Listen to this: Song number one on 2 Live Crew's million-plus seller "As Nasty as They Wanna Be" sings the praise of a man acting "like a dog in heat," and taking pride in breaking the walls of a woman's vagina. Song number two again sings about tearing a woman open before having her "kneel and pray." Song number three raps about the joy of a man forcing anal sex on a woman and later making her lick feces.
In Florida a black judge and now a Hispanic judge have ruled that these songs violate that state's obscenity law, prompting a ban on the sale of the record and public performances of the songs in three counties in Florida. In its defense the group's lawyer, Bruce Rogow, argues that the critics may be racists who don't understand black music and that the songs are not meant to be read but danced to by adults who are in a partying mood and appreciate blue humor, and if people don't want to listen to it they don't have to buy it. Luther Campbell, the group's leader, also argues that the lyrics reflect life in America's black neighborhoods. Rogow's ultimate argument is that banning the record amounts to artistic censorship that has resulted in the arrest of record store owners and members of the band.
The lawyer's arguments are more interesting than the profane music, but it's all a fake.
Racism, partying and even censorship are not the issue here. 2 Live Crew's record is hot -- in fact getting hotter by all the talk of censorship in one state -- and the group is still touring and making plans for another record that Campbell boasts will be "even more obscene."
The real issue is hate-filled music that is abusive of women -- especially black women -- and an assault on its young audience's budding concepts of good sex, good relationships and good times. Campbell has said he won't let his 7-year-old daughter listen to the music, which routinely refers to women as "bitches."
Making 2 Live Crew champions in a censorship fight or heroes of black America's battle against racial oppression frees the group from responsibility for making millions of dollars by selling pornography to teenagers. The debate over 2 Live Crew is not the same as that surrounding Robert Mapplethorpe and government support for controversial art. 2 Live Crew is cultivating young audiences with the cheap thrill of sex, violence and gold chains.
"Censorship is a red herring in this case," says Jewelle Taylor Gibbs, author of "Young, Black and Male in America: An Endangered Species." "The real issue is values, quality of life. And the real question is how can the black community turn it around... .
"With this music," says Gibbs, "I worry most about our young black men who see 2 Live Crew's success and take them as role models -- negative, antisocial role models. Their music, their image, is based on degrading women. It extols and romanticizes violence and drugs. Now how can anyone say that is a productive social message for our black kids, especially young males struggling to learn how to become men?"
Gibbs and others concede that it is possible 2 Live Crew may be receiving tougher treatment from the judicial system than a white group would. But they argue that this case is not about race -- it is about obscenity. And, specifically, about the impact the group is having on young black people.
In a nation where about half of all black children live in single-parent, female-headed households, the worry is not far-fetched. In a society in which the black family is falling apart, in which teen pregnancy regularly ruins lives and in which the rate of poverty is steadily rising, the urgent concern is that 2 Live Crew is selling corruption -- self-hate -- to vulnerable young minds in a weak black America.
Dorothy Height, head of the National Council of Negro Women, is particularly concerned with the music's negative impact on young black females. Height says black women are looking for ways to protest the music without making it all the more risque' and attractive to rebellious young people.
"Generally speaking, I favor upholding anyone's First Amendment rights," Height says. "But this music is damaging because it is degrading to women to have it suggested in our popular music that they are to be abused, that it is fun to abuse us, that we like to be abused. ... This kind of exhibition at a time when all of us are struggling to strengthen our community and deal with problems hurts us badly.
"We are trying to build self-esteem in black women," she says. "Many of our young women do not have a lot of self-respect. ... We are tired of being put down."
Marilyn Kern-Foxworth, a professor of journalism at Texas A&M who studies blacks in media, believes 2 Live Crew's lyrics have not prompted a full-fledged opposition from black women because many still deny they are being victimized.
"Too many black women are still saying they see the music as about some other women, not them -- no man would treat them like that," she says. "There is a great sense of denial, even though they will tell you these things actually do occur and they complain the black male responsibility toward black women is diminishing."
2 Live Crew's style and message of abusing women is finding a larger audience than the lewd black comedy and music of the past, which was aimed at adult audiences in nightclubs. "The young people listen to them and idolize them," says Kern-Foxworth. Record store owners nationwide report that teenagers are the big buyers of 2 Live Crew. "I don't get adults buying this stuff," says a record store owner in Northeast Washington. "This is rap, man -- the kids get off on this."
"The music carries the words into their minds," says Kern-Foxworth. "And the music is now so widespread that the young people can't help but be influenced. They hold the musicians up on a platform so they can't help but want to be like them, to listen to them, to wear the clothes and the gold chains and to do what 2 Live Crew is singing about.
"We are talking about something deviant, aberrant and negative, and kids in the teenaged group do not have the mental ability, the maturity, to sort out what is good and bad for themselves. These musical idols have a tremendous influence."
The lack of social responsibility exercised by 2 Live Crew is not limited to glorifying abuse of black women. Although they don't sing about it, a simple look at the group in black baseball caps and layers of gold rope chains reveals their romanticization of the drug culture -- featuring the male drug dealer as the hero. The right to use and abuse women is part of being a successful drug dealer.
"The central question," says Stanley Crouch, the New York jazz critic and commentator, "is how the sadistic, misogynic, hateful music adds to the problematic attitudes already burdening the black lower class in America. Listen to it. Women are sex slaves. Materialism is God. The ideal of cool is street-corner narcissism. This is no true vision of black America or black culture, but a slice of the worst of a small element of black culture that is not emblematic of the black community at large."
In addition, Crouch argues that 2 Live Crew sells whites on the idea that black culture is a base, vulgar entity that starts and stops on a ghetto corner.
"The young people listening to this music don't perceive it as a joke, they don't see it as metaphors about relationships and life," he says. "They see it as reality-based -- a way to assert themselves and establish their identity. That is why it is obscene and threatening to black folks beyond what the judge had to say."