On June 16, J. Cole released a song that lit up social media titled, “Snow On Tha Bluff,” named after the 2011 is-it-a-movie-or-is-it-a-documentary (?) of the same name that featured Atlanta’s finest, Curtis Snow, jacking a camera from some film school kids and recording the happenings of his Bankhead neighborhood called The Bluff. Here are 10 thoughts about it, the song, not the movie...or documentary.
1. Full disclosure, I’m not a fan of J. Cole as an artist. I’m one of those folks who doesn’t “get it” when it comes to how impactful his art is. I think he can rap, but he’s definitely not the transformative artist many others purport him to be. At the same time, I have found him to be immensely more compelling as a human being than as a rapper. Generally, or at least in the documentaries he’s put out, he seems pretty thoughtful and like a person who gives a shit about things. That last part is important in discussing the confusion I have around this song.
2. I also think that Cole’s most compelling works (to me, anyway) have been where he insightfully critiques art, specifically hip hop, and culture. “Snow On Tha Bluff” attempts to be one of those records. And there is an insightful critique in the song about how we use our platforms and what is the most effective way to do so. Full stop.
3. There is also a better way to do it than how Cole did it. The argument Cole is making is one I’ve made, albeit in a different forum, about the criticisms levied by people in ivory towers towards the people on the ground and how folks who could most benefit from the knowledge and lessons of the few are unable to access it or receive it for various reasons. Thing is, I was talking about folks like Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, as I was largely curious as to who their discussions and books were meant for since they almost never speak to the man on the street. Cole is using as his muse in this line of thinking a poet named NoName who isn’t resting on her laurels from an ivory tower, nor does she come from that world. She’s a poet from the Southside of Chicago. She’s not the hyper-privileged speaking to the underprivileged in a manner that is condescending. She’s a woman with a platform and a book club and one who uses both (more on using platforms in a minute) to effect change how she can.
4. I’ve been having a convo all morning about whether or not the song (or at least the parts about NoName) were sexist or not. My conversation has been with men. I actually broached the convo because I couldn’t believe that (or maybe was surprised is more accurate) Cole would release a song dripping with sexism right now. And I was met with some resistance about whether or not it was sexist. Understandably, debating sexism amongst men is probably not the best forum for change, but it was clear to me. Not so much to some others. The convos are always interesting because the bar for racism is so low, but the bar for sexism, especially amongst men, is much harder to reach and is less dire, to men.
We’ve been down this road before so there’s no need to reinvent the wheel, but telling a woman that she has a valid critique but it bothered you because of her tone is a sexist dog whistle. Telling a woman you could learn from her if she talked to you “better” is ridiculous. It just is. If a white person were to say this to any black person, it’s a problem, period. Somehow the inherent sexism is arguable to a wide swath of people. He felt personally attacked and decided the problem was her delivery; that’s right from the sexist playbook. At the very least, Cole, for as thoughtful as I believe him to be, should have known better. But he doubled down on it on Twitter which leads me to either believe he truly doesn’t see it (which would be sexist) or his ego won’t let him acknowledge it.
5. Especially since any number of individuals have been critical of celebrities during this time. Dave Chappelle literally included Don Lemon in his 8:46 special because Don called on celebrities to do more. Why did Cole feel like NoName was speaking about him but Don Lemon wasn’t? Why did Cole feel the need to make a whole song because this woman levied a critique that could include him?
6. It’s interesting that in a song where Cole speaks about feeling like he’s not doing enough he takes aim at somebody who he thinks is doing something but not in the most productive way. What is the point of that? If Cole wanted to do more, he could use his sizable platform, to do more. And I don’t even think Cole is somebody who isn’t doing enough, whatever that means. But instead of critiquing a woman for doing something (though apparently not enough because of how she does it) he could have made a song that does...more. Or something. I guess I just don’t understand the “why” here. Hell, why wasn’t this a phone call if he felt personally dogged by her Twitter timeline?
7. I’m loathed to say that Cole feels some sort of imposter syndrome but it’s almost as if he’s doing the “you guys made me into more than I am, I’m just trying to be me,” thing and he feels guilty about the part he actually has control over, ie. doing more. Why he couldn’t just make a song about that is beyond me.
8. I am, however, on board with the critique and concerned about how to meet in the middle. Except, more and more folks are finding unique ways to do it. If Cole has a problem with her methods, I mean, there are tons of other people he could pay attention to. Seriously. Does he believe she is the prophet or something, the one who will lead us to freedom and thus he’s frustrated that she has taken, by his estimation, a holier than thou approach on issues of social justice and community? Shit, how does Cole feel about Shaun King? Or DeRay? Or Tamika Mallory? Or hell anybody involved in community organizing and information dissemination? Where are their songs?
9. No drums, though, my nigga? Seriously. You gon’ come for niggas without drums?
10. I like to hope that this will all be addressed over the phone with them. Cole has a shit-ton of supporters who absolutely love the song and for whom the message is more important than the method. I just don’t understand how a nigga who doesn’t feel like he’s doing enough with a Twitter following of over 13 million and a musical platform and name that commands at least a listen to any project he drops decides to send that message. She’s doing her part in the world she inhabits. Why criticize somebody who is doing something—enough to draw your own ire—and point out that you ain’t doing shit in the same breath? That shit sounds stupid to me. Basically, J. Cole is Molly.