After a brief hiatus from releasing new music, J. Cole is back with another conscious single. Within minutes of its release late last night, “Snow On Tha Bluff” went viral, but the buzz around the song didn’t stem solely from excitement about Cole’s return. Instead, the rapper's new drop has effectively launched a particularly pertinent conversation about what true solidarity should (and should not) look like.
In "Snow On Tha Bluff," the rapper discusses his opinion of an unnamed woman who is a leader in the Black community. The described "queen" (eyeroll) is brilliant and powerful, says J. Cole, but there's just one problem: the way she disseminates her message isn't the nicest.
"But shit, it's something about the queen tone that's botherin' me," explains the Dreamville rapper over the beat. "Just 'cause you woke and I'm not, that shit ain't no reason to talk like you better than me...instead of conveying you holier, come help get us up to speed."
Throughout the track, J. Cole stresses that the delivery of the information needs to be kinder, suggesting that the woman try a different, softer approach: "I would say it's more effective to treat people like children. Understandin' the time and love and patience that's needed to grow."
J.Cole's fans praised their fave, describing "Snow On Tha Bluff" as yet another example of how the rapper sets himself apart from the crowd of mumble rappers who are anything but "woke." But for others online, the song's message was unnecessary shade at fellow rapper NoName in response to a now-deleted tweet decrying the inaction of the hip hop community in the face of the uprising.
"Poor black folks all over the country are putting their bodies on the line in protest for our collective safety," NoName tweeted last month before deleting the post. "And y’all favourite top selling rappers not even willing to put a tweet up."
The revelation that Noname is the mysterious woman discussed in "Snow On Tha Bluff" is frustrating for a number of reasons, the first being its implication that Noname was somehow elitist in her dissemination of anti-racist knowledge. If anything, the reality is the total opposite; she's constantly shared a steady stream of information with the public through her music and social media.
The rapper has even started an online book club for people interested in reading literature focused on uplifting Black culture. Celebrity participants like Earl Sweatshirt and Kehlani join Noname and thousands of others to read important books written by activist and scholars Audre Lorde, Frantz Fanon, Assata Shakur and more.
Does J. Cole know about Noname's Book Club? Maybe, maybe not. But even if he did, he probably wouldn't join in for either of this month's readings (Race Music: Black Cultures From Bebop to Hip-Hop by Dr. Guthrie Ramsey and Blood In My Eye by George Jackson) because he's admitted that he isn't really reading much these days.
I haven’t done a lot of reading and I don’t feel well equipped as a leader in these times. But I do a lot of thinking. And I appreciate her and others like her because they challenge my beliefs and I feel that in these times that’s important.— J. Cole (@JColeNC) June 17, 2020
"I haven’t done a lot of reading and I don’t feel well equipped as a leader in these times," J. Cole tweeted in a thread posted amidst this morning's controversy. "But I do a lot of thinking. "
More disturbing than the intimation that Noname hasn't put in the work to make resources available to the community (or the fact that J. Cole might not even look into those resources anyway) is the suggestion that she change her tone to make it more digestible for the general public.
Tone policing women is always sexist — we said what we said, thank you very much — but speaking over Black women in times like this is especially problematic. As a community, we're all working actively towards a more equitable society that allows us to live freely, but the tendency to devalue the opinions of Black women highlights a culture of misogynoir that is often perpetuated by the very men we march for.
That intersection of internalised racism and misogyny leads to disheartening intra-racial interactions that run the gamut of everything from constant critique of Black feminine perspectives to normalisation of sexual violence against Black women's bodies to prioritising the death of Black men over the loss of Black women and girls.
Right now, Black women are holding a crucial discourse about things that are very real and very important. Focusing on how we say something instead of listening to what we're saying is the opposite of productive. What matters is the calls for equity on all fronts, even in our own community— we can't lose sight of that message, even if it doesn't sound nice to hear.