Today, the internet is abuzz over a provocative new track from Brad Paisley and LL Cool J (yes, like Nelly and Tim McGraw before them, they recorded a duet) called “Accidental Racist,” which appears on Paisley’s ninth studio album Wheelhouse, available tomorrow.
The song covers Paisley’s struggle to deal with race issues as a white man in the South, who feels like people are “walking on eggshells” whenever the subject comes up. The lyrics describe him (or at least the character he’s playing) walking into a coffee shop wearing a shirt that has a confederate flag on it. Paisley sings, “[I’m] just a proud rebel son with an ‘ol can of worms/Lookin’ like I got a lot to learn.” LL Cool J eventually answers Paisley’s verse with a rap of his own. “If you don’t judge my do-rag… I won’t judge your red flag,” the recent Grammy host says. “If you don’t judge my gold chains… I’ll forget the iron chains,” he continues.
When the earnestly delivered song floated through the EW office a few weeks ago, we knew it was destined to cause a ruckus. So we asked Paisley to share his motivation for recording “Accidental Racist” as part of print-edition feature on the stories behind some of his biggest career hits. An online version of that article was supposed to run tomorrow, but since everyone is talking about “Accidental Racist” now, the song merited its own post.
Here’s Paisley (with very light edits, just for clarity) on why he made “Accidental Racist”:
“At this point, after all these albums and all these hits, I have no interest in phoning it in, and I think that [the song] comes from an honest place in both cases, and that’s why it’s on there and why I’m so proud of it. This isn’t a stunt. This isn’t something that I just came up with just to be sort of shocking or anything like that. I knew it would be, but I’m sort of doing it in spite of that, really.
“I’m doing it because it just feels more relevant than it even did a few years ago. I think that we’re going through an adolescence in America when it comes to race. You know, it’s like we’re almost grown up. You have these little moments as a country where it’s like, ‘Wow things are getting better.’ And then you have one where it’s like, ‘Wow, no they’re not.’
“It really came to a boil last year with Lincoln and Django, and there’s just a lot of talk about it. It was really obvious to me that we still have issues as a nation with this. There are two little channels in each chorus that really steal the pie. One of them is, ‘We’re still picking up the pieces, walking on eggshells, fighting over yesterday,’ and the other is, ‘Paying for the mistakes that a lot of folks made long before we came.’ We’re all left holding the bag here, left with the burden of these generations. And I think the younger generations are really kind of looking for ways out of this.
“I just think art has a responsibility to lead the way, and I don’t know the answers, but I feel like asking the question is the first step, and we’re asking the question in a big way. How do I show my Southern pride? What is offensive to you? And he kind of replies, and his summation is really that whole let’s bygones be bygones and ‘If you don’t judge my do rag, I won’t judge your red flag.’ We don’t solve anything, but it’s two guys that believe in who they are and where they’re from very honestly having a conversation and trying to reconcile.
“I’m with my audience 100 percent in the Southern pride thing, in the same way that a Yankees fan is very proud of where he’s from — that’s LL. We’ve got pictures of him in a New York Yankees cap doing his vocal, which is so appropriate.
“But, you know, it’s such a complicated issue — I’m reading up on it now, [since] I felt I needed to be well-armed for any discussion – and here he is in a Yankees cap, and you think to yourself, ‘Well here is the antithesis of what was the problem.’ But it’s not. New York City was all for slavery. They actually voted 60 percent against — or maybe 70 against — Abraham Lincoln because they didn’t like the idea of slavery going away because there goes cotton and there goes tobacco trade, you know what I mean? It’s very hypocritical to feel like it’s just the South’s fault.
“But, at the same time, symbols mean things, and I know one thing: It just doesn’t do any good to blatantly do things and be like, ‘Just get over it.’ That’s not what we’re saying. This is a very sensitive subject, and we’re trying to have the discussion in a way that it can help.”
What do you think of the song?