The 2 Live Crew was a Miami bass/dirty rap hip-hop group formed in the mid-'80s. Here's the crew repping Miami hard: DJ Mr. Mixx (David Hobbs), Fresh Kid Ice (Chris Wong Won), Brother Marquis (Mark Ross), and leader Luke Skyywalker (Luther Campbell).
Their Debut Album Was Banned
The 2 Live Crew's debut album, 'The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are', was released in 1986. It was so full of bad words and lewd rhymes that a Florida store clerk faced felony charges for selling the album to a 14-year-old girl.
Their Followup Album Was Banned
In 1988, the group released their second album, 'Move Somethin''. A record store clerk in Alexander City, Alabama, was cited for selling a copy to an undercover police officer in 1988. (Imagine you're an undercover cop and your beat is the record store. Spooky.) It was the first time in the United States that a record store owner was held liable for obscenity over music. The charges were dropped after a jury found the record store not guilty. In this pic, you can see 2 Live Crew fans seeing the 2 Live Crew dancers in 1988 in Miami.
Their Third Album Was Spectacularly Banned
1989's 'As Nasty As They Wanna Be' featured the hit "Me So Horny". It reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot Rap Tracks chart and No. 26 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1989, staying on the Hot 100 for 30 weeks. The song samples music from the 1979 hit "Firecracker" by Mass Production, and dialogue from the Richard Pryor film "Which Way Is Up?" and the Stanley Kubrick film "Full Metal Jacket". That "Full Metal Jacket" sample also turned up three years later in Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back". But in the meantime, this album was banned so hard it made headlines.
Record Store Clerk Arrested
This might not seem shocking now because what could ever seem shocking these days, but it sounded weird back then that a record store owner would be arrested for selling records. It sounds quaint now, like a little bookshop owner being arrested for selling a book, or like a little bookshop existing, or like a record shop being open to the public. This is Charles Freeman, who was arrested by police for selling a 2 Live Crew album in his Florida record store. At least four other record store employees had been arrested for selling 'As Nasty as They Wanna Be'. The New York Times reported that a case was "pending against David Ward Risher, owner of Hogwild Records in San Antonio, who sold the album after local vice officers warned record stores against doing so."
Obscene in Ontario
On June 20, 1990, the Globe and Mail reported that an Ontario Provincial Police investigation had concluded that 'As Nasty as They Wanna Be' was obscene.
HMV was the only major chain offering the album in Canada. OPP informed its owner that the company and its sales staff could be charged with selling obscene material, with a maximum two-year prison sentence. HMV removed all copies from its 47 stores across Canada. It was pulled from their stores across the country because the OPP based its decision on federal law.
The Globe reported that the album “fit Canada’s Criminal Code definition of obscenity on the grounds of undue exploitation of sex and sex with violence."
Other rap groups such as Public Enemy have faced album and video bans, prompting complaints that white middle-class North Americans are ruling on a form of black expression they don’t understand, the Globe reported.
Canadian retailers were arrested for selling ‘As Nasty As They Wanna Be’, as well, including Marc Emery. The high-profile Canadian marijuana activist worked at a record shop in London, Ontario, at the time.
Taking Care Of Business
"A lot of people have gotten the impression that I'm this rude, sexual deviant or something," Luther Campbell told the LA Times in 1990. "But contrary to what has been printed about me in the papers, I'm no moral threat to anybody. I'm just a hard-working guy marketing a new product."
Anti-obscenity crusader Jack Thompson, who was then a Florida prosecutor, told the LA Times that Campbell was practising a corrupt aberration of capitalism. “Obscenity is criminal contraband and that’s what this guy deals in," he told the Times. "It’s easy to make money selling illegal goods. What could possibly be admirable about that?” He had instigated the campaign that resulted in the 2 Live Crew obscenity ruling.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr. testified on behalf of the 2 Live Crew during the trial.
Gates is an American literary critic and public intellectual who serves as the Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He discovered what are considered the earliest known literary works of African-American writers, and has published extensively on appreciating African-American literature.
Wow, he sounds like a cool guy. But what has he done for us lately? Gates, pictured here in 2019, helped lead a new project launched in March 2020 by the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University and a coalition of foundations to bring online lessons about voting rights to students. You can check it out at selmaonline.org.
'Banned In The U.S.A.'
The concept of 'explicit lyrics' warning labels had come to fruition in 1985, a controversial initiative of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) in the U.S. The first standardized parental advisory labels appeared in 1990 on 'Banned in the U.S.A', the 2 Live Crew's followup to 'As Nasty As They Wanna Be'.
It's What Rock 'n' Roll Was
“Rap music today is what rock 'n' roll was in the ’60s with the Stones,” Campbell told 'People' magazine in 1990. “It’s considered the most rebellious music ever.” Henry Louis Gates, Jr. testified that the 2 Live Crew material that the county alleged was profane actually had important roots in African-American vernacular, games, and literary traditions and should be protected. In 1992, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned the obscenity ruling and the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear Broward County's appeal.
Anti-obscenity crusader Jack
Thompson was permanently disbarred in 2008 by the Supreme Court of Florida for inappropriate conduct.