The internet was set ablaze on Wednesday morning, after J. Cole dropped his first single in over a year, “Snow On Tha Bluff.” The track has been perceived and deduced as a “diss track” directed towards Chicago rapper and activist, Noname. The record seems to have been released in response to a since-deleted tweet from Noname which read, “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,” the tweet continues, “n****s whole discographies be about black plight and they nowhere to be found.”
Fans and followers of the artist were left to their own devices to conclude the rappers to whom she was referring were that of J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West and the like, who are arguably the most prevalent artists in the game right now and have been for the last several years. All three of the aforementioned artists have since been seen at protests and have donated funds in support of the civil rights movement and the families affected by police brutality.
Noname, like many rappers, has been known for her vocal opposition to racial inequality and disproportionate economic and judicial disparity. The artist created a book club to discuss literature with heavy focus on these topics written by Black authors and has written numerous songs focused on various social issues regarding race. This week is not the first time she has been criticized for her somewhat radical views.
“Snow On Tha Bluff” sparked conversation among many about misogyny and the current societal climate. Many were saying the song was “tone deaf,” due to the recent murder of Owulatoyin Salau, a 19-year old Black activist in Tallahassee, FL. Oluwatoyin had spoken out about recent sexual abuse on her Twitter account, to spread awareness and to ask for help, only to be found dead just days later. The horrific loss of young Toyin Salau resulted in a global conversation directed towards awareness about the many ways Black women are continuously mistreated and unjustly cast aside in society. Many artists took to social media after Toyin’s passing with heavy hearts to commemorate the young woman’s plight and her fight for justice in her last days.
“Diss track” or not, “Snow On Tha Bluff” seems to be directed internally just as much as externally; the core focus of the track seems to be that of self-awareness. It’s clear the artist is dealing with what I’m sure a lot of us might be experiencing right now: confusion and guilt. Cole took to Twitter the morning after the song’s release, beginning the thread by saying, “I stand behind every word of the song I dropped last night,” Cole continues: “Right or wrong I can’t say, but I can say it was honest.” The rapper used this as an opportunity to promote Noname as a “leader in these times” and praised her dedication to literacy and activism.
One particularly biting lyric from the song has been deduced as the main culprit for the division among listeners: “She mad at the celebrities, lowkey I be thinkin’ she talkin’ ’bout me / Now I ain’t no dummy to think I’m above criticism /
So when I see something that’s valid, I listen / But shit, it’s something about the queen tone that’s botherin’ me.” The phrase “watch your tone” strikes a chord with many– especially women– as it’s often used as a way to manipulate conversation, gaslight and to exert power and dominance over another. The verse continues with what some perceived as guidance and others perceived as condescension: “She strike me as somebody blessed enough to grow up in conscious environment / With parents that know ’bout the struggle for liberation and in turn they provide her with / A perspective and awareness of the system and unfairness that afflicts ’em / And the clearest understandin’ of what we gotta do to get free /And the frustration that fills her words seems to come from the fact that most people don’t see / Just ’cause you woke and I’m not, that shit ain’t no reason to talk like you better than me.”
The track ends with a call to arms and an olive branch, “Fill me up with wisdom and some courage / Plus endurance to survive, help mine thrive.”
Noname responded to the single with a record of her own, Madlib-produced “Song 33,” on Thursday, which was met with both criticism and applause. The track highlights the deaths of Oluwatoyin Salau and George Floyd and focuses on the power of a platform. The song begins, begging to steer the conversation back to what’s important: “I saw a demon on my shoulder, it’s lookin’ like patriarchy / Like scrubbin’ blood off the ceiling and bleachin’ another carpet / How my house get haunted? / Why Toyin body don’t embody all the life she wanted? / A baby, just nineteen / I know I dream all black / I seen her everything, immortalizin’ tweets all caps / They say they found her dead,” followed by a brief but poignant chorus, “One girl go missin, another gone missin’.”
Noname was praised for her humility by some for her response to Cole’s “diss,” but she made it evident she wouldn’t take the heat lying down: “But n****s in the back, quiet as a church mouse / Basement studio when duty calls to get the verse out / I guess the ego hurt now / It’s time to go to work, wow, look at him go / He really ’bout to write about me when the world is in smokes?”
The ill-perceived “beef” among the two artists is rather a conversation through music, a discussion about what we can do as individuals to keep today’s civil rights movement alive and in public focus. Change begins at the human level– regardless of how big or small one’s platform may be, the importance of using said platform to spread awareness seems to be the main topic of discussion between the two artists with these tracks.
It’s not about who had the last word or whose words were better; it’s about the discourse and conversation these songs have brought to light. There’s no right or wrong way to protest injustice. Colin Kaepernick was fired for protesting police brutality on the football field by kneeling during the national anthem. Peaceful protests have become violent with the aid of police retaliation in the form of rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray. Racists are being outed by KPop fans and Skai Jackson on Twitter, causing them to lose scholarships and jobs which could potentially perpetuate systemic racism in fields such as public health, law enforcement and even marketing. One’s form of protest and activism may not look similar to another’s– the fact of the matter is both J. Cole and Noname are taking two separate paths to the same destination. There’s no “beef” here, just necessary intelligent discussion in the form of music.
Please feel free to share your thoughts and opinions on J. Cole’s “Snow On Tha Bluff” and Noname’s “Song 33” in the comments. Let’s talk about it.