Does anyone remember the summer of '89? It was exactly two years ago that Miami rappers the 2 Live Crew released As Nasty as They Wanna Be, the group's third album and biggest hit, and also America's most controversial musical recording. It's old news now, the way censors, cops, and judges set out to keep the citizenry and the album apart; the trials, the TV coverage, the critical pontifications, the mass debate, all forgotten.
Well, not quite. An Ontario magistrate and other Canadians are just now discovering and dissing As Nasty as They Wanna Be - a Great White North record seller was convicted July 16 of obscenity charges for selling the ancient album. One can only wonder if the northerners are even aware that the Crew has released two LPs since Nasty.
Meanwhile, those among the living-in-1991 are looking forward to the se-se-sequel to the rap act's infamous prude freaker. The next long-player from the Crew, Sports Weekend, is due out September 17. The hip-hoppers' third major release since Nasty, not counting the soundtrack singles the homeboys have been dishing out this summer, will be, in a way, the legitimate follow-up to Nasty and a measure of the Crew's continued worth.
Banned in the USA, billed as a Luke Campbell solo album, followed Nasty as, essentially, a reactionary response to the orgy of censorship. Unfortunately, Banned was too much Luke, with the rest of the Crew subjugated. The results were tepid, but the release went gold nonetheless.
The humor of Luke's Banned was tainted both by the seriousness of attacks on America's Constitution and by the confusion as to whether Campbell was really laughing. Luke chose as thematic motif Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA, a bitterly angry protest often mistaken for patriotism. In both pose and lyric, Luke presented himself as martyr and active revolutionary, an oxymoronic stance if ever there was one. Sex - especially the way some people do it - made for far more fertile funny ground than did the deconstruction of democracy, and that's why Nasty remains the Crew's defining work.
The live album was a live rap album, the first of its kind. Talk about oxymoronic - live rap defeats the genre's greatest asset, studio technology and what it allows DJs to do with "instrumental" structures. Pioneering though it was, the group's in-concert disc isn't much to listen to. It has reportedly sold some 400,000 copies.
One good reason to believe Sports Weekend should augur a return to form is an advance copy of a single called "Pop That Pussy," which takes Luke, Brother Marquis, Fresh Kid-Ice, and Mr. Mixx back to familiar turf, while also signaling a continued progression in the quality of their recorded music. Remember, 2 Live Crew launched their career with the single "Throw the D," a groin-oriented dance song. It wasn't just dance music, it was built around an actual dance, just like the twist back in the olden days. "Pop" is another groin-oriented dance song, inspired during a trip to New Orleans, where a dance by that name is already making the club rounds.
"Pop That Pussy" achieves its success by highlighting each of the Crew's elements in its proper place. The cut of the verse raps - the timing of their delivery, the inflection and tone - is razor sharp. Marquis and Ice excel. Luke is brought in for the meaty choruses, the way it should be, and the result is a cooking hookfest that sticks to your ribs. Mr. Mixx's elaborate foundation - highlighted by a wild breakdown near the end - deserves nothing less than what the vocalists give it.
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You can almost envision what is to come when this single hits the market - hundreds of hip-hoppers packing the dance floor, thrusting pelvises, sweat flying, boundless energy unleashed. Mr. Mixx's mix is so hot you could light a crack pipe with it, Fresh Kid-Ice hypes his bits with more sizzle than ever, Brother Marquis puts that ultracharismatic spin on lines such as "I like the way you lick the champagne glass/It makes me want to stick my dick in your ass/So come on baby and pop it quick/I'll fall in love if you suck my dick." But it's Luke Campbell's devilishly infectious chorus hook, set up with a perfect tempo shift by Mixx, that provides the sticky icing on this delicious cake.
"Pop That Pussy" isn't the only good news breaking in the Luke Records camp. The Crew has two nonalbum singles out, both of them keepers. "Hangin' Out" is vintage Crew - though not as awesome as "Pop" - and can be found on the soundtrack to the ballyhooed new movie Boyz N the Hood. "Hangin' with the Homeboys & Dr. Feelgood," which is part of a movie that is on view only in New York at this point, is both retro (remember Run-D.M.C. meets Aerosmith?) and also progressive (reference Body Count featuring Ice-T and other rap-metal amalgams). Originally planned as a collaboration between the 2 Live Crew and Motley Crue (get it?), the song was reworked with local head bangers Triple XXX laying out the power-chord framework. It is remarkable not only as a hot rocker, but because the Crew, with the exception of an occasional riff, has always avoided the use of real musical instruments, in favor of musicologist and techno whiz Mr. Mixx's way with samples.
The ascension of Luke Records also continues on the business side. The hometown label, distributed by giant Atlantic, is birthing records the way rabbits issue bunnies. The label is broadening its base by releasing nonrap acts (such as Trinere) and also by signing non-Miami acts (such as New York femmes Jiggie Gee and Pre C.I.S.E. MC and Atlanta's True 2). The label has also hired a chief operating officer, Wayman "Slack" Johnson, whom Campbell calls "the piece of the puzzle that completes the picture."
But the big news is the impending Sports Weekend. The 2 Live Crew? They're back.