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No rap group (save, perhaps, N.W.A) has stirred more controversy or provoked more heated debate than the 2 Live Crew. The furor over the graphic sexual content of their X-rated party rhymes -- specifically their 1989 album As Nasty as They Wanna Be -- was a major catalyst in making rap music a flash point for controversy and an easily visible target for self-appointed moral guardians. The fierce attacks on the group's First Amendment rights put many of their defenders in an awkward position -- passionately supporting their freedom of speech on the one hand, but often finding little artistic merit in their music. And they were indeed crude and coarse, and frequently misogynistic by most standards; even if they fit squarely into a tradition of raunchy, sexually explicit black comedy (Redd Foxx, Rudy Ray Moore, Blowfly, etc.), many critics and intellectuals found their view of sex repellently juvenile, even ugly (and if they found it funny, it was hard to say so publicly). Despite (or, more likely, because of) that fact, the 2 Live Crew were fairly popular even before all the uproar and benefited greatly at first from all the publicity, although later on the novelty perhaps wore off due to overexposure. Regardless of whether one enjoys their sense of humor, to focus only on the controversy ignores the 2 Live Crew's musical contributions. They were responsible for popularizing the booming, hard-driving sound of Miami bass music, and they were the founding fathers of a populist, dance-oriented rap subgenre that relied on simple, explicit chants and up-tempo rump-shaking grooves, appropriately dubbed "booty rap."
Despite their inextricable link to Miami, the 2 Live Crew actually started out in California, with a membership of Fresh Kid Ice (born Chris Wong Won in Trinidad), DJ Mr. Mixx (born David Hobbs), and Amazing V. The trio released their debut single, "Revelation," in 1985 and its popularity in Florida led the group -- sans Amazing V -- to move to Miami, and after second single "What I Like," they were joined by Brother Marquis (born Mark Ross). They scored a record deal with local impresario Luke Skyywalker (born Luther Campbell in Miami), who initially served as their manager, and then joined the group as a performer and bandleader. With Campbell came a big part of the group's on-record taste for sleaze, and accordingly their 1986 debut album, The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are, featured songs like "We Want Some Pussy" and "Throw the D" (as in dick). It became a word-of-mouth success, eventually going gold. Even at this early stage, obscenity was an issue; in 1987, a Florida record store clerk was acquitted of felony charges after selling the album to a 14-year-old girl. Campbell hit upon the idea of selling "clean" and "dirty" versions of the group's albums so that younger fans would have a less explicit alternative. 1987's Move Somethin' was the first album released in this format, and it became an even bigger underground hit than its predecessor thanks to notorious cuts like "One and One," an X-rated retelling of the Kinks' "All Day and All of the Night" (which established the Crew's penchant for blatantly copped samples). In 1988, a record store in Alabama was fined for selling a copy of Move Somethin' to an undercover cop (a conviction later overturned on appeal), setting the stage for the Crew's home state to declare war.
As Nasty as They Wanna Be was released in 1989 and became the group's biggest hit yet; the single "Me So Horny" even climbed into the Top 40 despite virtually nonexistent airplay. Word spread even farther about the group's unadulterated raunchiness, attracting the attention of the ultraconservative watchdog group the American Family Association, who weren't satisfied with the album's parental advisory warning sticker. AFA supporter Jack Thompson, a lawyer and religious activist, convinced Florida governor Bob Martinez to open an inquiry into whether As Nasty as They Wanna Be violated Florida obscenity laws. The state prosecutor determined that action had to be taken on the local, not state, level, and thus in early 1990 Broward County sheriff Nick Navarro obtained a copy of the album and secured a ruling from County Circuit Court Judge Mel Grossman that there was probable cause that the album was legally obscene. Navarro warned record stores around the county that selling the album might subject them to prosecution, and the 2 Live Crew filed suit alleging that Navarro had unconstitutionally overstepped his bounds. In June, District Court Judge Jose Gonzalez ruled that As Nasty as They Wanna Be was legally obscene, and therefore illegal to sell. Record retailer Charles Freeman was arrested two days later for selling the album to an undercover cop, and the three rapping members of the 2 Live Crew were arrested on obscenity charges for performing material from the record in a local club. They were acquitted a few months afterward, thanks in part to expert testimony from Duke professor Henry Louis Gates, and Freeman's conviction was later overturned on appeal.
