OLD ESSAY// The Rise of Angelenah


From Side by Side Magazine, November 2014.

This piece is unconventional in regards to the general form of music journalism. That given, its intimate lens gives insight to a broad spectrum of music’s effects and meaning. Thank you to Angelenah, formerly Angel Davanport.

I don’t think I’ve seen Ashley Hart in years. What I remember is that we were in a smoky house, she was busting rhymes with her friend over some Wiz Khalifa instrumental Youtube re-creation playing from a wack laptop. I played her some Taylor Allderdice, we met up with some people and got ice cream. She wanted to make plans to work on music but I didn’t think her raps were good, she had literally just started rapping. It was always crazy good vibes but we didn’t like hang like that. I never got in contact with her.

Ashley falls in with my friend Speedy Calhoun’s Skighwalker clique. Speedy and I went to and rapped at the same high school, I love him. She becomes Angel Davenport. I check her out every once in a while and still don’t really like it. Don’t really buy the persona she’s putting forward, the sweet girl I know about is a pussy-taking nigga-smacking monster, who still can’t rap that well. It fits well though in Team Skigh’s rough-spitter framework.

Last week was the latest entry in the Femme Fatale show series, Femme Fatale: High Honors, featuring Angel Davanport, Noname Gypsy (Headlining), Daryn Alexus (Headlining), Rebecca B, Belladonna Devereux, and Brittany Nacocain. I’d been to the last Femme Fatale show, a celebration of Chicago rap’s female side; it was the bomb. It was kind of weird. It was kind of amateurish, a lot of things went wrong, but it was still fun. At High Honors, everything goes smoothly.

My phone is out, it’s after the High Honors show in the cold. Speedy Calhoun says into the recording Android “Ashley in 2010: she was incredible, she was not there. She was not there. She used to Skype us every day with a new verse. Me and all my roommates including [actor] (!) who is a star on [NBC drama]. He’s the black guy on [NBC Drama]. That guy. Me and him used to sit on the couch and look at Ashley rap and be like ‘She’s gonna be incredible.’ Three years pass and now we’re here.” He’s making his way toward calling her the best rapper alive.

I’m in the greenroom at Subterranean interviewing Angel Davanport before her performance tonight at Femme Fatale: High Honors.
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+: …Your, um, So, you’ve developed technically a lot, do you feel like your perspective has changed as you you know like, you rapping like 3 years ago versus you rapping now, are you still [unintelligible] you’re better at saying the same thing or do you believe you’ve shifted?

Angel: I’ve definitely shifted.

Sometimes I say same thing, you know, because some things are repetitive. But I have more content. The content has definitely changed whereas it’s not so general. I’m moreso diving into my topics now [rather] than just like ‘Oh, here’s some heartbreak.’ It’s more like ‘What does that feel like? What is that, how does that relate to people?’ And really asking myself those tough questions that sometimes we don’t really want to think about. So the content is definitely tougher.

Angel Davanport takes the stage. She doesn’t wait for anyone to finish setting up, or breaking down, or stop chattering. She has dots around her eyes, she’s wearing a velvet dress, she sings until the room pays attention. It doesn’t take long.

‘They just see my waves, G, they call me what they can.
Well that’s bullshit, money, drugs, niggas.’ Angel Davanport, “B$DN”

I haven’t seen Ashley in years because she fell away from the Young Chicago Authors scene. She don’t come around no more. In the interim, Angel Davanport has fallen in with rap cult leader Tech N9ne’s Strange Music brood. She’s gone national with a group of passionate experimental “technical” artists who garner feverish followings through hard work and perseverance. She tours, does photo shoots, is in a rap group with her manager and a Midwest rap legend.

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‘My body’s always been a canvas, y’all not the ones I paint for. I’m knowing they can’t stand it
how it ain’t got no one’s name on it. Hidden like Atlantis. Don’t wanna sink, then swim for it. It’s hidden like Atlantis, don’t wanna sink then swim for it.’ Angel Davanport, “B$DN”

Hologram Kizzie, formerly known as Psalm One, creeps down the stairs at the back of the SubT stage. Her posture is meek, she’s almost hiding in her big winter coat. But she can’t hide, she’s the artist formerly known as Psalm One and her hair is a full, powerful afro. Kizzie, Angel, and Fluffy trade off dexterous floaty verses from their Rapperchicks project.

