Going to hell with 2 Live Crew
The boom-boom music courses through Finley’s, a large, multipurpose entertainment hall in High Point replete with four pool tables, several monitors tuned to sporting events and a short platform around the corner of the bar. I nurse a Heineken, my temples pounding as I take stock of a grizzled, alcohol-damaged couple grinding on the dance floor.
The fellow sitting next to me at the bar looks appalled when I ask if he’s here to see 2 Live Crew. A construction worker from Randleman, he says he might end up reporting this performance at the Baptist church he attends tomorrow morning. He says he’s here to see an old friend from Seagrove, a woman with whom he attended school, and probably won’t stay much longer.
‘“You wouldn’t want your mom to see that, would you?’” he asks. ‘“If I caught my son or daughter listening to that, yeah, I’d bust their butts.’”
I’m starting to feel hypocritical as I venture a half-hearted argument about free speech, personal choice and self-possessed decisions about individual morality. With mild horror, it dawns on me that in less than 12 hours I’ll be dressed in an alb and carrying a large cross at the head of the procession at my church, where I serve as an acolyte. How do I personally process this assignment? I mean, you can take all the notes you want, but unless you’re lying to yourself I don’t believe you can go to a 2 Live Crew show and be merely a disinterested observer.
My mind is furiously manufacturing excuses. It’s just sex. It’s healthy, human behavior. It’s good fun. You take it in with good humor and compassion. The main thing is you don’t let it distract you from your spiritual path.
But after my Saturday night sinning and Sunday morning salvation, thumbing through my copy of the Good News Bible to seek scriptural justification for my position, there in 2 Peter 2:14 the rebuke is plainly written: ‘“They want to look at nothing but immoral women; their appetite for sin is never satisfied. They lead weak people into a trap. Their hearts are trained to be greedy. They are under God’s curse!’”
So just before midnight Big Ed, the group’s corpulent dreadlocked DJ, announces in a booming voice: ‘“Get ready for this f***in’ freak fest. Get ready for the original nasty boys from Miami.’” And Fresh Kid Ice, AKA the Chinaman, saunters onto the stage, an atrophied left arm encased in a black brace hanging limply at his side. He’s followed by the MC known as Fish n Gritz, practically anonymous behind wrap-around sunglasses and a white baseball cap with trailing sun flaps. One person absent from the stage is the group’s legendary front man, Luther Campbell, who remains a renowned hip hop impresario in south Florida.
There’s no way to describe what follows with any discretion. Other MCs have bragged about sexual prowess or displayed hoes at their side as signifiers of their overall status. 2 Live Crew put raunch and sexual indulgence front and center in their presentation. Excise that and there’s not much to write about.
Grandmaster Flash inaugurated a dazzling style of turntable artistry during hip hop’s initial explosion with Melle Mel’s trenchant reportage on inner-city despair in ‘“The Message,’” demonstrating the lyrical density of the form; Run DMC led a stunning mainstream crossover; and Public Enemy escalated the political militancy. When 2 Live Crew broke into the national consciousness in 1989 with their single, ‘“Me So Horny,’” they laid waste to the evolutionary brilliance of the past decade, resorting to booming beats and crude sex raps. But when a federal appeals court overturned a local ruling that deemed 2 Live Crew obscene and made it illegal to sell their music, the group earned a lasting place in both hip-hop and First Amendment history, and the right to be as nasty as they wanted to be.
2 Live Crew also famously won the right to be unoriginal in the Supreme Court. And tonight they exercise it by blatantly sampling the oldies song ‘“Do Wah Diddy’” and the Kinks’ ‘“All Day and All of the Night,’” although the sampled dialogue of the Vietnamese prostitute from Full Metal Jacket which comprises the chorus of ‘“Me So Horny’” somehow doesn’t make the cut.
There’s not much point in analyzing 2 Live Crew’s lyrics. A typical line is, ‘“Drop your drawers and open your legs up wide,’” and in one of the group’s more egalitarian moments, the MCs lead the male and female members of the audience, respectively, in a chant calling for women to perform oral sex on men, and men to return the sexual favor.
The immediate impression of a 2 Live Crew show is that it’s more like a soundtrack to a sex show than obscene art; only the hype men get top billing instead of the dancers. There are also two handlers onstage, presumably to intervene if audience members become over-excited by the dancers. Through most of the show the two ladies, both clothed in tight shorts and matching ‘USA’ midriff-baring tops, grind onstage, hoist their behinds in the air and spread their legs.
One of the ladies, who introduces herself as ‘“porn star Chocolate Stallion,’” possesses an enormous bottom shimmering with cellulite and has rolls of fat hanging over her waistline. The other dancer, whose stage name is Via Vegas, has long narrow limbs and a flat stomach, a limber figure that allows her to stretch almost acrobatically.
For most of the show audience members of both sexes and all sizes take part in the bacchanalia onstage, receiving lap dances from Chocolate and Via, grinding and smacking each other’s bottoms. It’s far from a VIP party, and the two mismatched dancers conspire to relax the inhibitions of the flabbiest and homeliest of the audience.
After about an hour the show abruptly ends and the handlers hustle the dancers out the back door. Before getting directions from one of the bar patrons, Fish proudly notes that 2 Live Crew has done 120 shows this year, and is off to Canada in December ‘— a place where their nostalgia act goes over big.
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