Meanwhile, As Nasty as They Wanna Be had become the forbidden fruit of choice for teenage boys across the country, selling over two million copies. Several other incidents were reported around the country involving record store owners being arrested for selling the album. The publicity also attracted the attention of George Lucas, who successfully sued Campbell for trademark infringement over his stage and label name, Luke Skyywalker; he subsequently shortened both to Luke. Capitalizing on the media frenzy, Campbell struck a distribution deal with Atlantic and put together a semipolitical album called Banned in the U.S.A., after securing rights for the title track from Bruce Springsteen; it was billed to Luke Featuring 2 Live Crew. It sold like hotcakes on first release, and the title single became the group's second Top 40 hit. In 1991, the group released the first full-length live rap album ever, Live in Concert, as well as the official follow-up to As Nasty as They Wanna Be, Sports Weekend. They sold disappointingly, especially considering the group's recent notoriety, and proved to be the last albums they would record together as a quartet. To compound matters, Luke Records was successfully sued for 1,600,000 million dollars in royalties by MC Shy D.
In 1992, the Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned Jose Gonzalez's ruling that As Nasty as They Wanna Be was legally obscene. At issue was Gonzalez's refusal to heed expert testimony (he'd pronounced himself fit to judge community standards of decency, since he'd lived in the community for 30 years), as well as the fact that the burden of proof of obscenity should have rested with Sheriff Navarro, who submitted nothing besides a copy of the album as evidence. The appeals court's decision was later upheld by the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the 2 Live Crew were drifting apart. Luke and Fresh Kid Ice both released solo albums (I Got Shit on My Mind and The Chinaman, respectively), and original Crew members Ice and Mr. Mixx teamed up as the Rock on Crew for Deal With This. Luke continued his solo career over the rest of the '90s.
In 1994, Luke, Fresh Kid Ice, and new rapper Verb (born Larry Dobson) regrouped as the New 2 Live Crew, issuing the album Back at Your Ass for the Nine-4. The same year, the group found itself back in court yet again, this time over a lawsuit by the publishers of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman." They charged 2 Live Crew with plagiarism for recording a parody of the song on As Clean as They Wanna Be, alleging that the reinterpretation tarnished the image of the original. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court, which ruled that parody constituted fair use and found in favor of the group. The New 2 Live Crew didn't last long as Luke chose to concentrate on his solo career. In 1995, Luke Records filed for bankruptcy, as Campbell was beset by creditors and expenses; both he and the remaining 2 Live Crew wound up on Lil' Joe, a label founded by his ex-business partner Joe Weinberger. In 1996, Fresh Kid Ice, Brother Marquis, and Mr. Mixx re-formed the 2 Live Crew without Campbell and released Shake a Lil' Somethin'. Brother Marquis departed afterward, and down to the two original California members, the 2 Live Crew issued The Real One in 1998. Luke, meanwhile, continued to record steadily, as well as releasing several compilation albums showcasing new South Florida talent.
The 2 Live Crew was a hip-hop group from Miami, Florida. They caused considerable controversy with the sexual themes in their work, particularly on their 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be.Philips, Chuck (November 10, 1990). "Sound Warehouse agrees not to stock 2 Live Crew's controversial 'As Nasty as They Wanna Be.'". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013. Philips, Chuck (May 9, 1992). "Omaha Undaunted by Florida Rap Ruling : Pop music: Officials still will prosecute retailers for selling 2 Live Crew albums despite obscenity reversal.". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013. Philips, Chuck (July 2, 1992). "Album Sales Pact Averts Omaha Case : Pop: Obscenity charges are dropped after two record retail chains agree to stop selling sexually explicit 2 Live Crew music to minors.". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013. Philips, Chuck (April 23, 1992). "Record Retailers Charged : Lawsuit: Two chains are accused of selling rap group 2 Live Crew albums to minors.". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013. Philips, Chuck (March 9, 1991). "'Rap Jam '91' Show Called Off in Ohio : Concert: Cincinnati arena manager cites insufficient insurance, not police pressure, in cancellation.". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013. Various. "LA Times articles about 2 Live Crew". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013.
