Here must be one of the most topical recordings ever made. On June 6, the 2 Live Crew’s previous album, As Nasty as They Wanna Be, was banned as obscene in Broward County, Fla.; members of the group were arrested there when they performed songs from it. On July 24, the Crew — now operating under the name of its founder and lead rapper, Luther Campbell, a.k.a. Luke — released Banned in the U.S.A.: The Luke LP, Featuring The 2 Live Crew, full of songs about the banning, interspersed with mock news bulletins. The cover shows Luke standing in front of a giant American flag, and displays the entire text of the First Amendment. Inside is a foldout poster, with a pictorial message aimed at those who don’t believe in freedom of speech: Luke is giving them the finger.
Being banned, in other words, hasn’t exactly dampened his spirits. One song, ”Arrest in Effect,” recounts the tale of his capture by police, and unfolds over music that’s solemn, even bleak. But the title cut, ”Banned in the U.S.A.” — based musically on Bruce Springsteen’s ”Born in the U.S.A.” and already a Top 40 hit — sounds just as lively kicking off the album as it did when it was first released as a single.
There’s also a track called ”F–k Martinez” that shows just how undaunted Luke and his boys can be. It’s one of the dumber songs you’ll ever hear: For five minutes Luke and his gang shout obscenities at ”Martinez” (Florida Governor Bob Martinez, who asked the state prosecutor to determine whether 2 Live Crew had violated state obscenity laws), and ”Navarro” (Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro). Luke also has a gratuitous, adolescent suggestion for Martinez’s wife.
That, of course, brings us to the explicit sexual talk that got 2 Live Crew banned in the first place. Politics really does make strange bedfellows; if the group hadn’t been banned, I’d have started this review by deploring its sexism, instead of celebrating its defiance. References to parts of women’s bodies flow freely from Luke’s lips, especially in such songs as ”Strip Club” and ”Face Down A- Up” (that, strangely, is the way the album prints it).
And what stands out especially strongly on this album is Luke’s homophobia. In two interludes between songs, members of the group speak in mincing voices to parody gay men. Fellow rappers Salt-N-Pepa and Kid ‘N Play — who collaborated on an antisexist song earlier this year and criticized 2 Live Crew in an interview — are damned in ”I Ain’t Bullsh-tin’ Part 2” as, respectively, ”dykes” and ”faggots.” It’s hard to know which is worse, the epithets, the utter childishness of the response, or the spectacle of the 2 Live Crew attacked by censors, then turning around and hurling abuse at people they themselves dislike.
Luckily, there’s more on the album. ”Bass 9-1-7,” using recorded calls to a radio talk show, demonstrates how strongly blacks in Florida believe that 2 Live Crew was censored above all because its members are black. And throughout the album we hear about Luke as an entrepreneur, a convincing demonstration that even the poorest blacks can lift themselves up by their own efforts. To some extent, Luke and his colleagues step out from the glare of their sleazy reputation and emerge as real people. The song about the arrest, for instance, sounds like a living memory, not a presentation carefully sculpted for maximum political effect.
But dumb, offensive dirty talk is part of the group’s reality, too. Considered as a whole, ”Banned in the U.S.A.” — which doesn’t generate even the grotesquely exaggerated erotic heat of ”As Nasty as They Wanna Be” — gets a low grade: C-
Banned in the U.S.A.: The Luke LP, Featuring The 2 Live Crew