AS WE go to press there is a Sheriff’s Department search on inBroward County, Fla., for the two members of salacious rap group 2 Live Crew who eluded police arrest early June 10. The other members have already been charged with performing obscene material after their adults-only show in Hollywood, Fla., last Saturday night. June 7 a federal district judge in Florida ruled that their As Nasty as They Wanna Be was full of speech that’s not protected by the First Amendment, as the record “appealed to dirty thoughts and loins, not to the intellect of the mind.” The next day, a record-store owner in the area was arrested.
2 Live Crew are now the first (probably not the last) group to be declared legally obscene.
Some record stores in Los Angeles say that despite the tremors from Florida, they’re treating As Nasty as They Wanna Be like any other album: Aron’s Records sold out of it and is getting more from a distributor, and a guy at Rhino says he might “give you shit” about the record (bet they wouldn’t mind selling you the Butthole Surfers, though), but nobody there would keep you from buying it.
Yet even before 2 Live Crew was ruled obscene, one important local chain had acted to restrict its sales of the record. The day after 2 Live Crew was stripped of its First Amendment protection, Mitch Perliss, purchasing director for the 73-store L.A.-based Music Plus chain, made a statement. “Personally, I find [the ruling] appalling,” he told a Times reporter. “Officially, our policy is that we’re going to continue carrying the album. As long as our consumers want it, we will stock it.” What the company isn’t so anxious for you to know is that since early this year, the chain has quietly been enforcing an 18-and-older rule: to buy As Nasty as They Wanna Be you must prove to the person at the cash register that you aren’t a minor. The policy is to bar minors from buying any record — and there are hundreds — with a warning sticker.
“It’s a judgment call,” says Kevin Sutlick, spokesman for Music Plus. “The sticker says to us, ‘Use discretion.’ It helps our salespeople decide whether or not a record should be sold to some questionable people. Questionable meaning young-looking people… our people are using their discretion to quiz kids about their age.”
Last week, Music Plus hired an advertising agency to hype the chain’s first rap contest. Entries better keep it clean: right now, a 17-year-old rapper could have a hit on KDAY and not be able to buy it in a Music Plus store.
The 2 Live Crew case won’t be isolated, at least if the people responsible for it have their way. Jack Thompson, the Florida attorney who’s become a national hero to rock-haters for his stand against 2 Live Crew, may be the only one speaking the full truth here. “Every artist in America needs to read this opinion, particularly if they are involved in recording,” he told a Billboard reporter. “This opinion is a scholarly look at what they can get away with and what they can’t. People can’t be so self-expressive and self-absorbed that they ignore the community’s standards.” He told the reporter the Florida ruling against the Crew is “a psychological tool that can be used in any grand jury room in the U.S.”
You have to wonder how it’s sitting with Ice Cube, whose brand-new solo record, AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted, is grittier than 2 Live Crew, and without any of the Crew’s eye-rolling humor. It’s mean, and the stuff test cases are made of. “We’re gonna have problems with that one,” says Edward Kerby, president and general manager for rap radio station KDAY. “We’re gonna need some remixes on that sucker.”
“It’s a terrifying situation. When it first happened, a lot of us in the entertainment community never believed it would get this far,” says Bryan Turner, president of Priority Records, Ice Cube’s and NWA’s label. “And now, we’re all, like, ‘What? How could a judge listen to a record and make it a punishable offense to play it?’ I’ve decided to consider moving my business to Lithuania.”
© RJ Smith, L.A. Weekly, 21 June 1990