On the Beat solicited reaction to 2 Live Crew's new "Banned in the U.S.A." album from several parties connected to the ongoing controversy surrounding the group. Jack Thompson is the Florida attorney who first alerted the Broward Country Sheriff's Office and Gov. Bob Martinez about possible obscenity violations in the group's "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" album, which set off a chain of trials and arrests that continues today. Carlton Long, an assistant professor of political science at Columbia University, was an expert witness for 2 Live Crew in its obscenity cases in Florida and Alabama. Robert Perry, an adjunct assistant professor at New York Law School, was the principal consulting attorney in the Alabama case. In their own words:

Thompson: Burn It Buy 2 Live Crew's newest album, "Banned in the U.S.A.," and you get, absolutely free, a poster of Luke {Luther Campbell}, their lead rapper, giving "the finger" to all those who say the First Amendment does not protect obscenity but does protect its victims. U.S. Supreme Court: This finger's for you.

The new album, released last week, was promised to be "even worse -- more obscene" than the last one. Luke delivered. Oh, there's "social commentary" on the album, and the rappers' ACLU professor/lawyer will be paid to say this saves it from being ruled obscene. But the "social commentary" on this album is akin to a sociopath's discharging his AK-47 into a crowded schoolyard, with the machine gun bursts interrupted by PeeWee Herman's views on politics.

The schoolyard, with its children, is the target. A South Florida teenager was asked on the Miami ABC-TV affiliate's evening news why he bought the new 2 Live Crew album. He said: "They're mainly rapping about girls." Reporter: "What about girls?" Boy: "I'll put it this way -- they're taking advantage of them, and the guys like to hear that."

All Latin women are described on this album as whores and sluts in the middle of graphic descriptions and sounds of sodomizing and slapping "Juanita." A Latin boycott of stores selling this anti-Latin album is already underway in Miami, and the boycott is spreading nationally.

There is an anti-gang cut on the album in which gangs are advised to stop doing crimes that don't pay. Role-model Luke: "We do crime, but our crime pays."

What self-alleged profitable crime is on this album? Theft of the copyrighted "Donahue" show, operation of a pirate radio station, and of course the racist, pro-rape obscenity itself.

Is there a warning sticker on this album? Yes, there is. It warns parents that there's explicit sex on this album. That's it. Go to a record store and see how many kids are with their parents. Five months ago, 2 Live Crew and their clever lawyers staged a big press conference in Miami to announce that forevermore their albums would have an effective warning label, this one to restrain retailers: "Sell Only to 18 and Over." Where's this sticker, lawyers? It must be in the airplane hangar with Luke's private jet, which needs fuel paid for by album sales to kids.

The next Crew album arrives in September, and the Crew promises it will be "more obscene" than "Banned." It will be. This sewage will keep flowing out of Miami and into the brains of kids until federal and state prosecutors and angered parents go after the corporations that are criminally and commercially preaching to children and adults the gospel that women enjoy being raped. The district attorney in Dallas last Friday filed criminal obscenity charges against two corporate chains selling "Nasty" after it was ruled obscene. Will Luke Records and its huge New York-based distributor, Atlantic Records, be next?

Long and Perry: Buy It Some people don't care about the burning of the American flag. That is part of recent history. A few Americans wouldn't care if you burned a black man, literally. That is also part of American history. But what if a burnable man, such as Luther Campbell, is wrapped in the American flag? And what if he knows, as Americans know so profoundly, that he has a "right" to coexist on his own terms -- being peaceful, outlandish, outspoken and entrepreneurial? Almost as dangerous as teaching slaves to read, or telling colonists that individuals are born with inalienable rights. 2 Live Crew's "Banned in the U.S.A." is an ingenious work of American art and political speech in the "hip-hop" world called rap. It is fitting that the album cover is draped in stars and stripes.

Fortunately too, for America, the fire that has been placed under 2 Live Crew has only managed to crystallize the complex artistic, cultural and political expression that is present in all the works of this beleaguered rap group. There has been, to the relief of many, no compromise of the group's voice from its earlier three releases to its most recent "Banned" album, all done with knowledge and with a vengeance -- uncompromised and yet enjoying "crossover" success.

Politically speaking, the album is what theorists would call a "preemptive strike." The group jokes, for instance, about "350 men" who file suit against 2 Live Crew claiming to be "Martinez" in the song "{Expletive} Martinez." Most people who have followed the political saga of 2 Live Crew, and who are conversant with the names of elected officials, probably have a good idea of who "Martinez" is. The album also invites those who have been obsessed with the ridiculous undertaking of counting up the swear words in the group's albums to try and keep up as the lead rapper races to repeat one expletive. Rappers then laugh, indignantly inviting such critics to go back and count up those. Don't they know nothin' about repetition and call-and-response?

Culturally, 2 Live Crew continues to do what it has done historically: parody male and female relationships; speak jokingly and explicitly about sex, money and power; boast, play the dozens, jive on everybody in sight and speak in the voice that is unflinchingly and outrageously its own. They go further, also, to question people's cultural biases. Ruled obscene by a Cuban-American judge and widely criticized by a Cuban-American governor, they include a rap laced with Spanish repartee. Then they ask explicitly, and in English, would this be declared obscene?

A lot of heat and misunderstanding is likely to ensue, especially since many barriers make it difficult (although not impossible) for some people to get their heads and hearts around 2 Live Crew. Ideologies shaped by age, socioeconomic class, religion, geographic location and ethnicity are but a few of the factors that help people to understand, or make them feel estranged. Add to these elitist notions of culture and personal dogmas about language use, and we have a lot to work through. Given certain unflagging stereotypes, it is easy to see how some would bar a group of young black men from talking about sex, even jokingly, or bemoan their getting rich by being "uppity." There was a time, of course, when such men were burned for the same.

This group, then, does all Americans a great service in keeping alive the sense of individual rights. With its defiance, independence and capitalistic spirit, 2 Live Crew is, like it or not, as American as apple pie. They are prospectively good choices for ambassadors, to join the ranks of Louis Armstrong and Bob Hope, given their American spirit. It is, in the end, simply fitting that we see, against the august backdrop of the U.S. flag and Constitution, these gentlemanly American products proudly "giving the finger" to those who refuse to do the work to try to understand them, their art and their lives.