Country singer Brad Paisley is going to have a lot of explaining to do.
In his controversial ballad “Accidental Racist,” off of his new album, Wheelhouse, out tomorrow, he teamed up with rapper LL Cool J for an awkward musical exchange on defending his right to wear a shirt with the image of the Confederate flag. Critics and listeners were left confused whether Paisley was apologizing for his apparel or justifying it with his bizarre lyrics.
“I’m glad LL Cool J won’t judge Brad Paisley’s symbol of white supremacy as long as Paisley won’t judge his hair maintenance products,” tweeted Adam Serwer, a reporter for Mother Jones.
Hairpin’s Bobby Finger wrote, “Whatever the reason, the song itself is a lyrical disgrace filled with awkward non-apologies and faux-pensiveness over the history of racism in the south.”
Paisley opens the song as a letter to the barista at Starbucks who judged him for wearing his printed tee, singing the lyrics, “The red flag on my chest somehow is the elephant in the corner of the south.”
Somehow? There might be something about the “Dixie” flag as a symbol of the slave trade of human beings that could be a reason.
He continues his reasoning for his garb, arguing that he is a Lynyrd Skynard fan and he’s “just a white man coming to you from the South land.” Paisley might have failed to keep up to date with the band’s recent decision to disassociate themselves from the controversial flag. “Through the years, people like the KKK and skinheads kinda kidnapped the Dixie or Southern flag from its tradition and the heritage of the soldiers, that's what it was about," Gary Rossington, Lynyrd Skynard’ guitarist said, in a 2012 interview with CNN. "We didn't want that to go to our fans or show the image like we agreed with any of the race stuff or any of the bad things."
When the song couldn’t get more peculiar and confusing, LL Cool J jumps into it halfway, giving his perspective on the other side of the racial tension. The hip-hop star croons about the racial profiling against African-Americans for wearing gold chains and du-rags, with his plea, “Dear Mr. White Man, I wish you understood / What the world is really like when you're livin' in the hood / Just because my pants are saggin' doesn't mean I'm up to no good."
It seems as if the duo tries to reach an understanding of one another on the sensitive issue in the track, as they sing over each other, attempting to harmonize, with LL Cool J saying he also has been in the wrong, stereotyping the country singer’s “white cowboy hat” to a KKK hood. In a weak form of reparations, he continues, “If you don’t judge my gold chains / I’ll forget the iron chains.”
It might take a little more than that to resolve years of slavery.
While Paisley hasn't mentioned the situation on Twitter, LL Cool J has tweeted a storm quoting figures from Nelson Mandela to Frederick Douglas and Martin Luther King, Jr. on issues of race and criticsm.