On June 6, 1990 Federal District judge Jose Gonzalez of Broward County in Florida ruled that 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be violated “community obscenity standards,” initiating a long legal battle over freedom of speech and expression in music.
After the release of As Nasty As They Wanna Be in February 1989, the office of Sheriff Nick Navarro basically initiated a witch hunt against 2 Live Crew, recording secret videos at 2 Live Crew concerts and arresting record store owners who sold the record.
Judge Gonzalez sided with Navarro’s office, claiming the album was “an appeal to dirty thoughts and the loins, not to the intellect and the mind,” which has to be as weak of a legal opinion as any.
As Nasty As They Wanna Be is 18 tracks of some pretty wildly, uhhh, detailed descriptions and depictions of sex, like on the legendary “Me So Horny.” (NSFW video by the way, if that was at all unclear).
But as 2 Live member Brother Marquis says on “Break it on down,”
“Our explicit lyrics tells it like it is
If you don’t like what I’m saying, get the fuck outta here!”
The 2 Live Crew trial became a symbolic battle between the hip-hop community, anti-obscenity activists like Tipper Gore, and anti-pornography advocates like Jack Thompson.
If 2 Live Crew’s record could be deemed obscene and made straight up illegal, that would’ve begun a pretty slippery legal slope, especially as hip-hop in the mainstream was still very much in its infancy.
Many saw the trial and the hysteria over 2 Live Crew’s lyrics as the product of thinly-veiled racism and overly conservative conceptions of sex and self-expression.
The late, great essayist and cultural critic Christopher Hitchins wrote in his Nation column of the ridiculousness of the situation,
“I don’t know the private thoughts of Sheriff Nick Navarro of Broward County, but I doubt they are worth a rat’s behind and see no reason why he should sublimate his own vagina-dreading disorders in this expensive and undemocratic fashion. The same applies to the preposterous Judge Jose Gonzalez Jr., who in ruling on Sheriff Navarro’s raid opined that the music appeals to ‘the loins, not to the intellect.’ In fact, I think they are a pair of racist shitheads who should be told to fuck right off.”
The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta overturned the decision less than a year later.
The defense called influential African-American professor Henry Louis Gates to take the stand on their behalf, testifying that 2 Live Crew had intrinsic artistic value.
Luther Campbell, aka Uncle Luke, claimed after the appellate ruling:
“What this does is let black folks know that the First Amendment really does apply to us. It says we can speak our minds the same way that white people do. This isn’t just a victory for 2 Live Crew. The entire music industry won big on this one.”
Uncle Luke claims to have spent over $1 million in legal fees over the course of the trial.
Shoutout to 2 Live Crew, who sacrificed a lot of success early in their career due to the controversy from their music, but ultimately fought an important battle for artists, specifically minority artists, across all genres.
If you’re trying to spice up your Tuesday afternoon, As Nasty As They Wanna Be will surely do that.