“Yippee-ki // Yippee-ki-yay // With the Noname”
A hot rubber exclamation opens the refrain of “Room 32”, the newest single from Noname (née Fatimah Warner, formerly performing under the pseudonym Noname Gypsy), issued in the minute breather between the two legs of her first tour to bookend the Atlantic. The quip calls quickly, tic-ishly, ticklishly to Die Hard: in a lull in a heist, Hans Gruber, the multi-dimensional chess wiz and spoon-back cliché of a German film villain asks John McClane, the staid, punch-the-clock, off-duty, on-trope, all star-and-stripe cop of a hero,
“Who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne, Rambo, Marshall Dillon…Do you think you really have a chance against us, Mr. Cowboy?”
The gun-slung vigilante, who’s been rooting ‘round a penthouse to loot the bodies of shot-down toughs for ammo and smokes, lust-breathily taunts back into his walkie-talkie a raunchy retort: “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!”
With the phrase, Warner – herself a young, black, contemporary woman – hearkens and inserts herself into a fictional lineage of white machismo archetypes. The officer in the skyscraper, the soldier in the jungle, the cowboy on the plain or the steppe: in Hollywood’s media id, all three are boisterous fantasies of Americana, lauded cut-outs of stolid frontiersmen who bite the bullet (or bite the tongue and pull out the bullet) and seize what’s theirs, taking the territory of manifest destiny by any means necessary.
Appropriating the trope of these lionized white dudes expresses both a raised-brows, side-eyed humour and a bold, alchemical intent. It seems akin to the reclaiming of epithets by communities – or, to put a point on it, members of those communities – who had been oppressed by the terms of derogation. On the one hand, to sleight both the idols of worship and the worshippers themselves with a mockery of incredulity. On the other, to recognize that if the vaingloriously identitarian histories of John Wayne, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, and countless facsimiles of rugged entitlement cannot and should not be erased, they ought to be put to good ends.
Elsewhere in “Song 32”, Warner hopscotches over some mellow, descending key chords and brings clarity to the thick historical paste of the catchphrase she chose, boasting simply, “I’m America at it’s best.” She offers in that moment a way out of the dilemma posed so frequently when mores anchored in a former consensus are interrogated, that either the bygone pioneer was or today’s rapper is not America, by suggesting that we can make it mean more than one thing at once.