Melody Maker | Info Freako | 23 July 1994
2 LIVE CREW
I'm writing a college project on censorship and would like to use 2 Live Crew's "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" as an example of the way that the authorities have been cracking down on records over the last few years. Can you please print the details of this case?
Nicola Hamilton, Gloucester
The scale of the controversy that surrounded "As Nasty As They Wanna Be", the third album by Miami rappers 2 Live Crew, was no great surprise. Not to anybody who had counted the 226 uses of the word "fuck", 163 uses of "bitch", 117 explicit terms for the male and female genitalia, 87 references to oral sex and three descriptions of
group sex on the record, which came out on Skyywalker Records at the end of 1989. And let's not forget the stuff about incest.
Although "Nasty" instantly fell under attack from US pro-censorship lobbies like the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) and FOTF (Focus on the Family), the strongest condemnation came from a Florida lawyer called Jack Thompson. With the backing of State Governor Bob Martinez, Thompson wrote letters of complaint to everyone he knew in the legal profession. As a direct result, on 6 June 1990, a Florida judge ruled that the "Nasty" album was in breach of the obscenity laws. It was the first record to be officially declared obscene.
Just two days after the ruling, the police in Florida's Broward County issued a threat of prosecution to any record store owner caught selling "Nasty". To Charles Freeman, the black owner of a shop in Fort Lauderdale, this was utterly absurd. He was allowed to sell records by Andrew Dice Clay and Richard Pryor, so why not 2 Live Crew? Freeman even appeared on local television to say so. The following day, a dozen cops turned up at his store and led him away in handcuffs.
The man in charge of the raid on Charles Freeman's shop, Sheriff Nick Navarro, was also responsible for pulling the plug on a 2 Live Crew show at Club Futura in Hollywood, Florida, on 11 June. Three members of the group – Luther Campbell, Chris Wong Won and Mark Ross – were arrested in the process. A week or two later, when Club Futura booked a white band from New Jersey called Too Much Joy, who made their living playing 2 Live Crew material, they too were arrested by Sheriff Navarro. Only the band's drummer escaped charges and that was because he wasn't singing.
Shortly after the Futura gig, 2 Live Crew played a gig at the Ozone Club in Atlanta, Georgia. The cops arrived just as the group were about to take the stage and made them promise a clean show. Watched by the boys in blue, Luther Campbell and his fellow rappers kept their word, but encouraged the crowd to sing the controversial rhymes. The police quickly realised they couldn't arrest every one of the 500 or more people yelling "Face down, ass up, that's the way we like to fuck" at the top of their voices.
Campbell, Wong Won and Ross appeared in court in October 1990 to face the obscenity charges that resulted from the Club Futura performance – and their trial turned out to be as much of a farce as the Atlanta show. At one point, the jury asked the judge if they were allowed to laugh at the evidence. "There's your verdict, right there," said Campbell. "That's exactly what this music is about. They're supposed to be laughing." To which Assistant State Attorney Pedro Dijols icily replied, "Laughter means many things. I laugh when I convict people."
Despite this ominous remark, the rappers were cleared of the charges Sheriff Navarro brought against them. Record store owner Charles Freeman, whose trial took place around three weeks before that of 2 Live Crew, was not so lucky. Found guilty of selling obscene material by an all-white jury, he was fined £1,000. Although the subsequent acquittal of Campbell and his partners made a complete nonsense of his verdict, the judgement was upheld when Freeman's appeal hearing came up in early 1991.
"As Nasty As They Wanna Be" didn't sell particularly well prior to the summer of 1990, but the controversy raised such widespread interest in the record that it entered the American Top 40. It out-sold "As Clean As They Wanna Be", an alternative version of the album which 2 Live Crew recorded to placate the authorities, by an estimated nine to one.