The Communist Rapper Fighting America’s Capitalist Culture
Acclaimed Chicago rapper and activist Noname is a rarity in the music world: an outspokenly radical artist challenging the power structures in the U.S.
Communism is a touchy subject for most Americans.
It has good reason to be—communists and socialists, their less radical counterparts, have historically been persecuted by the government in the wake of wars showcasing the country’s dependence on capitalist structures.
It’s rare that Americans openly embrace the radical concept today, but one rapper remains fearless as she advocates for the destruction of oppressive structures that have marginalized communities of color for centuries.
“capitalism is why black people die. capitalism is democrat and republican,” Noname tweeted on March 5.
Fatimah Warner, a Chicago-born poet and activist known as Noname, caught the attention of the music industry with her debut mixtape Telefone in 2016. She had been featured on the mixtape Acid Rap by Chance the Rapper—whom she befriended while in an artists’ collective in their home city—three years prior, but her solo project solidified her as a rising talent.
Noname knew there were two paths to choose from when she hit it big: embrace being a celebrity and enjoy the riches, or actively resist what America’s capitalist culture was telling her to do.
She chose the latter.
“You only hate communism due to CIA propaganda,” read a meme she tweeted on March 7.
Known for her socially conscious lyricism and soft-spoken delivery paired with jazzy basslines, Noname tackles racist, capitalistic structures gracefully from line to line. No words wasted.
Her latest single, “Rainforest,” targeting billionaires and environmental exploitation, is just one example:
It’s fuck they money, I’mma say it every song /
Until the revolution come and all the feds start runnin’ /
Fuck a Good Will Hunting, this is brand new murder /
Revolutionary suicide, then close the curtain
One line pays homage to Karl Marx, the father of communism, referencing the philosopher’s definition of “commodity” in his book Capital: “They turned a natural resource into a bundle of cash.”
Noname is rarely afraid to say what’s on her mind. The 29-year-old artist stopped performing live shows in 2019, fed up with misguided critics and predominantly white audiences attending her show—who she says her music was not written for. After her upcoming album Factory Baby, she has teased that she might quit music altogether. In a now-deleted tweet, she said other Black rappers have the same issue, but the draw of money is too strong.
“whats funny is most black artist are just as uncomfortable performing for majority white crowds but would never publicly say that out of fear and allegiance to” money, she wrote. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since artists have to make money, she argues, but “yall wouldnt be up and arms if I quit workn @ McDonalds.”
Her stage name itself is a representation of what she stands for: the ability to think freely for oneself, using education and community to promote social awareness. It’s about the collective, not the individual.
When she was interviewed on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Noname described the comfort of being an independent artist and how she refrains from wearing clothes with brand logos on them. “to have no name and to be nothing at all is comforting foundation to build freedom,” she wrote in a tweet on May 6.
Another tweet a week earlier read like a poem, explaining the name as “no allegiance to one ideology / i read all / take what applies / leave the rest.”
But simply releasing songs and educating herself isn’t enough. She puts ideas to work, refocusing her energy on grassroots activism. This way, she can help others get on the path of education she’s embarked on.
In July 2019, the poet founded Noname Book Club, inspired by a fan on Twitter who had said they were reading the same book as her and wanted to become pen pals. Noname’s mother also had a bookstore in Chicago that acted as a community center, which was her other push to get the initiative off the ground.
The book club’s slogan is simple and straightforward: “Reading material for the homies.”
With a group of like-minded activists, Noname chooses books twice a month about social justice movements she’s passionate about: prison abolition, abolishing the police, defunding the military—all penned by writers of color. Guests who choose books, a program called “Let the Homie Pick,” have included Kehlani and Earl Sweatshirt.
Books about revolution, socialism, and political radicalization are frequent picks. Want to get reading? The book club recommends Are Prisons Obsolete? by Angela Davis, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and How Europe Underdeveloped Africa by Walter Rodney. Noname has often praised the work of communist icons like Marx and Ho Chi Minh, promoting their books as well.
