A few days ago Noname tweeted that felt like rapping. Well, she does just that on her latest release, the minute-long, Madlib-produced “Song 33.” And in case you’re wondering, yes, she does address the J. Cole controversy, after setting up some needed context by addressing the many, many elephants in the room.
“One girl missin’, another go missin’ / One girl missin’, another,” she raps, commenting lyrically on the lack of noteworthy entertainers stepping up on behalf of Breonna Taylor, Oluwatoyin Salau, and all the other young, Black women who have been killed or abused in recent weeks. “But n****s act quiet as a church mouse,” she accuses, “In the studio when duty calls to get the verse / I guess the ego hurt now.”
Then, while she never says his name, she makes it crystal clear who she’s talking about and why. “He really ’bout to write about me when the world is in smokes / There’s people in trees when George was beggin’ for his mother / Saying he couldn’t breathe, you thought to write about me?”
Fans speculated that Noname was the subject of J. Cole’s recent song “Snow On Tha Bluff,” in which he details his complicated feelings about being a movement leader while insinuating that revolutionaries’ messages would get better reception if they adjusted the tone. Cole then all but confirmed that the song was about Noname after fans called him out, but stopped just short of apologizing.
With “Song 33,” Noname makes clear why the backlash against Cole was intense: There’s a war going on outside. Cole’s track, while well-intentioned and perfectly understandable with a healthy dose of empathy on the listener’s part, was also ill-timed and unnecessary in context. “Song 33” responds and puts the focus firmly back where it needs to be: On the victims of racist and sexist violence, and making sure that they are among the last we ever need to memorialize in song or in protests.
Listen to “Song 33” above.