2 LIVE CREW
As Nasty As They Wanna Be
(Luke Skyywalker Records)
Available on CD and digital download
Today was the Internet-wide protest about the (now pretty much dead – President Obama has already said he’d basically give it the middle finger) legislations SOPA and PIPA. Alleged to be anti-piracy bills, the damn things are so broadly/badly written that if they had even made it through Congress (at the time of this writing, it isn’t that likely) they would have made the mere idea of a free and open Internet an obscenity. Imagine a left-leaning blog being shut down for calling out an ultra-rightist political figure as the piece of shit that they are – that’s the kind of thing SOPA and PIPA could actually, as an example, allow.
Imagine an artist getting arrested for recording what is basically a comedy album set over hip-hop music, a record store getting arrested for selling that same record, and band members going to trial for singing those same songs. Back in 1990, unfortunately, that happened.
In 1989, a friend of mine who was more into thrash metal and hardcore punk called me – as he was wont to do on occasion – and asked if I had heard a particular rap record. I’d already been diving into several of the now-classic albums of the period, but this one he had mentioned hadn’t caught my ear. He said one of the songs on the album had sampled Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” and Guns n’ Roses’s “Sweet Child O’Mine” and immediately brought the phone to his stereo to play the song for me.
The song was “The Fuck Shop”, and the album was As Nasty As They Wanna Be by 2 Live Crew. I’d heard of the band, and knew of their “radio-friendly” versions of “Move Somethin’” and their version of “Do Wah Diddy” from their previous album Move Somethin’, but didn’t know of the album the friend was talking about. The next day I happened to be within access to a record store, so I grabbed a copy.
This was hilarious stuff – bawdy rhymes that were direct descendants of the comedy of Rudy Ray Moore, Richard Pryor, and Redd Foxx (the first two of whom are heard in sample form in various places on the album, along with next-generation comics Eddie Murphy and Andrew Dice Clay), over a surprise selection of samples of everything from the aforementioned Van Halen and GnR chestnuts to Kraftwerk’s “The Man Machine” and Young-Holt Unlimited’s “Soulful Strut”. Pretty much great stuff from beginning to end, and the album pretty much holds up after almost 25 years.
Up until the summer of 1990, the only legal brouhaha Luther Campbell, aka Luke Skyywalker, founder of Skyywalker Records as well as 2 Live Crew’s hype man, would have to deal with was a butting of heads with George Lucas over his short-lived stage name and label name. Initial copies of the album – including the CD copy I managed to snag – were pressed with the Luke Skyywalker logo, and illogical fears of someone buying a record on the Luke Skyywalker label and mistaking it for something Star Wars-related led to Lucas putting his foot down. (I think Public Enemy member Professor Griff’s solo album released earlier in 1990, ended up being one of the last releases with the original Skyywalker logo. Campbell simply renamed his company Luke Records after that.)
Then a pious born-again Christian crusader, American Family Association-affiliated attorney, and failed Florida attorney general candidate named Jack Thompson decided to start throwing around more shit than GG Allin, and 2 Live Crew and Luke Records were the targets of his fecal grenades. Why did he target Luke and 2 Live? The label, he happened to target because one of Luke’s other artists happened to release a 12″ single supporting Florida’s then-Attorney General Janet Reno for (amongst other things) prosecuting deadbeat dads. Reno had basically handed Thompson his head on a platter in the previous election, so Thompson decided to act the sore loser in more ways than one.
Obviously, he couldn’t go after the artist that had recorded the “Janet Reno” song, so he did a little “investigation” (ha!), scouring whatever other releases from the same label he could find and looking for something he could use to cause damage. 2 Live Crew and their uncensored musical comedy proved to be the perfect whipping boy.
Before anyone knew it, Thompson managed to start enough legal shit, after conferring with Florida’s then-governor Bob Martinez, that he was able to get a US district court judge to rule the album obscene and illegal to sell in Broward County, Florida. Two days after the ruling, a record store owner was arrested for selling a copy of the album to an undercover cop, and that weekend three members of 2 Live Crew were arrested for singing songs from the album at a club in the area.
The incident practically politicized Luther Campbell for life. Not long after the arrest, him and the rest of the band quickly recorded a politically-oriented album, Banned In The U.S.A., jointly released by Luke Records through a short distribution deal with Atlantic. Ever since then, on both 2 Live Crew albums, and even more so on his solo projects, Campbell would devote as much time to political commentary/satire as we would on the type of material that originally brought him to the dance. The band members and the label wouldn’t be the same afterward – there would be a breakup of the band, a short-lived reformation with a different member, another breakup, and – saddest of all – a bankruptcy reorganization for Luther Campbell that would suddenly result in his original record label being taken out from under him, master tapes and all but the label name, by a former employee that bought them out for a sum and started Lil’ Joe Records… which, in a bit of poetic justice, would not have one successful new act and has barely coasted by on the back catalog it owns.
The band members successfully fought the obscenity charges in court, as would the record store owner later in a separate trial, and the ban on selling As Nasty As They Wanna Be in certain parts of Florida would be overturned not long afterward.
All of the above was practically child’s play compared to the kind of environment SOPA and PIPA could have created… not to mention any other kind of similarly fucked-up legislation some easily-bribed right-wing prick and his lobbyist “friends” could dream up. Stay alert and aware, my friends… or we won’t even be able to write and read overviews like this!