LL Cool J appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Thursday night, and he spent the first half of his interview discussing the song that’s been getting loads of attention this week–his collaboration with Brad Paisley, “Accidental Racist.”
“The song wasn’t perfect,” LL admits right up front. “You can’t fit 300 or 400 years of history into a three or four minute song.”
Written by Paisley with songwriter Lee Miller, and featuring LL on guest vocals, “Accidental Racist” has been criticized by multiple media sources this week (Brad’s album hit stores Tuesday), mostly for its lyrics. In one passage, for instance, LL sings that “If you don’t judge my do-rag, I won’t judge your red flag,” refering to the Confederate flag. Many felt that wasn’t a balance comparison.
LL clarifies that line to Leno. “I in no way would ever compare the history of the Confederate flag–when you think about the rapes, tortures, murders, lynching, all of the things associated with the Confederate flag–with a do rag.”
However, LL continues, “when you think about a kid like Trayvon Martin, and you think about things that happen in this society based on clothing, when you put it in its proper context, [that line] makes sense.” Martin was wearing a hoodie when he was shot, and some feel that his clothing choice was a factor in his death.
Again, though, LL emphasizes, “I would never, ever suggest that we should forget slavery and act like that didn’t happen. But you know what, if the playing field is unlevel, and you feel it’s unfair, then putting down some of that baggage will help you make up that hill a little easier.”
And when it comes to the Confederate flag, he’s not at all excusing it for what it still represents to many people today. Instead, he feels many simply don’t see a powerful symbol like that the same way. “There are kids out there who look at those Confederate flags like they’re Memphis Grizzlies jerseys, because they’re so young they don’t understand the history.”
Which appears to be exactly the point at the start of Paisley’s song–the protagonist claims he didn’t mean anything by wearing a Confederate flag T-shirt when buying coffee at Starbucks, except that he’s “a Skynyrd fan.”
Leno asks LL if he was shocked by the reaction the song has been getting this week.
“I’m actually pleased that the dialogue is happening,” LL replies. “The song isn’t perfect. [But] art is subjective. People choose to see and hear what they want to see and hear. And I’ll never be able to change that. But as long as the people are having a conversation, then the art has done its job.”
Brad echoed that sentiment in a video published on Radio.com earlier this week. He and LL weren’t “answering questions” with the song. “But we are maybe asking some questions. And that’s the first step to finding answers.”