On Tuesday night, J. Cole decided to release a song that he must have meant as a salve for this contentious moment. It was called “Snow On Tha Bluff,” and it entered the world with all the confidence of a celebrity who feels they are of the people, while being above their reproach. At the 48-second mark, the North Carolina rapper introduces his plight: “It’s something about the queen tone that’s botherin’ me.” From there, Cole unravels a tale about an unnamed woman upset at a variety of worthy targets — “crackers, capitalists, police,” but most importantly, in Cole’s case, “celebrities.”
Across the four-minute song, Cole makes a litany of excuses. Despite going to college, he suggests, he’s not as deep or intellectual as everyone thinks he is. Being rich is actually hard, because he feels guilty that he’s not doing enough with his wealth. Then the kicker arrives at the song’s climax: “If I could make one more suggestion respectfully/I would say it’s more effective to treat people like children.” At 35 years old, J. Cole is upset that a woman didn’t expend enough energy and sympathy to teach and critique him as if he were a child.
The response was quick and brutal, with fans across social media connecting the dots to decide that “Snow On Tha Bluff” was a roundabout shot at rapper, activist, and book club organizer Noname. The Chicago artist has been skeptical of her peers’ lack of response as protests across the country call for justice after the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and countless others. “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 in late May before later deleting. As backlash to Cole’s song mounted on Tuesday night, Noname briefly tweeted “QUEEN TONE,” before deleting this, too.
Cole resurfaced on Wednesday morning to explain his intentions with the song. “I stand behind every word of the song that dropped last night,” he wrote on Twitter. “Right or wrong I can’t say, but I can say it was honest. Some assume to know who the song is about. That’s fine with me, it’s not my job to tell anybody what to think or feel about the work. I accept all conversation and criticisms.”
Cole went on to directly reference Noname and double down on his assertion that he’s not educated enough to be seen as a leader. “Follow Noname,” he continued. “I love and honor her as a leader in these times. She has done and is doing the reading and the listening and the learning on the path that she truly believes is the correct one for our people. Meanwhile a nigga like me just be rapping. 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. We may not agree with each other but we gotta be gentle with each other.”
In essence, Cole would like Noname to be nicer to him and his black celebrity ilk when voicing her legitimate concerns about the failure of capitalism and the state. Additionally, he’d like us to consider the possibility that expecting famous men to read (or perhaps even join a book club) before voicing their opinions is just too much to ask for. Someone needs to hold Cole’s hand through the revolution.