Todd and Rap Critic Talk About "Accidental Racist"
April 29, 2013
We begin with Todd sitting at his piano.
Todd: [a little exhausted] Heh. [takes a deep breath] Okay. A few weeks ago, the Internet was abuzz with something called...
- Clip of ABC News' video article on the song. This is shown throughout unless otherwise noted
Todd (VO): ..."Accidental Racist," an album track off the latest record from country superstar Brad Paisley and featuring a guest verse from rap legend LL Cool J.
- Brad Paisley: [from the ABC piece] I'm just a white man
- Coming to you from the South land
Todd (VO): It has been [cut to the ladies of The View discussing the song] talked to death since then; but, for those of you who have not heard it by now, I'll...
Todd: ...try to explain it the best I can.
- Back to the ABC piece.
Todd (VO): It was an attempt to find common ground and heal the wounds caused by the toxic legacy of slavery. And also to find the common ground in the controversy over the [cut to pic of men waving Confederate flags] omnipresent symbol of the South, [pic showing the flag with "Heritage Not Hate" superimposed over top] the Confederate flag. It was a serious gamble to write, and it ended up very badly for both of them. The backlash was swift and brutal.
- Clip of Fox News' The Five
- Greg Grunberg : And critics are mocking him for it, [jump cut] calling it "the worst song ever."
Back to the ABC piece.
Todd (VO): All it was was an attempt to write a song about getting along by two of the cuddliest artists in the business. This should not have been controversial. And yet what they ended up with was about as uplifting as a record of [quick pic of a "happy Nuge" with a gun in one hand and a mega-crossbow in the other] Ted Nugent and [promo pic of...] 50 Cent shouting curse words while shooting at each other. Basically, "Accidental Racist" was described by most as being extremely accidentally racist.
- LL Cool J: I see that red flag
- And I think, "You wish I wasn't here"
Todd (VO): Clearly, it was something that a guy who covers terrible music like myself...
Todd: ...is required to speak on. But unlike...
- Cut to quick clips of...
Todd (VO): ...other songs that went viral and became Internet memes like, you know, "Friday" and "Gangnam Style," "Accidental Racist" deals with some very heavy and complicated subjects, making this a... bit of a minefield to cover.
Todd: So, because of these very difficult topics we're talking about here, I thought I'd bring in my colleague...
Cut to our other reviewer, standing by and saluting us.
Todd (VO): ....The Rap Critic, so that we can, uh, you know, get a dialogue going.
Rap Critic [RC]: Glad to be here, Todd.
Todd: Glad you're here, too, man, because we are wading into some sticky territory here. Now, I'm a lifelong country fan who also listens to a lot of rap music; [cut to RC nodding] and you're a black hip hop fan who grew up in the South. I think we're the right people to try and untangle this very difficult issue.
RC: I'm ready, man. Let's do this.
Todd: All righty. I'll start. Now, me personally, I think the song is awful.
RC: Yeah, me too.
Quick cuts of both of them silent, wondering what to say next.
Todd: Well, I think we're done.
RC: Okay, that was easy!
Todd: Yeah, glad we solved that one. ["Accidental Racist" fades in] Oh, man, after this groundbreaking dialogue, I think that...
Todd (VO): ...every one of us - black or white, North or South, country or hip hop - we can all agree that "Accidental Racist" is a terrible...
Todd: ...terrible song that makes Paisley look like a complete moron.
RC: Actually, I was thinking that if this song makes anyone look bad, it's LL Cool J. Like, like, what the heck was he thinking?
Todd: [chuckles a bit but stops as the song fades] Are you serious? It's Paisley's song. He's the idiot.
RC: I mean, I kinda get what Brad Paisley was trying to do; but LL's verse? It just makes him look like an idiot.
Todd: Whoa, whoa, whoa-whoa-whoa-who... Hold on, hold on. [puts his hand to his forehead] I don't think we're on the same page here. I mean, the problem is Paisley.
- Cut to Paisley performing solo at the Grand Ole Opry, though we hear "Accidental Racist" in the background.
Todd (VO): I-I don't even know how that's disputable. He's the one who thought this song was a good idea. He's the one who decided to go way, way out of his depth. Like-like what's the song about?
- Brad: When I put on that T-shirt
- The only thing I meant to say
- Is "I'm a Skynyrd fan"
Todd (VO): He-he wears a Confederate flag shirt; and, suddenly, he's all shocked that people might possibly think he's being racist.
Todd: Like, DUH! The controversy isn't new, and Paisley's not some small-town hick who's never seen a black person before. He's a big, famous guy who's been around the world. This could not have been a surprise. How dense is he?!
RC: Look, I'm not saying Brad Paisley's stuff is great, but... did you actually listen to LL Cool J's verse?
- LL Cool J: Dear Mr. White Man...