Rapperchicks is a supergroup put together from Fluffy and Angel brainstorming during collaboration. They just toured the Midwest and have released the not-quite-gel’d “It’s 1973” clip. They look and sound awesome on stage no matter what anyone involved is doing. Even when Kizzie misses her cue before her last featured verse and Angel has to start the song over, they’re naturally charismatic enough that it’s just kind of funny.

Later in the night Noname Gypsy also allows a sleepy charisma to charm over the technical slip-ups in her set. She’s easily the most relaxed performer in the night, whereas Angel is the most impassioned. Toward the end of her set she’s making eye contact with me, with all of us, a slightly frightened look in her eyes as she bares her fears in a hurricane of poetry. To be a spitter is to be a fighter.

OLD ESSAY// Noname Gypsy, Real Human Being


This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine, October 2014.

Noname Gypsy sits across from me in a Hyde Park Native Foods. “I wonder why everybody’s world when it comes to rap is the same. My world, I feel like, is different from Saba’s world, and Saba’s world is different from Chance’s world, but when we’re talking about people who are on the radio all of their worlds are damn near the same.” She throws out the names of current hot boys Migos and Travis $cott, but for Noname, born Fatimah Warner, it’s not a dismissal, pedantic or otherwise (Travi$ Scott’s Days Before Rodeo is her favorite shit out right now).  Instead, it’s a thoughtful, well-meaning observation about potential friends.  If hoes can bring everyone in the rap game from Nicki Minaj to Kid Cudi to Too $hort together, Noname Gypsy inevitably ends up in the corner with the Cherrypie Blues. “I don’t pull hella niggas so I can’t rap about that. I don’t pull…,” she laughs,“hella bitches so I can’t rap about that.”  It’s not that Warner is female that makes her stand out, it’s that the desires and observations that Noname Gypsy blends into her sweet, poetic molasses are so innocent that they seem truly obscene (“offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency)” in the obscenity-obsessed world of modern rap. “I’ve been rapping a lot about having a husband and kids recently. I really want to be married with kids, I don’t know if that’s a rap thing to want,” she jokes.

One thing Noname has in common with a few of her most special peers is a missing album. Not delayed,missing. As in the fans think it should be here now and their almighty creator hasn’t delivered (See: Jay Electronica, Chance the Rapper). Noname says at least three people ask her about her highly anticipated Telefone project a day. On Mick Jenkins’s recent jam “Comfortable” Noname actually raps ‘Telefone never coming out.’ When I ask her if she would consider the project “Zero percent complete,” she laughs and says “Yeah.”

She’s been writing with Saba- the two send each other a new piece a day to keep the creative juices flowing. Well, Saba’s been sending her verses. True to form, Noname has been writing but second-guesses everything too much to show it off. If you start to type “Noname Gypsy” into a Youtube search, her song “Paradise” will be the first entry. Except Noname took the music video for “Paradise” down; it’s her biggest solo song and she hates it. “It’s not like I haven’t been making music and don’t have raps, they’re just not at the level I would like them to be. I’m not at the place where I feel comfortable releasing music.”

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For Noname, having that level of discretion is essential. “Taking shit down when I want to and being able to control my image is kinda what keeps me sane.” It brings her back to her oft-spoken appreciation of Jay Electronica, a role model for her patience and desire to remain down-to-earth and experimental. “Dizzy,” the piece Noname dropped this week is a hot bomb. Her style is fresh as ever and only becoming sharper, the song recalls the new FlyLo/Kendrick joint if they decided to just chill out. Noname Gypsy spins around the track describing sunsets, blurring timelines and never allowing her grin to become inaudible. As always she imbues intimate vulnerability with a grand serenity throughout, spitting ‘Lotion on my skin got me feeling super smooth, like I could save a life…’. The juxtapositions in the song are telling of the contradictory impulses Noname experiences – she wants to be a legend. On her own time; without videos, interviews, or television. Just music. “And I think there’s a way I can do it,” she says. A smile isn’t far off.

Telefone never coming out. Follow Noname Gypsy on Twitter