Noname, born Fatimah Nyeema Warner, is from the Bronzeville neighborhood on the Southside of Chicago. The neighborhood was known as a ‘Black Metropolis’
due to its rich history that is intertwined with black culture. It was once home to journalist and social activist Ida B. Wells, jazz man Louis Armstrong, author Richard Wright, and poet Gwendolyn Brooks among others. Here she was raised by her parents who owned a bookstore. She mostly grew up listening to The Blues & writing poetry instead of writing bars.
She first broke through in the local scene when she was featured on Chance The Rapper’s now legendary mixtape, ‘Acid Rap’. Her soul barring, refreshingly honest verse on ‘Lost’
was a coming out party for the young MC. At the time she was known as Noname Gypsy. She later changed her stage name in 2016 to just Noname after she realized that gypsy was a derogatory word. This is just one example of many that spotlight her as one of the most thoughtful voices in Hip-Hop today.
While she is truly a unique one of a kind personality, there are a multitude of factors in her career that many can learn from to be better artists and leaders for their community. In these times of activism and civil unrest we all could learn something from her in terms of walking the walk for what we believe in. So let’s dive in to what makes her both an effective leader and artist: 1. Engage Your Fans Outside Of Music Noname’s Book Club
is an online community that brings people together regardless of whether they like her music or not. Although for the most part there is plenty of overlap between the type of people who listen to socially conscious music and the type of people who will read books that cover similar topics. Which is why a book club is such an intuitive value add to her business.
The books they choose aim to highlight work from writers of color and writers within the LGBTQ community. She also did it as a “fuck you” to Amazon’s monopoly on the book business and as an homage to all the independent black owned book stores that were once targeted by the FBI to combat communism & the Black Panther Party.
Regardless, through this club she can reach people and stay in their minds even when she is off her release cycle. Something that has become increasingly hard for music artists in the streaming era. Think Critically:
What are your own value adds that you can use to you & your communities advantage? How can you implement them as you grow your own career? 2. Be A Leader In Your Community
Noname has never backed away from being a leader. Since she burst onto the scene she has been consistent in her tweets revolving around political discourse in the USA and her hometown of Chicago. She has supported numerous local political actions in Chicago and used her following to encourage donations to various mutual aid funds as well as make her own financial contributions.
She took her online book club and used it to help grow people’s awareness and political consciousness. By investing in the education of the people she is also investing in herself as a teacher and leader. Which is just the sort of push one needs to constantly grow and reach their potential.
How can you put yourself on the spot to constantly grow and learn new ways to connect with people in life? What will you do to unify others? 3. Utilize The Resources Available To You
Noname’s start with music came originally from a love for slam poetry and yearning to meet others with a similar passion. She looked up where she could work on her own poems in Chicago and came across the YOUmedia program. A local hotspot for young writers hosted in the Harold Washington Library in downtown Chicago. This is where she would end up meeting people like Chance and Mick Jenkins who would help usher her into the world of rap and the musical renaissance in Chicago that ensued.
“I researched youth poetry in Chicago and the program I used to be in, YOUmedia, that popped up. That’s how I ended up going there and meeting [Chance and] all those people — a Google search!”
Follow your passions and align yourself with related programs in your city/town. You might end up meeting your future business partner or frequent collaborator. Think Critically:
What programs or organizations in your town/city can you get involved with? What are you passionate about? If your answer is nothing, do better. 4. Have A Clear North Star & Message
As an artist you are inherently a brand, whether you like it or not, so it’s important to be aware of what your brand’s ‘North Star’ is. What is a North Star in branding? It’s the promise you make to your consumers and supporters. It’s a promise or ideal that you will deliver on time and time again over the course of your career. Think Lizzo and body positivity for one.
For Noname this would be the fight for Black liberation. Plenty of artists say they are anti-capitalist but Noname unapologetically lives and breathes that lifestyle. She has lost show money from it
, gotten attacked on social media for her outspokenness and even called out her own peers for it.
“n****s whole discographies be about black plight and they no where to be found." She said in a tweet back in May that many speculated was aimed at artists such as J. Cole & Kendrick Lamar.
So how can you think of and judge what your own North Star is? Try these questions:
5. Be More Than A Musician
- Is your brand promise honest and transparent?
- Is it inspirational?
- Is it strategic and concise?
Noname’s poetry leads into her music and overall art. It is part of her identity, it bleeds through into her delivery and songwriting style. Her prose as a writer help her elaborate and collect her thoughts as a leader. Why do we talk about her seemingly weekly now? Because she has gone from just another artist to someone who we look to for leadership on certain social issues.
She is an entrepreneur, activist, & poet as well as a rapper. But also keep in mind these things have a synergy with her music career, they aren’t just vanity labels or energy drains that distract from her brand messaging. 6. Create & Maintain Ownership For As Long As Possible
As an artist you’re inherently an entrepreneur. Work with what you know and create a business that you know can feed into your lifestyle as a music artist. Something that you can use to be part of certain communities and diversify your revenue stream. Use available communities and skills such as book clubs, Patreon pages, live/virtual shows, visual media, graphic design, writing, etc to make yourself more than a one dimensional musician. Base your business around other sorts of hustles that can grow together and integrate them. If you can do all this without involving outside companies you have ultimate autonomy.
“I just personally like the the role of an entrepreneur. I grew up in that framework because my mother owned her own bookstore, my grandparents own their own landscaping company.” She told NPR. “Even though it's a lot of work and I have a very very slow rising career, I'm grateful for it because I've learned so much about myself through owning my own business.” 7. Be Transparent With Fans & Supporters
Noname on twitter recently shared how she funded her albums. She is clear that she doesn’t take money from people who she knows will try to silence or censor her. Many people claim to have this type of integrity but she consistently is clear with her fans that she has nothing to hide.
“If I’m really being vulnerable then I need to tell my own story...." she said regarding controlling her own narrative. 8. Try To Sound Better Live Than You Do On Recordings
”It’s really important to make sure that your live show is better than what you even sound like on record, because ultimately that’s going to be your bread and butter. As an indie artist, you’re not going to be able to sustain yourself on streams alone, because most likely you’re unknown, so no one is streaming your music. I don’t do the kinds of streams that other artists who have bigger fan bases do, but I’m able to pack out rooms that other people are not able to sell out.” Noname, on her ability to entertain fans instead of relying on paltry streaming income.
Relying on streaming is a viscous cycle because while it has become the #1 income for artists it can and will fluctuate, but also it takes such a large amount of streams that sometimes the effort it takes to reach those targets can consume all your time, making your business model overly reliant on streaming. Being a bedroom artist is great but making some sort of meaningful connection in realtime with fans will ensure a positive association that leads to accelerating returns after that initial discovery point.
If someone discovers you live they are way more likely to remember and support you than if the first place they hear you is on a playlist. Live music is usually active listening, while playlists are usually passive listening. Even in the era of virtual shows a great live set is key to making casuals into believers.
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