Some things, though great individually, make for terrible combinations. Clam chowder topped with crumbled Famous Amos cookies, for example, or a sequined bustier paired with corduroy slacks. In that same vein, the coupling of Brad Paisley, a country singer, and LL Cool J, a rapper, was fraught with inevitable awkwardness from the giddy-up. But the fruit of their partnership, a song called “Accidental Racist,” is purposely disastrous. No accidents about it.
Everyone is talking about it and both artists declare they have zippo regrets about doing the little ditty. I’m trying to imagine how this debacle of a musical collaboration came about. I guess on the short list of who’s who in “safe” hip-hop, LL Cool J’s number came up and the nuevo “Ebony and Ivory” duet was born. In trying to pitty pat the state of longstanding racial tension in America, they actually work to make a mockery of it.
But LL Cool J should know better. It’s quite apparent he doesn’t, but he should.
I haven’t liked an LL Cool J song since the first Bush administration, so it’s not really a blow to my fan-dom that he should sell himself—and his people—out in such a meltdown. Actually, he’s been working his way up to this kind of full-on tomfoolery for quite some time now. Few can make the transition to crossover celebrity without losing their street cred and he had sold himself out, bit by bit, in a steady stream of bad career decisions.
Disappointment number one is that he compromised his own legacy by doing them. The man who claims to be the greatest of all time—the self-professed G.O.A.T—would’ve walked away from this. This man in his stead says things like this in songs: “Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood what the world is really like when you’re livin’ in the hood.”
Pause. Dear Mr. LL, if you’re going to speak on behalf of the whole lot of the black community, can you not portray us in just one vein? Not all of us live in the ‘hood. Do you live in the ‘hood? Or is the ‘hood just everywhere we are? And if you’re going to work out these complexities in the public view, for the love of sweet baby Moses, can you not kick off the conversation with “Dear Mr. White Man?”
But the most disheartening line in this disastrous little ditty: “If you don’t judge my gold chains… I’ll forget the iron chains.” Just poof. That easy. The entire history of us boiled down to slavery and hip-hop. If you don’t have something intelligence and valuable to contribute to a subject as sensitive and longstanding as race, then pass on the offer. Hand it off to a Common or a Talib or even maybe a Kendrick. I suspect LL knew he was going to be out of his lane but, in the interest of “shaking it up” and putting himself in tizzy of headlines, he didn’t. And in not doing so, he did a disservice to the conversation and made himself sound like a whole doofus in the process.
There’s a difference between understanding race and understanding racism. If Brad wants to really understand what it’s like to be on the other side of the experience, he needs to bypass his buddy LL and get the insights of folks with a higher respect for their art, their body of work, and their overall blackness.
Do you think “Accidental Racist” was a step in the right direction or a stumble three paces backward?
Image via Lunchbox LP/Flickr