Weeks on chart: 29
Peak: No. 8 on Billboard’s Hot 100
Current Radio Play Frequency: N/A
YouTube Hit Count: 20,932,959 at time of publication (for non-remix version)
The most frequently asked questions in the wake of the “Accidental Racist” debacle were “How?” “Who?” and “Why?” How could this happen? Who thought it was a good idea? Why didn’t someone push a bookshelf on top of this person until Brad Paisley and LL Cool J were persuaded in the studio parking lot to return home to their respective mansions? If I can offer a marginal defense of “Accidental Racist,” it’s not as if pairing a pop-country singer with a past-his-prime rapper automatically leads to disaster. It is possible for this equation to also produce an outcome that’s about as innocuous as the Hot 100 can get in 2013.
Among the differences between “Accident Racist” and “Cruise,” a song by the country duo Florida Georgia Line that became a Top 10 pop hit after it was remixed with a guest verse by Nelly, is what you might classify as finesse. Because Nelly has previous experience dueting with Tim McGraw on 2004’s “Over and Over,” he can rap over a back-porch strum without freaking out and mistakenly paying tribute to Robert E. Lee or shrugging off several centuries of slavery. This isn’t faint praise — it takes a certain dignity to commiserate with the pretty-boy dorkuses of Florida Georgia Line without them mudflaps kicking some up on you.
Aside from the Nelly verse, the remix of “Cruise” deviates from the original with its vaguely danceable beat and pumped-up chorus, which is looped a few extra times and coated with a fresh sheen of waxy Auto-Tune. Otherwise, both versions are extremely bright and oppressively sunny, in the manner of all “happy” pop-country hits. (It is impossible to listen to “Cruise” on headphones without the high end bleaching your eardrums.) FGL’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard have cited hip-hop as an influence, and while it would be a stretch to call what they do on the verses “rapping,” it is a form of talk-singing that appears to be in some sort of rhythm. The sum total of Kelley plus Hubbard plus Nelly plus a half-assed remix equals this summer’s stealth Uncle Kracker anthem that our nation’s authorities were derelict in preventing.
Rather than dwell on polarizing gold/iron chain-oriented metaphors, “Cruise” successfully ferrets out an area of common ground between people of all races and creeds. Perhaps the Southern-bred boner-pulling bigots among us will never understand why a Skynyrd shirt might be offensive to non-Skynyrd-loving non-white people, but everyone can agree that it’s awesome to drive around with a person who is exceptionally attractive in the summertime. The girl described in “Cruise” is the typical country-song wet dream: “She was sippin' on Southern and singin' Marshall Tucker / We were falling in love in the sweet heart of summer / She hopped right up into the cab of my truck / And said, ‘Fire it up! Let's go get this thing stuck!’" Later on, it’s not clear whether Nelly is picking up on the same girl, though it kind of seems like he is: “Hey country girl, this country boy / Like everything about you Tell ol' boy he can call back / Send him a text, say ‘fall back’ cause / I can see you got a thing for the fast life / So come on, shawty, let me show you what the fast like.” Ol’ boy? The song’s GPS places Nelly “'cross the border, Florida into Georgia,” but it may be wise to steer clear of Alabama, which legalized interracial marriage the same year Nelly released “Country Grammar.”
Final verdict: Pleasantly unobjectionable (relatively speaking, in a non-musical sense).