Psssst!…Over here, homie. Let’s talk, LL. You’ve gotten yourself into a bit of a pickle, huh? Yes, I know…this ridiculous controversy seems like it was ripped from an episode of Dave Chappelle’s classic sketch comedy show. A legendary rapper-turned-actor (you) collaborates with a veteran country music artist (Brad Paisley) and releases a track called “Accidental Racist.” The bold song, with its back-and-forth dialogue on black and white relations and nagging stereotypes, was supposed to be a politically incorrect dissection of America’s turbulent racial history. Instead, what we were left with was (so far) the most absurd, unfathomable record of 2013 that managed to be both staggeringly offensive and laughable all at once.
Should I really bore you with specifics, Mr. Smith, on how you equated the scrutiny that comes along with sporting ’hood-certified jewelry, with 400-plus years of slavery? What possessed you to say – in a tone of forced gravitas – “If you don’t judge my gold chains/I’ll forget the iron chain”? This was after you compared another around-the-way fashion statement with the Confederate flag, a longtime southern symbol of brutal oppression and white supremacy (“If you don’t judge my du-rag/ I won’t judge your red flag”). Where’s Ashy Larry when we need him?
Sure, Paisley should be somewhat commended for attempting to cut through the bullshit with straight-no-chaser lines like, “I’m proud of where I’m from, but not everything we’ve done,” and “It ain’t like you and me can rewrite history/Our generation didn’t start this nation/We’re still picking up the pieces, walking on eggshells, fighting over yesterday.” However, with your cringe-inducing lyrics like, “R.I.P. Robert E. Lee/But I’ve gotta thank Abraham Lincoln for freeing me,” a sensible person is left to wonder whether or not you have someone on your team who lets you know when your slip is showing. From Lindsay Lohan (stay out of them clubs, girl) to Rick Ross (wrote any lyrics cosigning rape, lately?), we all need that no nonsense, truth-teller in our circle, dawg.
Indeed, I’m here to help you, LL. Not only that, I want to take this time to remind your novice fans who may only know you from your role on CBS’ highly-rated, just-add-water crime drama NCIS: Los Angeles, and those babies who were but a gleam in their moms’ eyes, of when you boldly announced yourself to the world in the classic 1985 hip-hop film Krush Groove with one word: BOX! Back then, you were a Kangol-rocking, ballsy 16-year-old representing Queens, New York like some prodigious man-child who knew he was destined for that G.O.A.T. title. You would go on to become…
*A game-changing MC that literally built Def Jam Records, rap’s most important record label, from the ground up with the debut of your bruising, landmark B-Boy manifesto Radio.
*The first across-the-board solo rap superstar to achieve double-platinum success (1987’s Bigger and Deffer) in an era when hip-hop groups like Run-DMC, Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim, and N.W.A. still ruled the rhyme landscape.
*The most feared battle rapper to ever walk this earth (Just ask Kool Moe Dee, Ice T, MC Hammer, Canibus, etc…).
*The first poster-boy idol to make it cool for rappers to embrace their female fan-base. (I see you, Drake).
*The same artist that stood in a corner of a New York recording studio with MC Lyte to help write her part for KRS-One’s all-star anti-black-on-black violence anthem “Self Destruction” – despite being labeled as too materialistic and out of touch by a contingent who now worships at the altar of socially conscious rebel Chuck D (see: 1989’s Walking With A Panther).
*The first MC to make a comeback with the Marley Marl-produced, Grammy-winning, 1990 classic Mama Said Knock You Out, a nearly flawless work that still sets the bar for savvy reinvention within the history of hip-hop.
*The first MC to make a second comeback with the double-platinum 1995 statement Mr. Smith after stumbling while trying to keep up with gangsta rap’s new breed led by the artist now known as Snoop Lion, with 1993’s ill-conceived 14 Shots To The Dome.
To put it simply LL Cool J: You single-handedly proved hip-hop’s longevity. Your résumé reads like a Rock and Roll Hall-of-Fame-worthy run. Russell and Rick should be working on your induction speech right now. Your history-making achievements are the reason we were able to ignore other failed comeback attempts. It’s the reason we gave you a pass with 2012’s tepid 45-year-old-man-in-the-club track “Ratchet.”
But “Accidental Racist? Nah, man. It’s unbecoming of one of our true icons. I saw the Good Morning America interview. The one where you answered critics who laid into you for summing up slavery’s horrific past with lyrics like, “Let bygones be bygones.” “I’m not advising anyone to truly forget slavery, but what I’m saying is forget the slavery mentality,” you explained. “Forget the bitterness. Don’t get bitter, get better.” Got you, homie. Sounds good and all. But let’s hope your epitaph doesn’t read: Here lies James Todd Smith, who thought it was a brilliant idea to channel the spirit of Strom Thurmond.
You deserve better.