Friday, April 12, 2013

In Defense of LL Cool J and "Accidental Racist"

This week everyone's all a-flutter about this terrible song by country artist Brad Paisley, "Accidental Racist," in which Paisley tries to explain that even though he wears the Rebel flag, he's got no problem with black people, and that to assume otherwise is a prejudice that he feels is unjust. Like most contemporary country music, it's terrible, syrupy, overproduced, lyrically insipid, creatively bankrupt, and politically clueless.

But what's really got people buzzing is the involvement of LL Cool J, who comes in at the end to rap a little. Unsurprisingly, LL's contribution does little to elevate the material:

Dear Mister 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
I want you to get paid but be a slave I never could
Feel like a newfangled Django, dodgin' invisible white hoods
So when I see that white cowboy hat, I'm thinkin' it's not all good
I guess we're both guilty of judgin' the cover not the book
I'd love to buy you a beer, conversate and clear the air
But I see that red flag and I think you wish I wasn't here
If you don't judge my do-rag, I won't judge your red flag
If you don't judge my gold chains, I'll forget the iron chains
Can't re-write history baby
The relationship between the Mason-Dixon needs some fixin'
Quite frankly I'm a black Yankee
but I've been thinkin' about this lately
The past is the past, you feel me
Let bygones be bygones
RIP Robert E. Lee but I've gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me, know what I mean

I listened to this song once, and once, I am quite certain, was enough. While I agree that the relationship between the Mason and Dixon needs some fixin', the song sounds like something from an episode of South Park. The line that really jumps out is when LL says "RIP Robert E. Lee" -- rest in peace, guy who fought to preserve the right to enslave other human beings -- but the whole thing is terrible and unbelievably tone-deaf. What, everyone seems to be asking, was LL Cool J thinking when he got involved with this mess?

A quick look back at LL's long history of baffling career moves might help you to understand. After bursting onto the scene in 1985 at age 17 as one of the first acts signed to Def Jam records, he quickly became rap royalty with the one-two punch of "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock The Bells," from his first album. He started out as a shouter, yelling his verses at the top of his lungs in his stage uniform of track pants, no shirt, huge gold rope, and Kangol cap. But at some point he must have realized he was scaring women away with that approach, so although his second album featured the classic "I'm Bad," it also featured "I Need Love," which (as far as I know) is the first ever rap love song.

I ask you, faithful reader: is that video or that song any more artistically valid than "Accidental Racist"? I acknowledge that it can't be any worse, but is it any better? It's like comparing Fidel Castro and Raul Castro. His motives seem clear enough: to get more women to come to his shows, and I have no doubt at all that it worked. In fact, I would venture to guess that LL Cool J is probably our greatest living cocksman. Think about it: he'd be super handsome even without the dimples. He's been ripped like Apollo the whole 28 years he's been famous. He's been rich and famous since he was 17. And, starting with "I Need Love," he retooled his whole high-energy stage persona, which consisted mainly of barking and/or growling threats to the listener's personal safety, into that of soft-spoken ladies man, which consisted mainly of whispered threats to the listener's lady parts.
(I was discussing this with a couple of guys at the office this morning, and they were not as convinced as I that LL is such an accomplished swordsman -- at least, not with the fairer sex. They promptly informed me of rumors that he is, shall we say, a Friend Of Dorothy, that he's been busted with at least one transgender prostitute, and that he paid Esquire to kill a story to that effect. I include this information without comment.)
Could anything damage a macho rapper's macho cred more than the decision to put 8 love songs on every album? How about a family sitcom?
Firstly, if you have any doubt about LL's (alleged, by me) ease with the ladies, note the second comment under this video:
Multiply that by every woman in America, subtract half (maybe a third) of the married ones, and we can probably agree that Mr. Cool J is putting up Wilt Chamberlain numbers, and I am not talking about the 100-point game.
Anyway, LL did In The House, a UPN family sitcom that made House of Payne look like All In The Family, for five seasons. Again, that certainly wasn't a worse creative decision than "Accidental Racist," but would you really argue that it was better? What about Halloween H20? Or Deep Blue Sea (that was the one about the mutant sharks)? Deliver Us From Eva?
None of these cinematic abortions, all of which somehow managed to keep LL's enormous natural charisma offscreen, was his worst project. No, that would be his 2009 single "NCIS: No Crew Is Superior," a song he was inspired to write on the set of the CBS crime procedural NCIS. "This song is the musical interpretation of what I felt after meeting with NCIS agents, experienced Marines and Navy SEALs," he told TV Guide. "It represents the collective energy in the room. I was so inspired I wrote the song on set." (Related: how many rappers have given interviews to TV Guide?)
Although I (and I'm guessing you) never heard this song before, I guess the people at CBS liked it, because they gave LL the lead (opposite the Boy Wonder himself, Chris O'Donnell) on an NCIS spinoff, NCIS: Los Angeles, a show that makes Law & Order: Los Angeles look like CSI: Miami.
So look, let's not get too upset because LL Cool J did a terrible verse in an even worse song. LL Cool J has been making terrible creative decisions for at least 20 years. It's what LL Cool J does. You might as well get upset at a bee for buzzing.

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