In theory, there was already plenty of reason to be excited for a joint album featuring Noname, Saba, and Smino. As three of underground rap’s brightest rising stars, their formation of a supergroup — even an unofficial one — caused stalwart rap fans and casual listeners alike to sit up and take notice of the trio’s joint announcement of an impending project late last year. There’s a difference between the intellectual, rational sort of excitement that signals casual interest and the visceral, guttural version that denotes genuine anticipation.
While the original announcement sparked the former, it wasn’t until the trio’s recent performance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that I felt any of the latter. The song they performed, “Ace,” was already familiar, coming as it did from Noname’s critically hailed sophomore album Room 25, yet the performance was what showed the group’s true promise. Their chemistry was electric, but it was also natural — the three have been friends and collaborators for a long time, extending back to their respective starts in the then-burgeoning Midwestern rap scene that nurtured their early careers.
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Noname and Saba, like fellow Chicagoan stars Chance The Rapper, Mick Jenkins, and Vic Mensa, among others, got their start at the weekly Harold Washington public library open mics organized by the YouMedia nonprofit that cultivated the city’s young talent as a way to keep them off the dangerous Windy City streets.