Though thousands of members read along with the book club online, members can meet in-person, free of cost, to “discuss the monthly picks in a safe and supportive environment.” There are currently 12 local chapters of the book club, with plans for continuous growth.
With about 189,000 Twitter followers and 142,000 Instagram followers, Noname Book Club is “a little bit of a fuck you to Amazon, and kind of a fuck you to the FBI,” the poet has said, referencing how the government has attempted to shut down Black-owned bookstores in the past.
In 2020, Noname launched the group’s most ambitious direct form of activism yet: the Prison Program. Through the initiative, the book club sends books to incarcerated people across the country to help them educate themselves on social issues.
“The Prison Industrial Complex is working incredibly hard to erase members of our community and we feel we have to work even harder [to] counter this effort,” the book club’s website says.
One recipient sent a typed letter back to the book club in early June, expressing his gratitude for the book he received.
“I was in the hole. These people want to silence me,” said Stevie, a member of the SCI Smithfield prison chapter in Huntington, Pennsylvania. He was put in prison for “expressing solidarity… with prisoners hunger striking in NYC.”
Books, he wrote, have been indispensable to people in the chapter. The prison “works to separate people and make some people disposable,” he said, but “the connections we make counter all that nonsense.”
On Twitter, where Noname frequently interacts with her nearly 600,000 followers, she shares other reading material—often about settler colonialism and capitalism—and offers her own take on the subjects to help her audience understand the topics. Though she has admitted that social media is exhausting, the direct line of communication tears down the barriers of fan and celebrity.
“It is important to understand colonialism in all forms – settler, neo, and crude – as a tactic of imperialist expansion and exploitation under capitalism, and to understand racism and white supremacy as the ideological justification for that expansion and exploitation,” she wrote in a May 19 tweet.
She unabashedly takes shots at President Joe Biden—who she has clarified she did not vote for in the last election—calling him a “white supremacist with the highest ranking position in a white supremacist setter colonial nation.” All politicians through policy decisions, and celebrities through paying higher taxes, feed into oppressive systems, she argues, herself included.
Echoing her core values of anti-capitalism, Noname pleads for people to “please move beyond celebrities and the democratic party,” she wrote. “both have this country in shackles.” She’s not a fan of prominent democratic socialists Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez either.
Noname’s self-education in the past few months has centered on the Israel-Palestine conflict as it rages on. Taking a solidly pro-Palestinian stance, the poet has called for her followers to “understand you are helping the u.s fund it with your taxes. we give billions to israel so they can continue to murder. and murder. and murder.”
Her pleas for revolution amid turmoil are reminiscent of Gil Scott-Heron, the soul and jazz poet who helped raise political awareness for a generation of 1970s activists. Also a Chicago native, Scott-Heron’s 14-track spoken-word album Pieces of a Man honed in on mass consumerism and the ignorance of the white middle class.
His popular spoken-word song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is reminiscent of themes in many of Noname’s lyrics:
The revolution will not be right back /
After a message about a white tornado /
White lightning, or white people /
You will not have to worry about a dove in your bedroom
Few celebrities in American culture have resisted the societal norm to challenge capitalism in recent years with the boldness that Noname has. In the 20th century, expressing communist views in America could get you killed, let alone telling the government to “fuck off.”
“i believe in revolutionary study and organizing,” she tweeted on May 18. “being in an organization that can hold you accountable, sharpen your analysis and teach you how to advance the struggle for liberation in a material way is needed imo. global capitalism is organized. the people need to be.”
Despite the historical violence against and suppression of Black revolutionaries, Noname has shown that she isn't afraid to work on the ground to make an America she wants to live in, with education at the forefront of her mission.
She might’ve been onto something with a lyric—albeit taken out of context—in “Song 32”:
“Yeah, I’m America at its best.”