What does J. Cole's "Snow On Tha Bluff" say about Black women?

By Jelyn Washington-Mays

26 June 2020
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J. Cole, Image by Casey Budd from Pixabay

J. Cole’s latest and first release of 2020 has social media divided.

“Snow on tha Bluff” dropped last week. The track is clearly a response to the police brutality that has led to nationwide protests over the last month.

In the beginning of his verse Cole raps,

“But sh*t, it's something about the queen tone that's botherin' me

She strike me as somebody blessed enough to grow up in conscious environment”

What is not clear is who the “Queen” is that he is referring to. Some listeners have received the song as a diss track to female rapper Noname.

Noname, whose real name is Fatimah Warner is vocal about Black liberation, critiquing Black celebrities and the role capitalism plays in supporting Black oppression. She has never openly critiqued Cole on her social media pages or in a song. It isn't clear if any of her tweets were meant as messages for Cole.

It's also difficult to positively identify Noname as the “Queen” being referred to in Cole's new track. There are a number of Black women in the social media sphere who are just as critical about the same issues that Noname is.

Even in this realm of uncertainty, Chance The Rapper was able to form an opinion on the release. The rapper tweeted, “Yet another L for men masking patriarchy and gaslighting as constructive criticism.” In response to a fan Chance also tweeted, “They both my peoples but only one of them put out a whole song talking about how the other needs to reconsider their tone and attitude in order to save the world. It’s not constructive and undermines all the work Noname has done. It’s not BWs job to spoon feed us. We grown”

Chance was very clearly on the side of Noname and critics of the song, raising the same arguments as those in defense of Noname.

Cole’s response to the criticism? In a series of tweets he said, “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.” He then went on to endorse Noname as a source of information. What really did not aid in listeners being more receptive of his song is when he tweeted, “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.”

Now onto the content of the record.

The song is titled “Snow on Tha Bluff”, after the 2011 documentary about an Atlanta drug dealer named Curtis Snow. The doc turned out to be completely made up- a total sham. At the time of its release it was a look into a lifestyle that is more romanticized than it should have been. Now, after the film was exposed for what it actually is, it's considered a symbol for false prophets.

Cole's song a single verse with a bridge and an outro to follow. The verse begins:

“Ni**as be thinkin' I'm deep, intelligent, fooled by my college degree

My IQ is average, there's a young lady out there, she way smarter than me”

It is this part in the beginning of the song where fans of J. Cole and Noname believe he is referring to her. She is one of the most critical and vocal about current climates, both racially and politically.

In the next part he goes onto say:

“But sh*t, it's something about the queen tone that's botherin' me

Instead of conveying you holier, come help get us up to speed

Sh*t, it's a reason it took like two hundred years for our ancestors just to get freed

If I could make one more suggestion respectfully

I would say it's more effective to treat people like children”

This is where criticism comes in. Listeners have multiple issues with this part of the single verse alone. He says that it's the tone of the “Queen" that Cole takes issue with. This is problematic because Black women have had their voices and tones policed for centuries on the basis of both race and gender.

The next problem that arises is when Cole says that the same woman should take her time to educate others as opposed to talking down to or belittling the un-knowledgeable. Social media users argue that there are resources that everyone has access to that will educate them. Just like Chance The Rapper tweeted, users believe that asking Black women to educate adult men is a lazy dismissal of the dual battles that Black women already fight.

Next, Cole says to treat people like children. This plays into the same issue about not using available resources and not educating yourself.

The opposing side of this argument is that Black liberation and education on Black issues requires everyone to unlearn and relearn simultaneously. Meaning that everyone will get it wrong at some point and that the best practice is to educate when that happens. Which honestly is the most viable and potent take on this part of the song.

In the final part of the verse Cole raps:

“I done betrayed the very same people that look at me like I'm some kind of a hero

Ran into this ni**a outside of the store yesterday

He said something that had me like, ‘Wait’

He was like ‘Cole, 'preciate what you been doin', my ni**a, that's real’

But damn, why I feel faker than Snow on Tha Bluff?

Well, maybe 'cause deep down I know I ain't doing enough”

Here, the rapper criticizes himself. He’s stating that although he has access to wealth and the ability to help in numerous ways he still feels like he isn’t doing enough. Although Cole receives praises from his fans he still feels like a false prophet, as false as the documentary “Snow on Tha Bluff”.

Finally at the end of the song in the outro J. Cole sings:

“Can you walk with me?

I hope we'll find the reason why we often sob, go on, cry

Painful memories f*ck up the vibe

Though I be tryin' to let the time heal my mind

I was once a child, I've gotten older

Still, I know I'm just a boy in God's eyes

Fill me up with wisdom and some courage

Plus endurance to survive, help mine thrive”

In the outro Cole is asking for the same “Queen” to be patient with him and to guide him from ignorance by giving him wisdom and courage. This goes hand in hand with his statement about treating people like children. It is clear that he doesn’t understand the issue with asking a Black woman to equip him with knowledge while ignoring the dual battles that they fight. At this point the rapper was asking for too much. A 35 year old man with wealth was asking for Black women to not only educate him but to hold his hand and nurture him while doing it.

The overall message of the song is one that is needed right now. Share education, share experiences and work together to dismantle oppressive forces. J. Cole just was not considerate or aware of the perspectives that he would be disregarding. He was asking Black women to correct their tones, hold his hand and be his teacher.

Even as he is known and applauded for consistently being woke and socially conscious, somehow he managed to expose how much of an ill-informed and false prophet he actually is while still retaining his fanbase. J. Cole may not have all the answers but at least he’s honest in his ignorance.