Brad Paisley has said about his new album Wheelhouse, which hit stores today, that he was determined to challenge himself with each and every song. And as he and pretty much the entire music world witnessed yesterday, the challenge isn’t just in the writing–but in how to deal with the reaction from listeners.

Songs, Brad found out, can still start fires…particularly when the word “racist” is involved. The song in question is “Accidental Racist,” which appears on Wheelhouse. It’s a duet with rapper LL Cool J, and it aims to bring the question of racism–accidental or otherwise–out of the shadows and into the spotlight. Brad has called it one of his “proudest moments as a songwriter.”

The song, though, was quickly criticized from a number of angles, one being how the lyrics hang too closely onto the whole “Southern pride” thing. There’s also the issue of equating “do-rags” with “red flags,” not to mention “gold chains” with “iron chains.”

On his Twitter page today, Brad acknowledged the controversy: “I hope the album rocks you,soothes you,raises questions,answers,evokes feelings, all the way through,” he wrote in one message. And in another: “This is a record meant to be FAR from easy listening.” And finally, he says, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Paisley also spoke about the song this week with Ellen DeGeneres on her show Ellen.

“I felt like when we were writing this song,” he told the talk show host, “it wasn’t really up to the media…Hollywood…or talk radio to deal with that anymore. I think it’s music’s turn to have the conversation.”

OK, Ellen says, so then, what are you “basically saying” with the song?

“I don’t know,” Brad admits. Which may be about as honest an answer he or anyone is capable of at this point. “One of my favorite lines of the song is when [LL Cool J] says, ‘I think the relationship between the Mason Dixon needs some fixin’.’ And leave it to a rapper to put it so simply and so beautifully.” So, again, as Brad said earlier, “we’re not really answering any questions with [this song], but we are maybe asking some questions. And that’s the first step to finding answers.”

Ellen suggests that people listen to the song themselves, then make their own mind up how they feel about the song. Brad agrees. “Yeah, make your own mind up. That’s fine. You can throw things at me. I’m alright.”

And in this later Twitter note, he addresses the message to his “hardcore fans,” but it’s good advice for anyone who’s got a reaction–one way or another–to the song.

Wheelhouse is in stores now.


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