Every week, The FADER's Lawrence Burney picks out the best rap songs and moments in the world right now. Here they are, in no particular order.
The most recent Twitter storm in the hip-hop corner of the internet is a result of J. Cole’s newest track “Snow On Tha Bluff.” The song, which came out Tuesday night, is an interestingly timed confession from the North Carolina native who, on it, says that despite being propped up as a superstar conscious rapper with a college degree, his level of intelligence is really just average. The presumed inspiration for him coming forward is Noname’s twitter activity, which, for some time now, has been almost exclusively dedicated to offering resources to people that are interested in learning about revolutionary movements, the layers of Black identity, and everything in between. When she isn’t sharing that information, like most others, Noname gives her opinions on pressing topics, which have most recently been revolving around the deaths Black people at the hands of white police officers. In May, she tweeted (which is now deleted): "Poor black folks all over the country are putting their bodies on the line in protest for our collective safety and y’all favorite top selling rappers not even willing to put a tweet up. Niggas whole discographies be about black plight and they no where to be found."
On “Snow On Tha Bluff” J. Cole believes that he may be one of the people this unnamed person is talking about, but his gripe isn’t that he disagrees with anything this young lady who is “way smarter than me” has to say — it’s the tone with which she tweets that he takes issue with. To add color to his argument, Cole assumes that this woman, unlike him, comes from a home environment that groomed her to be aware of structural racism, preparing her to combat it — so of course she would be more advanced. He also proposes that instead of talking down to people who aren’t as informed, that you should instead treat them like children and hold their hand while they figure shit out. But what is lost here is that by framing her this way, Cole is evading personal responsibility. He’s also projecting. If the song is in fact about Noname (yesterday, Cole took to Twitter to say he would not specify who the person is), it leaves out the fact that her development into a trusted source of information on social media and IRL has happened very publicly, and very recently. After being widely criticized on Twitter for some ill-informed statements about capitalism, Noname admitted that she took it as a teachable moment and challenged herself to read as much as possible from then on. Cole’s perception of her coming up in a healthy home environment strips her of the personal work she’s done while also implying that he is not willing to do the same.
Beyond that, him not liking the tone she tweets with is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. We have no real way of knowing if J. Cole would have mentioned tone if this was directed at a male counterpart. But, through reading and just about every account of life, what we can gather is that for centuries, society as we’ve known it, has heavily policed and regulated the way women express themselves — through laws, through religion, and policies in the workplace. So when mentioning that a woman’s tone is problematic, he is saying that he needs her to reduce herself, which reflects the message that broader society has sent to women for ages. If he were to say that to a man, it would likely just be an escalated situation between him and the accused. It wouldn’t be much deeper than that.
The problem in the aftermath of this song is that the discourse has magnified the fissure between Black men and women in the thick of a revolution against white supremacy. A significant number of Black men on social media have shrugged off his assertions as mere honest reflections. To them, Cole is not deserving of the heat being thrown his way by women and those who have issues with the track. The irony is that what many are saying in his defense is precisely what Noname was doing on Twitter: reflecting in an honest way based on her opinion. But only she got bars thrown her way about it.
Since then, people have scoffed at the argument mentioning that we are more passionate about cancelling J. Cole than we are 6ix9ine, but what’s happening here isn’t a cancellation. “Snow On Tha Bluff” isn’t mean-spirited or malicious in intent. Cole isn’t a monster for admitting that he knows he can do more and that he actually isn’t qualified to be propped up as a leader when it comes to social issues, for those who look at him as such. But in revealing his thinking process through all of this and releasing a song that takes passive-aggressive jabs at a woman in the middle of a racial struggle and during a week in which Black women’s abuse and forced silence has been a pressing topic, he has shown at the very least that his ego has been prioritized over a fight that is much bigger than him.
We don’t need J Cole to be cancelled or silenced. It is true that everyone grows at their own pace and that’s fine. But as someone who is looked at as a trusted voice of real people with an impressively large audience, we need him to be sharper at a time when Black people’s lives and freedom to live the way we deserve to live is at stake.