October 20

This Day in History

Crime

Oct 20, 1990:

2 Live Crew members are acquitted of obscenity charges

Three members of the rap group 2 Live Crew are acquitted of obscenity charges in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Luther Campbell, Chris "Fresh Kid Ice" Wong Won, and Mark "Brother Marquis" Ross had faced a year in prison for performing their songs, which were considered to be sexually prurient and obscene, at a club in Hollywood, Florida. Their June 10 concert appearance and subsequent arrest capped a remarkable week in which a federal judge ruled that their latest album was obscene, and a local record store owner was arrested for selling it to an undercover police officer.

Police officers who were in the audience when 2 Live Crew performed at Club Futura on June 10 had brought along a recorder, but they did a poor job of preparing the case for prosecutors. During the two-week trial in October, the tape recording was found to be practically inaudible, and the lyrics were indecipherable. When a deputy futilely tried to interpret the tape, the jurors only laughed and shook their heads.

Attacking the assumption that their songs were obscene, 2 Live Crew's attorneys introduced testimony from a noted music expert and an English professor to claim that the sexually charged songs were actually parodies of black stereotypes and were intended to make people laugh. "Of all the things in this world, sex is the one that all of us do," said defense attorney Bruce Rogow during closing arguments. "But if you don't say it quite the right way, you can get in big trouble with the state."

The jury's decision to acquit came as a slight surprise since record store owner Charles Freeman had been convicted earlier in the month for selling copies of 2 Live Crew's As Nasty as They Wanna Be. It wasn't until May 1992 that an appellate court overruled the original finding that the album was obscene. Luther Campbell claimed that he had spent more than $1 million in legal fees fighting the First Amendment battle.

The publicity from the trial prompted a national debate on what type of music was appropriate for children, and the U.S. Senate even held a hearing on music lyrics. Major record companies responded by voluntarily agreeing to place stickers on albums containing explicit lyrics.

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