I had not given the rap group 2 Live Crew a second thought. But when a U.S. district judge in Florida banned their music by characterizing it as an "an appeal to dirty thoughts and loins," I wanted to hear more.
Yesterday, I did. And I was shocked. How could Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. turn these lame excuses for artists into martyrs for the First Amendment?
After hearing about 15 minutes of unoriginal and at times outright ripped-off rhythms cluttered with soiled words, I had to agree with critics of Gonzalez that if 2 Live Crew turns you on, you'd better head for the Johns Hopkins sexual disorders clinic, quick.
Obscene? That's far too dignified. 2 Live Crew is just plain raunchy, and their use of juvenile gross- out techniques do not hide the fact that the group has no talent.
In the judge's opinion, the descriptions and depictions on the album, "As Nasty as They Wanna Be," could not be considered "comedic art." True enough. Ridiculous is more like it.
But the fact remains: Before Gonzalez and Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro stuck their noses into the music industry, the marketplace was doing more to clean up the 2 Live Crew act than police ever could.
Only after their song "Me So Horney" had been sanitized by the rappers did it receive the radio air time that pushed it into the Top Ten. But despite that one-hit wonder, the sale of the uncut album had virtually ground to a halt before the Gonzalez ruling.
"The record has been out for about a year, but sales were way down," David Calvin, an employee at Tower Records, said yesterday. "Now people are calling to see if we have it."
"We have been sold out and didn't plan to restock unless it got hot again," said Lila Jones, manager of King Record Store in Southeast Washington. "Until this controversy began, they were just another rap group."
One effect of Gonzalez's "probably obscene" ruling is that two members of the rap group and a record store owner have been arrested. But this has only added to the notoriety of the group.
Said an obviously pleased Bruce Rogow, attorney for 2 Live Crew: "I think the demand for the record is going to be extraordinary."
The attempt to ban 2 Live Crew has not only backfired in that regard, it also gave rise to a demeaning racial defense that could encourage other groups to become even raunchier.
For example, in attempting to prove that 2 Live Crew has "artistic value," Rogow said, "Put in its historical context, their music is a novel and creative use of sound and lyrics. Trouble is, you have a bunch of white folk who don't understand the culture."
To imply that sexual pathology and abuse of women is somehow black culture should be reason enough to ban Rogow. Far from representing black culture, 2 Live Crew is an alienated, cultureless gang who celebrate having nothing going for them.
Even more unfortunate is the corroboration of Rogow's ignorance by Marvin P. Dawkins, a professor in the University of Miami's Afro American studies program. He told the Fort Lauderdale News that he thinks Gonzalez's ruling "sends a signal to the black underclass that says, 'See, this is what happens to you when you use stilted English, or when you engage in the cultural traits of the underclass.' "
The perverted acts described by 2 Live Crew are no more cultural traits of poor black people than they are of any racial or economic group. And speaking of class, it should be noted that most of these rappers are the children of middle-class blacks acting out a fantasy of being streetwise.
The 2 Live Crew album has nothing to do with black culture, but it does speak volumes about the warped attitudes of its members toward women. On the cover of their cassette, one of them actually pays tribute to "God" and "mother." Yet, the songs on the album demonstrate an absence of spirituality as well as a fear and hatred of women.
In his legal opinion, Gonzalez wrote of 2 Live Crew, "The specificity of the descriptions makes the audio message analogous to a camera with a zoom lens, focusing on the sights and sounds of various sex acts."
Truth is, that statement has more appeal to "purient interest" than the songs he criticizes.
To be sure, the music of 2 Live Crew is disgusting. Licking a sex partner -- here, there and everywhere -- the way the Crew raps about, is unquestionably in bad taste. But in the end, all Gonzalez had to do was ignore them, and 2 Live Crew would have died under the weight of its own absurdity.