Despite his reputation as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, Brad Paisley has never been known to court controversy. That changed this week with the release of “Accidental Racist,” a collaboration with rapper LL Cool J on Paisley’s new album Wheelhouse.
In a recent interview with CMT Hot 20 Countdown ‘s Katie Cook, Paisley described “Accidental Racist” as a “very traditional country song” that “sounds like something Alabama or Lynyrd Skynyrd would’ve done.”
However, with lyrics centering around the unspoken quandary of blacks and whites alike still subconsciously dealing with the implications of racism, the song has grabbed headlines in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Time and on the national TV networks.
Paisley, longtime co-writer Lee Thomas Miller and LL Cool J are credited with writing the song. Among the lyrics Paisley sings:
I’m just a white man comin’ to you from the South land
Tryin’ to understand what it’s like not to be.
I’m proud of where I’m from but not everything we’ve done.
It ain’t like you and me can rewrite history.
Our generation didn’t start this nation.
We’re still pickin’ up the pieces, walkin’ on eggshells, fightin’ over yesterday.
Caught between Southern pride and Southern blame.
In his rap, LL Cool J says:
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.
You should try to get to know me, I really wish you would.
Now my chains are gold, but I’m still misunderstood.
I wasn’t there when Sherman’s march turned the South into firewood.
In the interview with Cook, Paisley said he and Miller started writing the song before a September appearance at the iHeartRadio Music Festival in Las Vegas. Thinking that LL Cool J could provide a different perspective on the song’s message, Paisley contacted a mutual friend and learned that the rapper would also be at the festival.
“He walks out and stands next to Lee and watches my show,” Paisley recalled. “Then we walked backstage, and we met, and I said, ‘I’ve got this idea.’ I didn’t tell him what it was, and he said, ‘Well, I’m coming to Nashville in, like, a month. Let’s get together.'”
When he arrived in Nashville, Paisley gave him a tour of the city, including the historic Ryman Auditorium.
“I drove him around in my truck,” he said. “But before that, he said, ‘I want to see the Ryman.’ … He had such respect for that place and our heritage here. So he shows up and we walk through that building and stand on the stage. And in the Ryman Auditorium, there’s a [plaque on the balcony] with letters that say ‘Confederate Gallery.’
“And he’s standing there — a New Yorker — looking at that, and they’re explaining how Confederate soldiers built this place. He’s looking at me and says, ‘You know, how great a country do we live in that you and I can stand here — after all this — together?’
“And he didn’t know what the song idea was. I said, ‘You probably ought to come listen to something.’ And we had worked really hard on the lyric and had my whole track done … and a space for him to do his part. Driving him around town, playing him that the first time was one of the most heart-wrenching and nerve-racking experiences I’ve ever had as a songwriter.”For more on this story, check out MTV news.