ContentsHistory1.1 Early career1.2 As Nasty As They Wanna Be1.3 1994: New line-up and lawsuit1.4 "Oh, Pretty Woman" lawsuit1.5 Reunions
The 2 Live Crew was created by DJ Mr. Mixx (David Hobbs) with fellow rappers Fresh Kid Ice (Chris Wong Won), and Amazing V. (Yuri Vielot). The group released its first single, "Revelation", in 1985. "Revelation" was popular in Florida, so The 2 Live Crew (sans Amazing V) relocated to Miami. Rapper Brother Marquis (Mark Ross) joined The 2 Live Crew for its next single "What I Like". Local rapper Luke Skyywalker (Luther Campbell) gave The 2 Live Crew a record deal and worked as the group's manager and then lead vocalist. The 2 Live Crew's debut album, The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are, was released in 1986. Alex Henderson of Allmusic commented that the album "did take sexually explicit rap lyrics to a new level of nastiness", with tracks such as "We Want Some Pussy" and "Throw the 'D'". With word-of-mouth attention, the album was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). In 1987, a Florida store clerk was acquitted of felony charges for selling the album to a 14-year-old girl.
Campbell decided to sell a separate clean version in addition to the explicit version of the next album, Move Somethin' (1988), produced by Mr. Mixx. A record store clerk in Alexander City, Alabama, was cited for selling a copy to an undercover police officer in 1988. 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.
As Nasty As They Wanna Be
In 1989, the group released their album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be, which also became the group's most successful album. A large part of its success was due to the single "Me So Horny", which was popular locally with heavy radio rotation on Miami's WPOW-Power 96 FM. The American Family Association (AFA) did not think the presence of a "Parental Advisory" sticker was enough to adequately warn listeners of what was inside the case. Jack Thompson, a lawyer affiliated with the AFA, met with Florida Governor Bob Martinez and convinced him to look into the album to see if it met the legal classification of obscenity. In 1990 action was taken at the local level and Nick Navarro, Broward County sheriff, received a ruling from County Circuit Court judge Mel Grossman that probable cause for obscenity violations existed. In response, Luther Campbell maintained that people should focus on issues relating to hunger and poverty rather than on the lyrical content of their music.
Navarro warned record store owners that selling the album might be prosecutable. The 2 Live Crew then filed a suit against Navarro. That June, U.S. district court Judge Jose Gonzalez ruled the album obscene and illegal to sell. Charles Freeman, a local retailer, was arrested two days later, after selling a copy to an undercover police officer. This was followed by the arrest of three members of The 2 Live Crew after they performed the As Nasty As They Wanna Be album at Club Futura in Hollywood, Florida hosted by radio personality Tony the Tiger (Ira Wolf) from Power 96 FM; one of the few radio stations in the U.S. that continued airplay while the trial ensued. After international exposure with support from freedom of speech advocates like Screw magazine's Al Goldstein and many others, they were acquitted soon after, as professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. testified at their trial in defense of their lyrics. Freeman's conviction was overturned on appeal as well.
"A lot of people have gotten the impression that I'm this rude sexual deviant or something," Campbell told journalist Chuck Philips. "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."
In 1992, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned the obscenity ruling from Judge Gonzalez, and the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear Broward County's appeal. As in the Freeman case, Gates testified on behalf of The 2 Live Crew, arguing that the material that the county alleged was profane actually had important roots in African-American vernacular, games, and literary traditions and should be protected.
As a result of the controversy, As Nasty As They Wanna Be remained brisk, selling over two million copies. It peaked at number 29 on the Billboard 200 and number 3 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. A few other retailers were later arrested for selling it as well, including Canadian Marc Emery, who was convicted in Ontario in 1991, and would later gain fame as a marijuana activist. Later hard-rock band Van Halen sued over an uncleared sample of their song "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" in the 2 Live Crew song "The Fuck Shop". The publicity then continued when George Lucas, owner of the Star Wars universe, successfully sued Campbell for appropriating the name "Skywalker" for his record label, Luke Skyywalker Records. Campbell changed his stage name to Luke (and changed the record label's name to Luke Records) and the group released an extremely political follow-up album, Banned in the U.S.A., after obtaining permission to use an interpolation of Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A.. The 2 Live Crew paraphernalia with the Luke Skyywalker or Skyywalker logos are often sought-after collector's items.
