"Life is life. There's only X amount of time to shine," says Chris Wongwon, a.k.a. Fresh Kid Ice, a.k.a. Chinaman, on a recent Wednesday afternoon. The cofounder of notorious Miami bass group 2 Live Crew is wearing a black hat emblazoned with "305," a black Levi's T-shirt, black denim shorts, and black Nike Air Force Ones. We are sitting in the offices of the "official 2 Live Crew headquarters," in a strip of warehouses in Miami Lakes, and Chris, as he prefers to be called, is outlining their comeback plan.
You see, although most people remember Luther Campbell as the face of the group, he was actually a later addition, not 2 Live Crew's backbone, his former bandmates contend. In the early Eighties, Chris — along with David "Mr. Mixx" Hobbs and Yuri "Amazing Vee" Vielot — founded the group while serving on an Air Force base in California.
"Everything that we did was poppin' in Miami," he says. "We had recorded 'Throw That Dick' and 'Ghetto Bass' [released as singles in 1986], which became big hits in the clubs down here. We did a lot of shows in Miami, and we got a call from Luther Campbell while we were still in the military. So when we got out, it was a natural thing to move down here. Miami has a different vibe, and there's so many types of music coming out of here."
2 Live Crew
At the Money$hot first anniversary party. Thursday, July 3. The Vagabond, 30 NE 14th St., Miami. Doors open at 10 p.m. Tickets cost $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Ages 21+ with ID. 305-379-0508, www.thevagabondmiami.com
"Miami itself was strong in music back in the Seventies, with groups like KC and the Sunshine Band," says Mark "Brother Marquis" Ross, who's sitting next to Chris. Mark replaced Amazing Vee in 1986, when he left the group due to military commitments. Today Mark is sporting Japanese denim pants with a matching jacket, a Prada hat, and Oakley sunglasses.
"The South didn't have rappers before 2 Live Crew," Chris continues. "Flo Rida was my hype man awhile ago; that 's when I was doing the Chinaman solo thing. Back when we were coming up, we were fighting for the South. Now the South is holding its own. The hottest rappers right now are all from the South. It makes you proud."
But as much as 2 Live Crew broke ground, Luther Campbell, known as Uncle Luke, eventually stole the show. And, according to Chris, he also stole some serious bread — when Atlantic Records advanced Campbell $5 million to distribute the group's music through his imprint, Luke Skyywalker Records. "It was the first distribution deal that any rap label had," Chris says. "He was supposed to split it with us, but he overextended himself. He built houses, nightclubs, and stuff like that. Luke Skyywalker Records took a big setback after George Lucas sued him for copyright infringement [over the name]."
"Look at all the big songs that 2 Live Crew had," Mark says. "Luke was just the hype man. The group was not Luke. He is nowhere on the hits. Look at all the songs. He wasn't a rapper; he just chanted the hooks to get crowd participation. He wanted us to do the music for his upcoming reality show, but he wants to call it Luke Featuring 2 Live Crew."
"Lots of times the group got categorized by Uncle Luke, with some of the ways that he handled business, how he did stuff onstage, and so forth," Chris adds. "We as rappers were doing one thing, and he was trying to take it to the extreme."
The conversation changes tone when they discuss their activities in recent years. Mark takes off his sunglasses and says, "Well, you know ... I went to church for a minute. That was cool. God is good. I always had a little sense of church in me, from my grandmother. So I went back to church for a while, and that was helpful.
"I'm just looking for a little balance in life," he continues, "trying to get myself in tune spiritually. Humble down and get back into the business for a second time. Not to be so wild at it, but get a little more reserved."
"We still do crazy things," Chris insists, "but we are getting a little older. I have a daughter; he has a daughter. When you get older and more mature, you look at things differently. We can't get wild out on the road no more with girls and stuff like that."
"We wanna come back. Our music is historical," Mark says. "It's the only music that was ever banned in this country. 2 Live Crew is the only musical group that had a case go to the Supreme Court. We fought for rap music. We went to jail for this music."
"Rap music has a very short life, but 2 Live Crew is party music. It's fun and it lasts," Chris adds. "It's like when they had Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show; girls went wild because he was shaking his hips. We were arrested for expressing ourselves. Some people took it the wrong way. A bunch of people got arrested in different parts of the country for selling the album [As Nasty as They Wanna Be]."
We walk across the parking lot to their recording studio, where the pioneers of Miami bass play tracks from their upcoming album, We Wanna Be Heard. "We've been working with Mannie Fresh, E-40, Too Short, and ICP on the new album," Mark says. "We want to become a success story where it's like, we done it again." He pauses as classic ghetto bass pumps from the studio speakers. "I don't think any other group in hip-hop has done that. Hopefully we'll be the first."
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"We're getting our feet wet again. One of the key things that we wanted to make sure of is that we stay current with our lyrics and music," Chris says. "We are considered old-school. Songs like 'Me So Horny' and 'Fuck Martinez' are the past and we want to move forward. We can't go back to sounding like that."
Still, the group hasn't been completely in hiding. In the past couple of years, the duo has performed as 2 Live Crew (they own the rights to the name) at unlikely local venues such as Studio A and Churchill's. "We come out there and do our thing. We play all the old hits and prepare them for what's coming," Chris says.
"It's a different time right now, but for us it's the same thing, just a new day and a new generation in music," Mark adds. "The fans have been asking for a 2 Live album for years. It would be a blessing if it takes off and gets major."
Listen to excerpts of this interview in the latest installment of Jason Handelsman's ongoing webcast series, PrunkTV. Also, view the complete texts of decisions in 2 Live Crew's various court cases.