IN HOT WATER--Rapper/actor LL Cool J arrives at the 48th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on Sunday, April 7, 2013. (Photo by Al Powers/Invision/AP)
by Chris Talbott
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Country singer Brad Paisley says he was trying to foster an open discussion of race relations when he collaborated with rapper LL Cool J on “Accidental Racist.”
The new song about racial perceptions has drawn ire from both the country and urban music worlds after its wide release this week. Paisley, the singer-songwriter known for his white cowboy hat and virtuoso guitar work, gave his first interview Tuesday since the hubbub began on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” after briefly addressing the debate Monday night on Twitter.
“I felt like when we were writing this song, it wasn’t necessarily up to the media and I don’t really trust Hollywood … or talk radio or anything like that to sort of deal with that anymore,” Paisley said on the show. “I think it’s music’s turn to have the conversation.”
The song appears on Paisley’s new self-produced album “Wheelhouse,” released Tuesday. It’s his most ambitious album so far and the progressive message of “Accidental Racist” is in line with opinions the 40-year-old West Virginia-born singer has expressed before in interviews and songs.
Of the album, Paisley wrote on Twitter, “I hope it triggers emotions,” and says he wouldn’t change a thing about it: “This is a record meant to be FAR from easy listening. But fun. Like life. Have a ball, ya’ll.”
At its heart, “Accidental Racist” is about how cultural symbols favored by whites and blacks — the fashion choice of wearing Confederate flags or baggy pants, for instance — come loaded with meaning.
It’s not a new discussion. Though race relations have evolved over the decades, cultural symbols continue to color perceptions.
Paisley uses the Confederate flag as an example in the song, noting whites are “caught between Southern pride and Southern blame” 150 years after the end of the Civil War.
“I try to put myself in your shoes and that’s a good place to begin,” Paisley sings, “but it ain’t like I can walk a mile in someone else’s skin/Because I’m a white man livin’ in the southland/Just like you I’m more than what it seems/I’m proud of where I’m from/But not everything we’ve done/It ain’t like you and me can rewrite history/Our generation didn’t start this nation/We’re still paying for mistakes that a bunch of folks made long before we came.”
Paisley was unavailable for an interview and LL Cool J’s publicist did not immediately respond to messages. The 45-year-old rapper, who elevated himself from a teen sensation on the streets of Queens to an American cultural icon as a personality and actor on shows like CBS’s “NCIS: Los Angeles,” provides the response to Paisley’s meditations.
He kicks off his portion of the song “Dear, Mr. White Man, I wish you understood what the world was really like living in the hood.” Later in the song he raps, “I guess we’re both guilty of judging the cover not the book/I’d love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air/But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn’t here.”
Later he and Paisley enter a call and response portion of the song where LL Cool J raps in part: “If you don’t judge my ‘do rag, I won’t judge your red flag. … If you don’t judge my gold chains, I’ll forget the iron chains … Can’t rewrite history, baby … let bygones be bygones … Rest in peace, Robert E. Lee, I got to thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me … .”
“One of my favorite lines in the song is he says ‘I think the relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin’,'” Paisley told DeGeneres. “Leave it to a rapper to put it so simply and so beautifully.”
Not all the good people of the blogosphere and Twitter world were as taken, though, and comedians were weighing in as well.
Demetria Irwin of black culture blog The Grio wrote, “‘Accidental Racist’ is the worst song in the history of music,” then broke it down line by line.
Comedian Patton Oswalt tweeted: “I can’t wait for Brad Paisley & LL Cool J’s next single: “Whoopsy Daisy, Holocaust, My Bad”"
Even the usually open-armed Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots seemed taken aback as he tweeted: “Just heard the “Accidental Racist” man that Weird Al is amazing.”
A little later, he compared the reaction to “Accidental Racist” to the recent backlash over Rick Ross’ contribution to the Rocko song “O.U.E.N.O,” which brought an apology after detractors accused him of glorifying date rape.
“All the “OUENO” weigher ins….i expect “Accidental Racist” to get equal amount of discussion & dialogue,” he wrote.
That it did. Paisley told DeGeneres that was the point.
“Make up your own mind,” he said. “That’s fine. You can throw things at me. I’m all right.”
Follow AP Music Writer Chris Talbott: http://twitter.com/Chris_Talbott.