One of Hip-Hop's Most Essential Voices Returns
Noname x Madlib. Knowing that 'Song 33' comes from a collaboration between one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time and a rapper, already cemented as among the most important creative voices in the genre, it should be made clear that this single is essential listening in 2020.
The beat is quintessential Madlib, perfectly melting together 1990's East Coast drum grooves and basslines with Noname's unmistakable flow. At one minute long, the brevity of 'Song 33' only serves to emphasise its message. Much like Madlib-ian classics 'Operation Lifesaver aka. Mint Test' or 'Basic Instinct' this latest effort is committed to reducing a track to its minimalist, component parts - par for the course in Madlib's sensational output - perfectly furnishing the intentions of 'Song 33' to set up the stage for (and then get the hell out the way of) Noname's retaliation to J. Cole's 'Snow On tha Bluff'.
Now, I am not positioning myself as an arbitrator, nor an authority on matters between Noname and J. Cole - there's already been more than enough white people interjecting uninvited into the discourse as it is - but what can be read through the songwriting of 'Song 33', however, is a black woman refusing to be talked down to, or to be made the subject of the tone policing that J. Cole sought reason to contribute to when questioning:
She mad at the celebrities, lowkey I be thinking she talking 'bout me
So when I see something that's valid I listen
But shit it's something about the queen tone that's bothering me
'Song 33' took aim at J. Cole's defensiveness with lightning efficiency, and though Noname now has made a point to express her regret at responding to J. Cole through music herself, what remains with this single is a phenomenally constructed statement of black, feminine political expression, refusing to be looked down upon or to allow this political moment to become obscured, or shifted away from what *really* matters, rather than the sensitive feelings of those that Noname may have offended:
Basement studio when duty calls to get the verse out
I guess the ego hurt now
It's time to go to work, wow, look at him go
He really 'bout to write about me when the world is in smoke?
When it's people in trees?
When George was begging for his mother, saying he couldn't breathe?
You thought to write about me?
One girl missing, another one go missing
Noname's rhyme structures are obviously superb, as should be expected from the genius behind 2018's Room 25, but centrally this song serves not only as a confident response from one of America's most informed, and most motivated political activists, but also as a re-iteration (not that it was required) that Noname and Madlib are both still deserving of the recognition that their music receives.
More Noname music is always going to be welcomed open-armed following her decision to move away from her increasingly white audience and to dedicate her time instead to her burgeoning book club. It is a shame that it required J Cole's condescending 'Snow on tha Bluff' to partially motivate Noname's return, but what has arrived is just another example of exactly how valuable her voice is in hip-hop, and how much the landscape of the genre is improved by her presence.
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Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in South Wales.