Hundreds of years of racial tension and violence in America? Country star Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J are on it.
In a new track called Accidental Racist, the Southern country singer and New York rapper attempt, rather awkwardly, to address the complicated issue of racism – including discrimination and slavery – through song. The bizarre mash-up, set up as a dialogue between the two, has set the Internet on fire, and is leaving fans of both singers scratching their heads. (Click on it while you still can – other YouTube videos containing the song have since been removed from the Internet)
It begins with Paisley crooning about feeling judged for walking into a Starbucks wearing a T-shirt with a Confederate flag on it – a symbol that is seen by many as an expression of racism. "The only thing I meant to say is I'm a Skynyrd fan," he sings, bemoaning the fact that, as a white man, he's "still paying for the mistakes" of those before him, "caught between southern pride and southern blame."
But before anyone can accuse the song of being a thinly veiled expression of white pride, in walks LL Cool J with his take on feeling like the subject of prejudice as a black American. "Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood," he sings. "Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good."
He continues to suggest that the problem has a simple fix: "I'd love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air."
And perhaps the most offensive line (at least according to Billboard magazine)? This doozy of a rhyme: "If you don't judge my gold chains, I'll forget the iron chains."
"Maybe … 'forget' is the wrong verb to use in this line?" Billboard wrote in response. "Does anyone really want to 'forget' the horrors of slavery instead of learn from them?"
Online, social-media users responded with criticism, too. One YouTube commenter wrote: "Well, that's racism solved. Move on, everybody. ... Nothing to see here." Another, according to Jezebel, wrote "I always forget what a strain racism puts on white people."
Despite the backlash, Paisley is defending the song. In a statement to Entertainment Weekly, Paisley said that the song came from "honest places," and that "art has a responsibility to lead the way" on debates around racial tension.
"At the same time, symbols mean things," he continued. "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? Is the song helpful, or hurtful?