1994: New line-up and lawsuit
1994 saw Luke, Fresh Kid Ice and a new addition to the group, Verb, regrouping as The New 2 Live Crew, issuing Back at Your Ass for the Nine-4. This album peaked at number 52 on the Billboard 200 and number 9 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. The New 2 Live Crew broke up in 1995.
"Oh, Pretty Woman" lawsuitMain article: Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc.
During this time the lawsuit brought about by the copyright owners of "Oh, Pretty Woman", went to the Supreme Court. The Crew had parodied the original on the album As Clean As They Wanna Be without permission. The Supreme Court adopted a rule from an earlier Ninth Circuit case involving Rick Dees, and ruled that The 2 Live Crew's parody could be fair use.
Luke, Fresh Kid Ice, Brother Marquis and Mr. Mixx re-formed again to record "Hoochie Mama" for the soundtrack to the movie Friday. Plans to reunite for an album were short-lived, as Fresh Kid Ice, Mr. Mixx, and Brother Marquis left Luke and Luke Records to go to Lil' Joe Records and released Shake a Lil' Somethin' (1996). It peaked at number 145 on the Billboard 200, also peaking at number 33 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Mr. Mixx left soon after, leaving Fresh Kid Ice and Brother Marquis to record The Real One in 1998. It peaked at number 59 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart. In 1998, Brother Marquis became a born-again Christian, quit the group, and began devoting himself to combating what he saw as the "evils" that he as a member of the 2 Live Crew portrayed and glorified. Rapper "First Degree" aka Tiki was then recruited as the groups newest addition by Fresh Kid Ice. However, his attempt was only for a duration of a few years. Fresh Kid Ice was for the most part a solo act using the name of the 2 Live Crew until 2004.
Later, Fresh Kid Ice, under the old banner of the 2 Live Crew, performed at the 2007 Gathering of The Juggalos. Around 2008, Fresh Kid Ice and Brother Marquis reunited as a duo; classic songs from the 2 Live Crew were posted on their Myspace page.
In May 2010, it was announced that the duo's album, "Just Wanna Be Heard", would feature production from Mannie Fresh and was to be released on Nu Focuz Entertainment/Lil' Joe Records with guest verses from Too Short, E-40, and Insane Clown Posse. It was set to be released in August 2010, but remains unreleased.Huey, Steve (1999). "The 2 Live Crew: Biography". allmusic. Retrieved January 4, 2010. Henderson, Alex. "The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are: Review". allmusic. Retrieved January 4, 2010. Philips, Chuck (June 18, 1990). "The 'Batman' Who Took On Rap : Obscenity: Lawyer Jack Thompson put his practice on hold to concentrate on driving 2 Live Crew out of business. In Southern Florida, he is loved and loathed.". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013. Jet, Nov. 26, 1990, p.34 Philips, Chuck (July 25, 1990). "Businessman With a Nasty Rep : Rap: 2 Live Crew's controversial Luther Campbell says he's 'just a hard-working guy marketing a new product.'". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013. Philips, Chuck (May 8, 1992). "Appeals Court Voids Obscenity Ruling on 2 Live Crew Album". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013. Philips, Chuck (August 2, 1990). "Despite Chains' Boycott, Campbell Album Sells : Rap: The explicit 'Banned in the U.S.A.' is doing brisk business. The more restriction, says an executive, the more interest is stimulated.". LA Times. Retrieved 5 November 2013. Fisher v. Dees. 794 F.2d 432 (9th Cir. 1986). Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569 (1994). http://www.hiphopdx.com/index/news/id.11306/title.2-live-crew-readies-new-album-mannie-fresh-assists In June 2012, the 2 Live Crew performed at Scrapin the Coast, a Mini Truckin' show in Biloxi, Mississippi. They performed from June 22–24.