On Tuesday, celebrated rapper J. Cole dropped “Snow on tha Bluff,” an unexpected single that was met with lots of well-deserved criticism. The rapper even responded this morning with a rare string of tweets to defend the song.
The song follows weeks of protests against police brutality in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and more—but that’s not why hip-hop fans are upset.
It appears to target Noname, a 28-year-old Chicago rapper turned activist who has been very vocal on recent protests against police brutality, anti-capitalism, and radical learning. In the song, Cole said that he read some of her posts, particularly a since-deleted tweet about celebrities, and felt attacked.
"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," Noname tweeted on May 29. "n****s whole discographies be about black plight and they nowhere to be found."
Cole responded with an ill-informed line about her tone: “But shit, it's something about the queen tone that's botherin' me/ She strike me as somebody blessed enough to grow up in conscious environment.” His assumptions are wrong; Noname has spoken publicly about her learning process that’s resulted in a name change and a book club dedicated to accessible education and “uplifting POC voices.”
He went on to criticize her, saying “Just 'cause you woke and I'm not, that shit ain't no reason to talk like you better than me” and that she should help educate and “treat people like children.”
Cole, who graduated with honors from St. John’s University in 2007, admitted in the song and on Twitter that he hasn’t “done a lot of reading and [doesn’t] feel well equipped as a leader in these times,” so it’s ironic that he decided to criticize a person who has taken the time to educate herself. His criticism of her tone is misogynistic and is yet another example of how Black women are often policed on things like tone and attitude when offering criticism in any capacity.
Tone policing, an anti-debate tactic that is more about criticizing a person’s emotions instead of the argument, is dismissive of the point, which is that Black celebrities like J. Cole can do a lot more to contribute to the cause.
The idea that Noname acts “holier than thou” about her activism is also unfounded. In fact, Noname has received her fair share of Twitter dragging and public criticism for her former ideas and has even admitted the impact of that criticism.
“Twitter shouldve never dragged me for that capitalism tweet,” Noname tweeted on Tuesday. “Y'all turned me into a communist.”
The difference in how these two Black rappers responded to criticism of their ideas is imperative. Noname took action and educated herself and others when she was criticized online; J. Cole went on the defensive. His song is, frankly, a waste of momentum and a good beat.
“Snow on tha Bluff” is disheartening and ill-timed. Cole, who has been the face of pseudo-intellectual, conscious rap for his entire career, used his very large platform to police a Black woman and suggest that she should make education easier on him and others. Toward the end of the song, Cole said this of his activism: “But damn, why I feel faker than Snow on Tha Bluff? Well, maybe 'cause deep down I know I ain't doing enough.” Maybe he should’ve used this spotlight to reckon with that feeling instead of going out of his way to be defensive.