Noname grew up in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago, listening to blues musicians Buddy Guy and Howlin' Wolf from an early age. As a teen, she spent time in the YOUMedia project - a space for young artists to create and network, then based in the Harold Washington Library. Here she befriended many local talents, including a young Chance the Rapper. Her interest in poetry led her to compete in local open mics and slam poetry competitions; she placed third in Chicago's annual Louder than a Bomb competition.
Noname gradually turned her talents to freestyle rapping with friends. In 2013 she appeared on Chance the Rapper's second mixtape, Acid Rap, contributing a verse to the track "Lost". The following year she was featured on Mick Jenkins' mixtape The Water[s], contributing to the track Comfortable. She is featured on Ramaj Eroc's love ballad 'I Love You More', on amateur rapper Wonderkind's mixtape 'Write Brain' and multiple tracks on Kirk Knight's album Late Knight Special. Noname originally took the stage name "Noname Gypsy," but on March 18, 2016, she officially dropped "Gypsy," making it solely "Noname", after her cousin Ishmael Robinson informed her of its racial connotation. She took to Twitter to explain her reasoning for this, saying: "When I first decided what my stage name would be I was unaware of how racially inappropriate and offensive it was to Romani people".
Noname released her first mixtape, Telefone, on July 31, 2016, which she announced nearly three years prior. The album is centered around important telephone conversations that Noname has had over the years. Her rap speaks of black women's pain and also highlights the struggles of growing up in Chicago.
On November 13, 2016, Noname announced plans to tour. The following day she announced a United States tour consisting of 18 cities, along with some separate performances not a part of the tour. As of December 4, 2016, half of the shows ranging from early January to early March 2017