RC (VO): First off, just the fact that they got LL Cool J for the job screams, "We have no idea who's relevant in hip hop." But, by specifically using him on this song, it feels like the deepest knowledge that any of its creators has about hip hop comes from remembering that [cut to a still of LL at the 2013 Grammys] LL Cool J hosted the Grammys this year.
Todd: Okay, obviously adding a rap guest verse was a terrible idea. But that was Paisley's idea. No one could have made that work.
RC: But at least he could have been smarter. I mean, heck, I'd be forgiving if they had gotten an old-school rapper who's actually known for handling serious topics like this, [cut to a still of...] like KRS-One [brief clip of Public Enemy's "Fight The Power"] or Chuck D. But no; [a still of LL in his mid-'80s period] they got LL Cool J. And the most socially-conscious thing this guy's ever said is...
- Clip of "Big Ole Butt"
- LL: Tina got a big ole butt
- So I'm leavin' you
RC: The point I'm trying to get across is that he's not exactly known for intelligent social commentary.
Todd: No-no-no-no-no-no-no-no... Y-you wanna look at guys unequipped to make social commentary? Look no further than Brad Friggin' Paisley.
- Clip of Brad's "Online"
- Brad: I'm so much cooler online
- Yeah, I'm cooler online
Todd (VO): But Paisley, he's a joker. He writes silly songs. He's-he's kind of a goofy guy, more so than even most country singers. He's-he's not some serious thinker over here. Listen to him.
- Brad: The red flag on my chest somehow
- Is like the elephant in the corner of the South
Todd (VO): "Somehow"? You know what the Civil War was; you're playin' dumb.
- Brad: And it ain't like you and me
- Can rewrite history
- Our generation
- Didn't start this nation
Todd (VO): "Oh, it's not my fault. I didn't enslave anyone." Yeah, no one said you did. But you obviously do know this flag has racist connotations, and ya wore it anyway. If ya don't want people to call you a Red Sox fan, don't wear a Red Sox jersey.
- Brad: It ain't like I can walk a mile
- In someone else's skin
Todd (VO): If this was some real attempt to say "Sorry" and understand the other side, that'd make this song worth it. But it's not. It's just whiny and defensive...
Todd: ...and mealymouthed and makes him look like the victim.
Todd (VO): If you're sorry someone got offended, just say, "I'm sorry," and move on. Or you can even say, "I'm NOT sorry."
Todd: I'd actually prefer that. If you think other people are wrong for being offended, which he clearly does, then just... say it. Have the courage in your convictions. It'd be no less offensive and much less annoying and half-assed than this mealymouthed non-apology.
RC: Uh, hello. Black guy from the South over here. I know all this stuff already.
- Cut to an old drawing of a man holding a small Confederate flag,
RC (VO): The simple fact is that the Confederate flag isn't some innocuous symbol of the South that existed before the Civil War and just happened to be used during it. [dissolve to a Confederate soldier holding a larger flag] It was a battle flag for the Confederate Army, an army dedicated to bloodshed for the defense of slavery. I mean, when the KKK uses your flag during Reconstruction to represent white supremacy...
RC: [shaking his head] ...there should no longer be any middle ground here.
- Cut to Paisley at a different performance at the Opry, this time with his band.
RC (VO): And what Paisley's trying to do here is take the context of racism and slavery out of the flag, which is naive, yes. Woefully ignorant even. But even he has a better grasp of what the actual problem is more than LL Cool J.
RC: I mean, look at this.
- Cut to a still of LL as the song plays.
- LL: Cause when I see that white cowboy hat
- I'm thinkin' it's not all good
- I guess we're both guilty
- Of judging the cover, not the book
- But I see that red flag
- And I think, "You wish I wasn't here"
RC (VO): The intended purpose of this verse is to say that, "Hey, black people and white people can equally prejudge someone based on appearances." And when it comes to seeing a white guy with a cowboy that and assuming they're racist, I agree that that's wrong. And when someone sees a black man wearing a doo-rag and assumes that they're going to rob you, that is equally wrong. But when I see a white guy in a pick-up truck with a battle flag waving out the back of it, y-yeah, that's a bit of cause for alarm.
Todd: How does any of this reflect badly on LL Cool J? He's not the one defending the flag.
RC: Look, Paisley presents his side of the argument; and LL Cool J is supposed to present his side. That's the way it works. But he's completely failed to hold up his end. And now, he's making his entire side look bad by refusing to stand up for himself.
Todd: Okay, I think the problem here is you just don't... get country music. Let me try and explain to you what's wrong here.
RC: Okay, I'm not appreciating the condescension.
Todd: It's a terrible song not because of its lyrics or its politics. It's because it's...
- Back to Brad and band at the Opry.
