Many have been up in arms about LL Cool J‘s lyrics in the song Accidental Racist where he expresses forgiveness for slavery (iron chains) if white America can accept him wearing sagging pants and a gold chain.. He explains that he has no problem with white people rocking the confederate flag if they don’t get freaked out with him wearing a doo rag..
The out cry against LL has been harsh and swift.. Many have resorted to calling him LL Coon J, remembering how he famously came out in support of Republican Governor George Pataki who was vying for a third term against Black gubernatorial candidate Carl McCall. Fellow rappers like Rhymefest have called upon LL to come get a history lesson. NY Oil formerly of the UMCs jumped in the fray and called for an intervention. In fact Oil reworked LL’s classic cut I’m Bad’ where he provides a history lesson on Confederate General Robert E Lee who LL name checks and the Confederate Flag.
NY Oil spoke to my Black Creative Arts class yesterday and explained it was important to publicly push for correction because he sees first hand in his role as an educator on how artists and celebrities influence actions and the thoughts of young people. He said he didn’t want folks to over simplify the legacy and institutions of slavery and Jim Crow and act like these are things to sweep under the rug.
He noted that it’s clear from the current state of poverty, mass incarceration and other societal ills institutional racism is alive and well.. NY Oil referenced as proof, what was going on in his hometown New York City around Stop-N-Frisk where Black and Brown men are targeted to the tune of 90% with over 5 million stops made and less than 10% yielding any sort of violation…
NY Oil had stepped in the arena and felt it was necessary to call LL out and ‘push him back into greatness’.. He said he wants LL to respond and do better..
When hearing those remarks I could not help but think of another great artists who had this happen to him. His name was James Brown..soul brother number one..the hardest working man in show business. The story goes as follows in 1967 at the height of the Black Power Movement, two years after Malcolm X was assassinated and the Watts Riots jumped off and one year after the Black Panthers formed in Oakland and SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee ) had taken a more militant approach to resolving issues concerning Black folks, James Brown recorded a song called ‘America is My Home‘.. Although sentimental to Brown, it came across as corny to many others and outright coonish to many in the movement.
Folks stepped to Brown pretty hard about that song and pushed him…In fact there’s a famous story about James Brown having a meeting with SNCC leader H. Rap Brown (know known as Jamil Al Amin) and Rap expressing his disdain for that song and pushing for James to do something meaningful for the people.. The end result was James Brown recording a song a year later that went on to be a Black power anthem.. ‘Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud‘. We should note after Brown did that song, he caught major heat from white folks and even had the record pulled from many radio stations..
In the clip below from the 1970s interview Brown talks about the concern about Black athletes and entertainers and how they were being used by white power structure. He also talks about how culture is dangerous if not informed by politics..
This morning I spoke with my radio colleague Ricky Vincent better known as the Uhuru Maggot, He just finished penning his second book. The first was called The History of Funk.. This new one is called Party Music The Inside Story of the Black Panthers band and how Black Power Transformed Soul Music..
In our conversation, Vincent also noted that Brown always defended his song ‘America is My Home‘. He explained that Brown always held a sentimental feeling for this country and reflected those feelings in the song. In defending the song, he was able to point out that he had done a number of songs for the people with the movement in mind. Ultimately Brown was about enhancing what he described as the ‘revolution of the mind’
With that being said, Vincent noted that H Rap did indeed step to James Brown, but it wasn’t some planned out formal conversation. The two literally ran into each other in the street. Also it wasn’t the only conversation Brown had with movement leaders.
Vincent noted that’s important to understand, because back in those days running into an entertainer was not unusual. In fact it was commonplace. It was a reflection of the type of mindset many entertainers had.. They needed and wanted to be with the people. Brown and other popular artists at that time were always in the mix and amongst the people. They didn’t have walls up and handlers keeping them apart. It’s not like today where are top stars are sequestered by bodyguards, PR folks and corporate interests that ultimately wind up informing and controlling them. James Brown heard from more than just H Rap Brown about that song.
Vincent continued my noting it was always made clear to Brown and other artists that if they wanted to be popular and in step with their audience their music needed to reflect where the folks were at and at that time the Civil Rights struggle and Black Power Movements was what was happening. It was made crystal clear to Brown that his reputation was in jeopardy and so he responded with ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud‘.. The music was a reflection of the movement and the movement was a people’s movement.
With respect to LL Cool J and his song ‘Accidental Racist‘, Vincent pointed out, that LL who lacks a body of work addressing key issues of the day was already on shaky ground when he stepped into the recording booth. The fact that his song did not connect with many in the Black community is a reflection of the increasing widening gap between pop entertainers and the movement or lack of a movement. Sadly, today LL and other pop artists don’t have to reflect any movement sentiments in order to be financially successful today. It also appears that credible leaders don’t have much access to him the way they did during Brown’s hey day.
(on a side note it appears that EMI pulled down all the videos to the Accidental Racist song, but this video lays out the lyrics..)
Vincent expounded by noting there was a constant flow of information from the community to the artists and vice versa. Now it seems walled off even at a date and time when we have so much new technology. Compounding this divide is the fact that pop music is showered upon via broadcast mediums making it easily accessible and overtly familiar while message and conscious music is not. He talked about the number of artists who have message type songs being discouraged and sometimes outright refused by their label to put them out, much less have it promoted.
Although we didn’t speak about this in our conversation this morning, it should be noted that in our respective works over the years both myself and Vincent have highlighted the role of NATRA (National Association of Television and Radio Association) and the important role they played in furthering the Civil Rights and Black power messages of the past.. Dr King talks about that at length in in 1967 speech to NATRA and clearly states that there is no Civil Rights Movement without those radio taste makers of the day getting the information to the people. He also talks about the important role Soul Music plays in bridging important divides. Rickey Vincent’s new book takes that conversation about the transformative nature of Soul Music to new heights.. be sure to check for it..