the gang goes there …
Come on. We had to do it. It’s one of the most talked about songs in modern music. We had to.
Today, we discuss ‘Accidental Racist,’ the Brad Paisley-LL Cool J collaboration that has set off a media firestorm. Is it good? Is it misguided? Let’s find out …
Nick Porcaro: Brad Paisley’s latest is defined by its lyrical execution: well-intentioned, sure, but ultimately clumsy and confounding. Practically nothing here works. Not the awkward DJ scratching, nor the cornball electronic drums, and certainly not the extravagant 6-minute length. But really, it’s LL Cool J of all people who derails this experiment. Not only are his lyrics lazy, they’re also offensive! Even a “white man” like me knows this issue is more complicated than “gold chains” versus “iron chains”, or a “do rag” against Brad’s “red flag.” It’s generalizations like these that only encourage the racial tension damaging our country for so long. Verdict: One and Done.
Jason Stives: I’ll start by saying I don’t take issue with the subject matter, and if you want to chat with me about it, we can. Pop-Break isn’t a political forum; we are a celebration of pop culture in the now. That being said, “Accidental Racist” as a song is truly a damn disappointment, and that’s coming from someone who admires the music of Brad Paisley. Paisley was the first modern country artist I connected with, simply because he didn’t capitalize on being a beer-swilling, Ford-truck-driving singer. Albums like Mud On The Tires, 5th Gear and American Saturday Night showed a heart at the center of a genre stereotyped by its rural nature and presented an honest songwriter in the vein of Garth Brooks. Paisley’s brand of songwriting stays close to home by trying to be down home cooking in lyrics than country fried good time music.
However, as 2011’s This Is Country Music showed (one of Pop-Break’s earliest forays into country music reviewing), Paisley loves to write about the irony of the culture of country music and the industry as a whole. Early indications like “Accidental Racist” from his latest album, Wheelhouse, show that he has sadly started to lean into the hokey and almost shtick like wonders. Sure, he is a musicianship who doesn’t fear trying something different (his instrumental album Play showed that), but this feels like a gimmick rather than a blunt statement about racism in modern times. The track lacks the sense of storytelling he is known for and LL Cool J’s inclusion makes sense solely on the commentary end rather than the actual musicianship. Tim McGraw and Nelly showed a decade ago you could infuse hip hop and country but only in subtle nature. The track’s melody plays well up until LL Cool J comes in and then it feels like a real mess. I get the message just not the path Paisley took to express it. Verdict: One and Done
Lauren Stern: Take it from someone who wishes they never pushed play: Don’t even bother with “Accidental Racist” if you haven’t heard it yet. Verdict: One and Done
Brent Johnson: Brad Paisley is from West Virginia, and if you’ve ever driven through the states just below the Mason-Dixon line, you can see how someone could grow up an accidental racist. I spent two years living in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, a land of gorgeous landscapes, charming hospitality — and countless reminders of the Civil War. Roads and schools are named after Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Malls feature stores devoted to selling confederate flag jackets and belt buckles. Not to mention, country music is so white-washed that it’s utterly shocking to see a rapper as relatively tame as LL Cool J appearing on a Brad Paisley record. So it’s actually worth applauding Mr. Paisley for breaching a topic that oft goes overlooked in Nashville. As he says in the song, racial tension is still a terribly touchy topic in the South that it’s often ignored or grumbled about in private. The single’s problem? A deeper, more thoughtful song would have pointed out that even if you grow up accidentally embracing something like the confederate flag simply because of Lynyrd Skynyrd, eventually you should learn enough history to realize what it stands for, admit that it’s wrong, and learn from it. I understand that even after 150 years, there’s still hurt, confusion, and a wounded sense of pride left over from the Civil War. But saying the confederate flag represents Southern pride is almost the same as saying a swastika represents German pride. I like Brad Paisley. A lot actually. He’s a great, nimble guitar player. He usually writes clever songs that mix hooks and humor quite well. And in his public persona — a mash-up of old-school country and new-school swagger — he doesn’t come off as a racist at all, accidental or not. But here, he gets points only for trying. Verdict: One and Done.
Jason Kundrath: I know this track is an easy target for well-written ridicule, but I have a different take. From a strictly musical standpoint, it’s on solid ground. Admittedly, new-country isn’t my cup of tea, but I can appreciate a decent melody when I hear one, and this tune is, well, tuneful. And while the lyrics won’t find themselves carved into a stone monument anytime soon, I tip my hat to these two for boldly tackling a difficult subject. Sure, the history and present state of race relations in America isn’t easily boiled down into a single song (despite this one’s well above-average running time.) But I don’t think they’re claiming that impossible feat. So back off. They’re merely telling the story from their complicated perspective. Because, let’s be honest, it’s a complicated issue for Americans. Plus, this is a southern White, country music star addressing the issue to his mostly White audience, featuring a clunky-as-hell-semi-embarassing-but-to-the-point rap verse from none other than LL Cool J. You see, it wasn’t meant to fly under the radar, y’all! So if this track inspires some folks to consider their own accidental racism, it’s a good thing. From the looks of it, however, we’d rather focus on the unintentional comedy of it all than consider the truth of it. Verdict: Add it to the Playlist.
Bill Bodkin: This song is only half bad. Brad Paisley’s part is actually passable — he has a decent voice and he can play the guitar pretty well. His part of the song is fine, if somewhat contrived in its construction. It’s pretty straight-forward modern country.
However, the bad part … really, really, really bad? LL Cool J, who I enjoy as a rapper, absolutely takes this song down a road of complete awfulness. His raps are so idiotic. Did he seriously thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing him? To make matters worse, his section is also poorly produced — it’s about 10 times louder than anything else in the song. So his raps sound more like he’s screaming at us rather than rapping.
In the end, you should basically listen to this once just to experience it and then move along. This song could’ve been more of a message song, but in the end, it fails miserably. Verdict: One and Done.
Joe Zorzi: I don’t know, man. I have a hard time appreciating country music, so I may already be a little biased. The music itself is fine. There are a few cool guitar licks and I don’t mind the electronic drums over it. But these lyrics are so corny. I get what they’re going for here, but nothing is really said. This song is not going to change anyone’s views or stop racism and judgements in the South. The truth is this “Accidental Racist” is pretty annoying, way too long and kind of awkward to listen to at points. I give LL Cool J and Brad Paisley props for at least trying to bring people together through a song, but I encourage them to never try again. Verdict: One and Done.
Final Verdict: Yeah … we’re not going to recommend this one.