Miss Mary Mattress, geriatrics / Fuck me into open caskets, I wanna die with this / I wanna stop seeing my psychiatrist / She said “pill pop, baby girl ’cause I promise you, you tweaked / The empty bottled loneliness, this happiness you seek” / The masochism that you preach / Practice backflips, tragic actress / On a movie with no screen / When the only time he loves me is naked in my dreams.”
“Lost” did two pivotal things for me: it made me fall in love with Chance, and it put me on to Noname. The track talks about the power of what the presence and love of an intimate partner can do for you when you don’t even have that same love for yourself.
Chance sets the mood right off the first verse when he tells us that his girl deals with emptiness, an absentee father, and carries demons with her. The hook reveals that Chance has insecurities of his own and wants them to disappear by being with her and drowning in various drugs.
Noname shares similar emotions when she explains that she’s ready to die with an endorphin high and with the comfort of being in someone’s arms. But until that day of death comes, she is advised to search for solace and joy elsewhere — through drugs. In the end, she comes to an understanding that neither being with a significant other or self-medicating could amount to the pure love and happiness she seeks.
Just like Chance, just like Noname, and just like some of you, I’ve juggled with the feelings of insecurity and loneliness. I thought that the only way to find all the love I didn’t have for myself was to find it from someone else. And just like Noname, I quickly realized that it wasn’t fulfilling or lasting, but just an easy fix. This song reminds me of my struggle to love myself and my own desire to be loved, in addition to my fear of truly feeling love when the opportunity ever comes my way.
It’s been a little over 4 years since “Lost” dropped, and these days I’ve been finding my way back to this song a little more often than I feel I should. When I press play, it takes me back to the day I first heard the track, the days I put it on replay and how much I’ve grown over the years. As I continue to work on myself to value my own self-worth, one day I hope to revisit Chance’s favorite guest verse, not for the relevancy or comfort of the lyrics, but simply just for the memories.