“In this industry, good working relationships aren’t the norm.”
Real friends can be hard to find and keep in the music industry. Feuds over finances cripple independent teams. Labels force artists, producers, and writers together and expect magic to happen overnight. Genuine people are hard to come by.
Noname, born Fatimah Warner, wields a weapon foreign to most artists: long friendships with talented creatives. On July 31, hip-hop’s tectonic plates shifted ever so slightly. The tremor signaled the arrival of the future, for Chicago’s prodigal daughter had shared her debut album with the world. The road to release was long and littered with dead ends. Fans had waited years for a project from the soft-spoken songstress who first turned heads with her guest feature on Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap cut, “Lost.”
Earlier this year, something changed. Noname rallied a team. As spring turned to summer and Chicago days became LA nights, the roster expanded to encompass more than a dozen individuals who wanted little more than to see her—and each other—win. The result? An environment built on trust. The micro-community fostered by Noname and her core team enabled Telefone’s very existence. Some collaborators, such as Eryn Allen Kane and Nikko Washington, helped propel Save Money’s initial surge. Others, like 17-year-old artist Ravyn Lenae, are new to the scene but integral to the city’s next generation of stars. Smino calls St. Louis, a sister city, home, yet fits in effortlessly. Mutual admiration bridges gaps.
“Friendship is underrated, in hip-hop especially,” Saba tells us. “But it’s changing the world right now via Chicago music.”
However grandiose the claim, it’s hardly an overstatement. An unbreakable wave of togetherness has come to define a significant chunk of Chicago’s music scene in recent years, providing light in dark times. A number of these relationships date back years.
When Noname stepped up to a mic for one of the first times and recorded “Lost,” L10, the engineer behind Acid Rap and portions of Coloring Book, watched in amazement. Life would go full circle when Noname asked him to engineer her debut effort after seeing him mix her verse on Coloring Book’s “Drown.” Saba, Joseph Chilliams, and Akenya considered the 24-year-old a dear friend long before an opportunity arose to make history.
Noname, Saba, Cam, and Phoelix grew into something of an immediate family, relocating to Los Angeles for a warm summer month to live and work without distraction. It was there, beneath a golden sun, they created andor finalized Telefone's pieces and parts. Two Airbnb rentals housed makeshift studios, home cooking (Noname banned Domino’s pizza early in the trip), and many, many movies. Under one roof, trust trumped ego, and that mentality defined every session no matter the location.
Some of Noname’s peers took to calling her the Jay Electronica of Chicago, doubting whether her debut would ever see the light of day. Months removed from its release, it’s evident that Telefone was worth the wait. From the producers behind every note to the featured artists who helped construct Noname’s world, we spoke to the album’s major players to see how it all went down. This is the making of Telefone.
Cam O’bi — Executive Producer / Artist
Phoelix — Executive Producer / Artist
Saba — Artist / Producer
Ravyn Lenae — Artist
Akenya — Artist
Nikko Washington — Art Director
theMIND - Artist
Eryn Allen Kane - Artist
Smino - Artist
THEMpeople - Producers / Artist Collective
L10 - Mix/Master Engineer
Monte Booker - Producer
Joseph Chilliams - Artist
Xavier Omär - Artist