It is a touchy subject few want to touch.
Those who do touch upon race provoke either the Wrath of Yawn oh no, not that again or get blasted from both sides.
Thats why Brad Paisleys vilified duet with LL Cool J actually deserves a tip of the 10-gallon hat.
In their song Accidental Racist, the rapper and the country singer tackle no, make that address the issue of race and the misperceptions many of us have. Its just two dudes talking about what many of us think but leave unsaid:
Im just a white man
Coming to you from the southland.
And this, from the other side:
If you dont judge my do-rag
I wont judge your red flag.
Granted, its not as poetical as He Stopped Loving Her Today or Im So Lonesome I Could Cry, but in the duet partners own clunky way, theyre addressing an issue thats as universal as heartbreak.
As sure as youre born, though, critics lambasted LL Cool J for not being a real rapper, Paisley as a racist, and both for being naive.
Buffalo chips. As Jocelyn Neal, an associate professor of music at UNC-Chapel Hill noted, anyone who thinks Paisleys a racist need only look at some of his earlier work, most notably Welcome to the Future. Hes not lamenting or dreading a multicultural world, hes yep welcoming it.
Its all so clear.
Wherever were going were here.
Many of todays little pretty male country music singers are all hat and no horse. Likewise, youve got rappers and hip-hoppers still spouting nonsense about the size of the rims on their Bentleys often leased for the photo shoot and their prowess with the ladies, some of whom are also leased for the photo shoot.
That sort of intellectual barrenness should make us want to celebrate performers who are willing to introduce uncomfortable topics into their music.
Neal agrees. I think that music and art of any ilk should provoke conversation, and Paisley has succeeded in doing that. Hes gotten a lot of people to pay attention to the music and the meanings it can have. That is unquestionably a good thing.
When it comes to country-music scholarship, Neal is the real thing. She is the author of the award-winning book Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Legacy in Country Music.
No one, she said, likes talking about country music more than I do.
Following a tradition
She also mentioned that other country music singers for instance, Cowboy Troy and Darius Rucker have addressed race in their songs.
When I mentioned to Neal that its too bad Accidental Racist isnt a better song musically, she agreed: The consensus is that the song itself is not very pleasing. I think a lot of people wish it had been a better song.
Rat on. The lyrics arent as offensive as the outcry against it would have one believe.
The good, the bad, the
Ill tell you what. These demure souls whose tender sensibilities are offended by the Paisley-Cool J duet would have their wigs blown completely if they ever heard Sly & the Family Stones 1960s non-PC take on the same topic: Dont Call Me Nigger, Whitey. (Dont Call Me Whitey, Nigger).
Duke Ellington supposedly said there are only two kinds of music good and bad.
Sorry, Duke, but theres now a third category because Accidental Racist isnt good, and despite what many critics say, it isnt bad.
It is, however, important.