Let me make this clear, these are not diabolical diss tracks, but a mere dialogue that J Cole and Noname have unearthed within these two tracks that they have dropped, directed toward one another. Noname and J Cole are both incredibly influential artists – where both of their entire discographies represent and stand for justice, equality, and the Black Lives Matter movement.
However, the alleged “beef” was stemming from Noname calling out and expressing her dissatisfaction and frustration about the growing silence from rappers like J Cole and Kendrick Lamar for not using their giant platform to speak on the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery; and the trickling of more names that keep coming in like wicked tides. Most notably, a black woman and black trans woman’s lives are being increasingly taken and robbed.
My thoughts drift towards the death of Oluwatoyin Toyin Salau, a 19-year-old black woman who was protesting and looking for shelter afterwards. A Black man offered her shelter, then proceeded to sexually assault her after she had previously told him she had been assaulted prior. Toyin then tweeted about what had happened to her and subsequently went missing as a result. Her body was found several days later, and she was pronounced dead.
This is the level of frustration and betrayal that Noname is fuming with and illuminating in this track – the crippling truth that black women in America are the most vulnerable and preyed upon in society. This quote from Malcolm X has been re-surfaced recently, “The most disrespected person in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America is the black woman.”
This quote is the basis and foundation of Noname’s new single, “Song 33,” and her anger drifts from swallowing that realization and is then quickly directed towards the fact that black woman should under no circumstances have to also endure this level of neglect and abuse from black men who are supposed to be standing alongside them. Yet, the silence coming from them is deafening, where Noname feels as though the weight of educating and leading the way towards revolution and activism – that the weight of that responsibility is only falling onto her shoulders and onto the shoulders of black woman. She is kindly asking her fellow brothers to balance the scales and hold some of that weight as well.
After Noname called out J Cole for not speaking up and utilizing his platform, photographs appeared of J Cole out on the streets, protesting in solidarity. J Cole dropped a new single, in response to Noname, titled, “Snow on tha Bluff.” J Cole speaks on some important notions in this track, the presence of cancel culture that is getting in the way towards enacting real change. J Cole goes on to say that although he has been dubbed as an artist who holds all the keys towards knowing the pathway to liberation and freedom – that he is still just a regular person, and doesn’t hold all the answers and tools the way that Noname does. The problem with this is that when you are a figure like J Cole, your discography speaks for itself in terms of just how far and deep he has gone into matters of police brutality and the effects systematic racism has had on his community. You can’t expect for people and fans to not hold you to that regard, that degree, that accountability.
I agree that cancel and call-out culture is not the best tactic towards reaching out to people who are otherwise not on your side and are not educated. This makes people automatically revert towards defensive mechanisms and they in return don’t want to be wrong so they become too afraid to try and do better in the future. However, while Noname mostly centered her single, “Song 33,” around the lives of black woman that were taken – J Cole spent the duration of his song speaking mostly on the accusations Noname directed towards him and claiming that he doesn’t have the education he needs to be the figure she wants him to be. The thing is J Cole ends the track with the line, “But damn, why I feel faker than snow on tha bluff? Well, maybe ‘cause deep down I know I aint doing enough.”
Instead of taking the time to gain the resources and education that he needs to stand and support his sisters; he still has chosen to end the song with complacency instead of taking real action to learn more. I understand that the weight of J Cole being a heroic figure in the light of this movement is troublesome. Because at the end of the day, the only difference separating himself from any other black man protesting is that he has the wealth and the platform – but this is where Noname’s frustration lies. What are you going to do with that platform and those resources if you’re not willing to utilize them to the max?
There is a problem with cancel culture, when black people are processing trauma from seeing black bodies being murdered and are subsequently not allowed to take the necessary time to heal and find the right words – when immediately the knife is pointed in their direction for not speaking up the instant something happens, for taking too long to process. That should be placed onto white people who are processing nothing other than their white guilt.
I can see that perspective of it, but at the end of the day, Noname and thousands of other black women all over the world are crumbling under the weight of all that suffering – hit at them from every angle, even in their own community and they don’t have the time to wait for people to speak up and listen to them.
Noname joined forces with producer Madlib for “Song 33,” and the beat sonically signals a feeling of an impede about to be let loose – the presence of justice is approaching like a bull about to bear its horns. Noname spends most of the song speaking about the black woman’s lives who have been taken. The silence of her fellow brothers becomes silenced by her own devotion towards abolishing the police. The vision she has for future generations to come is the picture she is choosing to focus on instead.
Noname came to eat with this track, it’s a full-on feast with the first line being a blow to the patriarchy, the male ego being bruised by her calling them out for their inability to support black woman, listen to them and uplift them.
She raps, “I saw a demon on my shoulder, it’s lookin like patriarchy, like scrubbin blood off the ceiling and bleachin another carpet. They say they found her dead. One girl missin, another one go missin. But n***** 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? When it’s people in trees? When George was beggin for his mother, saying he couldn’t breathe. You thought to write about me?”
This is what should be the focus of the conversation and Noname is the ultimate captain – the names, the last breaths, and last words, the lives that were wrongfully taken are the temple of this song. Worshipping and re-directing the conversation back to the where the attention should be at and should remain.
J Cole did not once speak those names, speak on what is happening in the streets, and in the world. Instead, he used that space to speak about Noname. Noname deserves more, black woman everywhere deserves more. How is it that when black women speak on the various ways they are being neglected and not supported –that the first tactic is not to listen and acknowledge, but to deflect and re-direct the dialogue?
This is not beef, these are not diss tracks. This is a dialogue between a black man and a black woman – both being attacked and beaten down by systematic racism. This is anger and frustration that has been plagued upon their community and this is the result – a divide in their own community that has been orchestrated by white people. These are the effects of institutional and systematic racism. Both songs are talking to one another.
Noname is the new vanguard, no questions asked, but black women should not always have to fulfill and maintain that role alone. Black women should not always have to be the ones who must be strong and resilient all the time. They should be allowed to be vulnerable, to be allowed space and time to heal, to be supported and relieved by others as well.