Friday, April 12, 2013

Accidental Racist by Brad Paisley (feat LL Cool J) - Part 1: What The Critics Got Wrong & The Music

Somewhere between the people in our society who don’t think racial issues are clear and present in our society and the people who fight racial issues as a war are the rest of us well-intentioned and self-aware individuals who do the best we can to understand each other.

Brad Paisley and LL Cool J are two of these people.

I understand why “Accidental Racist,” has received criticism. People are uncomfortable talking about race, especially when the discussion is as honest and up front as in this song. While I’ve read some well thought-out analyses of this song, most people are missing the mark and the point.

I’m going to steer away from addressing critics of this song but I got to say a couple things in reference to the many criticisms Brad Paisley and LL Cool J have received for their work together. These are two musicians reflecting how they feel about an issue in their lives. They are not sociologist, they are not experts in racial relations, they are musicians. Their responsibility is not to address and unpack the complex racial issues in America.

Much of the criticism of this song comes from people who have little expertise in the hip-hop or country genre and many of these people are not even experts in music. Whenever something in our society stirs up controversy it’s interesting how many people jump into the fray to criticize something they don't consume or understand. It’s like the person protesting a video game for being violent when they don’t play video games themselves or another person they will never buy a Tiger Woods product when they never bought his merchandise to begin with.

If you take away the critics who:
      1. Take the lyrics out of context
      2. Place inappropriate responsibility on Brad Paisley and LL Cool J’s shoulders
      3. Don’t understand the genre of music they are addressing or the nature of pop music itself

  . .. you aren’t left with a lot of legitimate critiques. Think about the larger context, stick with what you know and don’t jump on the criticism bandwagon.

First off, let’s take a look at the musical part of this song. It’s not great but it’s not horrible. Melding rap into other genres can be tough. Springsteen it tried with “Rocky Ground,” it was okay but again wasn’t great.

Brad leads in with this slick and bluesy guitar licks. The slow pace allows for a level of reflection and Brad as he usually does a nice job moving through simple but interesting harmonies. After varying through more sung and then spoken lines the chorus opens really nicely. LL Cool J’s verse isn’t as dynamic as other ones. My favorites LL Cool J verse is at the beginning of this song “Curious.”

His verse doesn’t have the swagger or aggressiveness that we are used to with LL but he moves through the verse with skill has some interesting rhymes (“gangled, DJango,”) while weaving historical context of Sherman’s march. Maybe it’s because we’re not used to rap being calmer, but it doesn’t feel right. Part of it is that rap over a non-hip-hop beat doesn’t sit well in the ear. It’s not a logical thing, but it doesn’t feel like it fits.

Musically this combination feels a little awkward when LL ad-lib's towards the end. I’m not sure what would have made it better but maybe a musical compromise or a hip-hop beat coming in during a break down would have smoothed it over a little. Regardless it’s a really pretty song but it lacks a certain energy and momentum that Paisley and LL characteristically have in their music.

It's hard for people to divorce their musical tastes from the lyrical content.  If you're not a fan of country music, you are going to be turned off from this song regardless of the lyrics.

Next week I'm going to analyze the lyrics which are where most of the scorn is being directed.  In the mean time, really think about what they are saying.  Don't just hook onto a single phrase.

We limit ourselves in racial discussions if we don't dare to look deeper not only into what is said but also how our reactions to these words reflects our own feelings and insecurities. 

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