ODDLY ENOUGH, given the unprecedented barrage of anxiety Luther Campbell’s foul mouth has inspired, the 2 Live Crew doesn’t have a remarkably inventive mind forsin. The Crew has almost invariably proved most entertaining when it has cleaned up its act for radio, as in the hit version of ‘Me So Horny’, wherein Luther Campbell (known as Luke Skyywalker before George Lucas sued) primed his bass thump with cryptic Delta-blues-style fear and loathing, likening his love-’em-and-leave-’em self to a dog and to Georgie Porgie.
On Banned in the U.S.A., Luke is smart enough to limit himself to just two out-and-out gratuitous dirty jokes — ‘Strip Club’ and ‘Face Down Ass Up’ — just enough to remind us what started this mess. The album mostly deals with the freedom to sing dirty songs in public; maybe half of the tracks refer directly or indirectly to 2 Live’s legal problems. ‘Arrest in Effect’ uses a Screamin’ Jay Hawkins dirge to back a soap opera about being detained after a show; ‘F**k Martinez’ is a jolly call-and-response shoutfest, full of primal chants and counter-rhythmic electro-claps and dirty dozens heaved at legal adversaries. And ‘Banned in the U.S.A.’, released as a single on the Fourth of July, castigates white-collars as if Luke were Jimi Hendrix in ‘If Six Was Nine’, defends the rights of bigots and communists and purple people and then turns into a piece of spoken-word patriotism as corny as Byron MacGregor’s ‘Americans’, all atop tunes lifted from ‘Yankee Doodle’, ‘America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)’ and ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ That it’s so self-serving only makes the song more absurd: As usual, this band is funnier when it tries to be serious than when it tries to be funny.
Banned in the U.S.A. has a couple of potential hits in ‘Do the Bart’ and ‘Man, Not a Myth’. ‘Mamolapenga’, with bilingualism, Hispanic porn and samples from Santana’s ‘Oye Como Va’, might actually sound sexy on Top Forty. But in its own way this is a very avant-garde record, a self-contradictory mosaic after the manner of Public Enemy — eleven of the twenty-five tracks last less than a minute. The longest cut, ‘I Ain’t Bullsh**tin’ Part 2′, a rambling stream of drunken dream-time consciousness that opens by questioning Salt-n-Pepa’s sex habits and then descends toward Gomorrah, has the off-the-cuff bitterness of mid-Seventies Richard Pryor or late Sly Stone.
On the cover of the CD, Luke poses in front of Old Glory, his hand down his Miami Hurricanes underwear and the First Amendment to his right, echoing the jackets of both Born in the U.S.A. and There’s a Riot Goin’ On. He may be a sexist bastard, but Luke has had greatness thrust upon him, and he has every intention of remaining a free man.
© Chuck Eddy, Rolling Stone, 6 September 1990