This year marks the 25th anniversary of a legal obscenity battle in the music industry sparked in part by the release of 2 Live Crew’s album As Nasty As They Wanna Be. The outcome of the battle, which played out in the Supreme Court, ushered in the still-common “Parental Advisory” sticker that adorns any musical release featuring explicit content.
Speaking with Sway on Shade 45 recently, the ever-vulgar 2 Live Crew frontman Uncle Luke dished on the experience of fighting for artistic freedom, specifically the use of parody, and the continued relevance of the landmark Supreme Court decision musicians and comedians benefited from as a result.
“When I was sitting in the Supreme Court and I saw justices come from the back of a curtain,” he said in response to a question about one of his most significant memories in the industry. “My lawyer was sitting there arguing a case, [Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music], and parody. Then I’m looking at Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton file briefs against me. At that point I was like, ‘Man, this is wild. This is real.’ So to be in there and then to win that case. And then, at the same time, have people like Saturday Night Live and a whole other bunch of comedians file briefs on our behalf. Because if we would have lost the case then guys wouldn’t be able to imitate—do any more parodies in the country. So that was big for me. Of all the things, going to jail for the music.”
Before that Supreme Court decision protected artists in obscenity trials, a state court decision against 2 Live Crew in 1990 marked the first time a musical recording was ever officially declared obscene in the United States. The group, barred from performing the material in question, was arrested shortly after the decision came down when they protested the ruling by performing the songs anyway.
“At that time it was an attack on Hip Hop,” Luke recalled. “You had Tipper Gore, Al Gore’s wife, she had created this list, put me, Ice T, N.W.A., all kinds of different artists on that list along with a bunch of other Rock’n’Roll artists. They wanted basically to get rid of Hip Hop. My first album actually got banned by a federal judge, said it was explicit lyrics and it shouldn’t be sold. So we actually got it [taken] off the shelf so we ended up going to have to fight that.”