These rap headline-makers from Miami, Florida (via California) became unlikely figures in a media censorship debate when, in June 1990, As Nasty As They Wanna Be was passed sentence on by a judge in Broward County, Florida. In the process it became the first record in America to be deemed legally obscene (a Georgia appeal court overturned the decision in May 1992). Their right to free speech saw them defended by sources as diverse as Sin‚ad O'Connor, Bruce Springsteen and M”tley Cre, but the overbearing impression remained that 2 Live Crew was a third-rate rap outfit earning first division kudos by little more than circumstance.
In 1985, the California-based trio Chris Wong Won ("Fresh Kid Ice"), DJ David Hobbs ("Mr. Mixx"), and rapper Amazing V released the debut 2 Live Crew single, "Revelation". After moving to Miami and replacing Amazing V with New Yorker Mark Ross ("Brother Marquis"), the trio signed with Luke Skyywalker Records, the new label set up by their manager/promoter Luther Campbell (b. 22 December 1960, Miami, Florida, USA). (The label's name was later shortened to Luke Records when film-maker George Lucas, who created the Luke Skywalker character in the movie Star Wars, filed suit.) The new line-up assembled a single together, "Throw The D", based on a new dance move, and recorded it in front of Campbell's mother's house. Their debut set, recorded before Campbell became an actual member, marked out the crew's territory.
To this end, 2 Live Crew several times expressed themselves to be an adult comedy troupe in the best traditions of crude party records by Blowfly and others. Hence, "We Want Some Pussy" and other, incon sequential, mildly offensive tracks. Their music was underpinned by the familiar "Miami Bass" sound of synthesized, deep backbeats. As Nasty As They Wanna Be, replete with 87 references to oral sex alone, included the notorious "Me So Horny", built around a sample from Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket. It was an unquestionably offensive lyric, but no more so than those by the Geto Boys or others and there was probably worse examples within the 2 Live Crew's own songbook. "The Fuck Shop", which sampled Guns N'Roses guitar lines, or "Head Booty And Cock" which became almost a battle-cry, notably when repeated by chanting fans on the Phoenix, Arizona-recorded live album.
Advocates of record stickering such as the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) and Florida attorney/evangelist Jack Thompson, argued strongly that the crew's records should not be available for sale to minors. A retail record store owner arrested for selling a copy of the album - albeit to an adult - was later acquitted. The crew itself was then arrested for performing music from As Nasty As They Wanna Be in an adults-only club, sparking charges by anti-censorship groups that the law enforcement officials were becoming over-zealous. There is not much doubt that this was true - Miami has one of the biggest pornography industries in the country, and it was obvious the moguls behind it were not being pursued with equal vigour, if they were being pursued at all.
The group attempted to exploit the commercial advantages of such notoriety by signing a distribution deal with Atlantic Records for Banned In The U.S.A., which was followed by the lame Sports Weekend (As Nasty As They Wanna Be Part II). The latter even included an AIDS awareness ditty, "Who's Fuckin' Who", and the group also promoted safe sex with their own brand of Homeboy Condoms, one of their more acceptable acts of misogynist titillation. The original line-up had disbanded by the time Luther Campbell attempted to stoke up further controversy on the CBS network television show A Current Affair by claiming that he had oral sex
on stage with female fans in Japan.
In early 1994, Campbell became a legal ground-breaker again, this time over 2 Live Crew's 1989 parody of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman". Acuff-Rose Music, who had refused a license for the song, had sued on the grounds that the cover version tarnished the image of the original. Although a Nashville court had ruled against Acuff-Rose in 1991, a successful appeal was brought to the Supreme Court, who finally ruled in favour of Campbell. On top of all the heat Campbell began a solo career. As the scandal surrounding 2 Live Crew abated, Campbell assembled the New 2 Live Crew comprising himself, Won and MC Larry "Verb' Dobson for 1994"s Back At Your Ass For The Nine-4. The original line-up reunited briefly for soundtrack work, but Campbell, who filed for bankruptcy in 1995, was gone by the time Won, Ross and Hobbs signed a new deal with Lil' Joe
Records. Only Won and Ross remained for 1998's The Real One..