Todd (VO): ...six goddamn minutes long. It's tedious. It's slow. The melody emphasizes all the wrong things. It-it's just more of the terrible over-polished Nashville sound that is choking country music to death. Th-there's a [cut to Drive-By Truckers performing on Austin City Limits] Southern rock band, Drive-By Truckers, who did a whole album about Southern pride and Southern history and the Confederacy that's way better.
Todd: How can anyone possibly justify this?
- Brad: They called it Reconstruction
- Fixed the buildings, dried some tears
- But we're still siftin' through the rubble
- After 150 years
Todd: That line mystifies me.
- Some old photographs from the South in that era are shown.
Todd (VO): What about Reconstruction? What are you tryin' to say about it - that it was complicated? What doe- what does that have to do with your T-shirt? Yeah, a lot of bad things did happen during Reconstruction, mostly to black people. This explanation explains nothing about why Paisley in 2013...
Todd: ...is wearing a Confederate flag.
RC: You wanna talk about misunderstanding American history? How do you explain this?
- LL: Now my chains are gold
- But I'm still misunderstood
- I wasn't there when Sherman's March
- Turned the South into firewood
RC: Why does LL seem apologetic for Sherman's March?
Montage of drawings and photos of the Civil War era, though one is obviously of a re-enactment group.
RC (VO): I'm pretty sure that any white people who look at you with disdain because you're black isn't thinking about a General's war tactics 250 years ago. And even so, what? These people who you feel are at opposition with you are angry because someone in the past destroyed the land and livelihood of their ancestors, completely against their will, offering little to no help with restoring their culture and social infrastructure after it was done? Gosh, that must be terrible.
RC: I- I'm so sorry, white people.
Todd: At least, he mentions slavery, which Paisley doesn't do once.
RC: Yeah, but is that really a good thing when, shortly after, LL says this?
- LL: R.I.P., Robert E. Lee,
RC: Since when do you say "rest in peace" to someone who's been dead for over 100 years, ...especially when that person fought to secure the oppression of your race? Geez, you might as well have a person from Turkey say...
- Cut to a painting of...
RC (VO): ..."rest in peace" to Vlad the Impaler.
Todd: He's just being POLITE! He's just trying to find some common ground, you know? The exact same thing that Paisley completely fails to do?!
RC: LL Cool J's making black people look bad!
- LL: Just because my pants are saggin'
- Doesn't mean I'm up to no good
RC (VO): I mean, all throughout his verse, there's mentions of black stereotypes. But when it comes to Brad Paisley's verses, there's just vague, little positive phrases like "proud Rebel son" and "Southern pride"; and it-it... it doesn't really help matters.
Todd: Look, y-y-you're not giving LL the credit he deserves. What about this?
- LL: But I see that red flag
- And I think, "You wish I wasn't here"
Todd: That-that's a powerful statement, isn't it?
RC: But he undercuts it at every turn!
- Brad: I'm proud of where I'm from
- LL: If you don't judge my gold chains
- Brad: But not everything we've done
- LL: I'll forget the iron chains
- And the song continues under this dialogue.
RC: Hey, if you don't mind my stereotype-assuring jewelry, I'll turn a blind eye to the enslavement and disenfranchisement of my entire race! How is that not worse than anything that Brad Paisley says?!
Todd: No, no, this lumping, misbegotten song is entirely Paisley's fault! He wrote it. LL has, like, one guest verse.
RC: LL Cool J is a relic! And not even the good kind. And ultimately, I think it's starting to sink in that LL Cool J never did anything groundbreaking.
Starting here, their lines start to overlap in spots.
Todd: WHAT?! LL Cool J is a- a legend! His career lasted for 20 goddamn years, and he's still making music!
RC: His only significant contribution to rap music is that he made the first "thugs need love, too" song ["I Need Love", for the record], but he never really added anything into it.
Todd: The man made "Mama Said Knock You Out." I think he deserves a little more credit than the guy who wrote, "I wanna check you for ticks"!
RC: Quit tellin' me what to be offended by! What, are you trying to lecture ME on rap music?!
Todd: I'm not the one hammering LL Cool J for extending a hand in friendship! Yeah, you know what? I will tell you what you should be offended by; you're being dumb!
RC: I'm being dumb?! You've been talking over me this entire time! So why don't you just shut up for a second [at the same time, Todd's line below plays] and let me say something completely--
Todd: No, YOU SHUT UP, you stupid--
After a brief bit of TV static, we see "Technical Difficulties - Please Stand By" over the "color bars" screen while Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass' "Spanish Flea" plays for a few days. Another shot of static, and we cut to Todd in silence, seething. Cut to Rap Critic, also seething. Then the two argue over each other, but the dialogue can barely be made out ("What the hell"... "I'm the bad guy?"...) In mid-argument, we cut to...
Closing tag song: Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder - "Ebony And Ivory"
"Accidental Racist" is owned by Arista Nashville
This video is disowned by me