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'If Andrew Dice Clay, Eddie Murphy & Richard Pryor Started a Rap Group with Dolemite': An Oral History of 2 Live Crew's 'Me So Horny'

It was the song that put the Miami bass group on the map, and explicit lyrics on trial.

The year 1989 marked a time of massive upheaval: The Berlin Wall came down and and a Chinese protester was mowed down by a tank during the Tiananmen Square protests. The seeds for the World Wide Web were planted and the Exxon Valdez oil spill dumped nearly 250,000 gallons of crude into Alaska's Prince William Sound. George H.W. Bush was sworn in as president and the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Or, if you were a fan of booty-shaking videos and speaker-rumbling Miami bass hip-hop, the top headline was 2 Live Crew releasing "Me So Horny." It was the year the previously little-known group, started by DJ Mr. Mixx (born David Hobbs) and the late rapper Fresh Kid Ice (born Chris Wong-Won) accidentally blew up into First Amendment rhyme warriors, thanks to an admittedly crude, rude song based on a sample from a Stanley Kubrick film, and lyrics so raunchy they would make your pervy uncle blush.

What the South Florida group could not have known is that their jokey jam about late night lust -- whose sampled "Me so horny, me love you long time" hook was lifted from a throwaway line in Kubrick's acclaimed 1987 Vietnam War movie Full Metal Jacket -- would spark a legal battle that would change their lives, elevating what should have been a fluky regional hit into a national hip-hop party anthem that endures to this day.

"I believe that it's like a test of time based off of people's sexual feelings, and the one thing about our music: It don't matter what's going on, once you hear a few notes it just changes your whole mental attitude," says Mixx, the mastermind behind the creation of the song. "You get into that twerking attitude and it can change the atmosphere at the drop of a dime."

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
2 Live Crew photographed on Jan. 30, 1989.

The track's outrageoulsy frank sexual lyrics ("I won't tell your mama if you don't tell your dad/ I know he'll be disgusted when he sees your pussy busted/ Won't your momma be so mad if she knew I got that ass?") and unforgettable sampled hook blew them up nationally, but proved to be a mixed blessing for the group. The R-rated verses propelled "Horny" to a No. 26 peak on the Billboard Hot 100 by Nov. 18, 1989, amid a 30-week chart run, as well as a No. 1 spot on the Rap Songs chart for four weeks. By Dec. 1989, the RIAA had certified the song Gold in the U.S. and the As Nasty As They Want to Be album was certified Platinum around the same time. And, in a testament to the longevity of what many considered a novelty group, Nasty has moved 559,000 copies in the U.S. since 1991, according to Nielsen Music, and 447,000 downloads since Nielsen began tracking digital songs in 2003.

That success, however, was accompanied by legal hassles that turned the group -- which Mixx proudly likens to a comedy act more than a serious rap crew -- into unlikely First Amendment poster children. A few months after its release, Jack Thompson, a Florida-based lawyer and activist focused on fighting the marketing of adult entertainment to children, began alerting local authorities about "Horny," which he saw as a pornographic work being peddled to teens. "I sent the lyrics to all 67 sheriff's offices in the state of Florida, asserting that this album -- which had already gone platinum -- had a huge number of sales to kids under 18," says Thompson today.

When a U.S. district court judge ruled the album obscene, it marked the first time a musical recording had ever been tagged that way by a federal judge in the United States. In addition, in the summer of 1990, a record retailer was arrested for selling it and the group -- minus Mixx, who did not rap -- was arrested at Hollywood, Florida's Futura nightclub on obscenity charges, just days after the obscenity ruling, for performing songs from Nasty. The resulting trial put a blinding spotlight on the culture wars of the late 1980s, with the group eventually getting acquitted and the obscenity ruling overturned.

It was a tumultuous journey sparked by a song that Mixx says was just trying to make people smile by acknowledging what many of them were already thinking anyway. "It was just about a guy sitting at home with his dick hard, flipping through channels and wondering if there was girl he could catch up with," he summarizes.

Billboard spoke to Mixx and some of the other key players to break down the "Horny" history of the song.

[Editor's note: Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell, who became the public face of the group as their profile rose during the trail -- but who does not rap on "Me So Horny" -- declined repeated requests for comment for this story. Fellow member Brother Marquis could not be reached for comment.]

Courtesy Photo
         

"It was a happenstance record"

DJ Mr. Mixx, 2 Live Crew co-founder, producer: The funniest thing about ["Me So Horny"] is that it was a happenstance record. I already had the track and I was getting songs ready for the album [As Nasty As They Want To Be] and we were in D.C. doing some music with Trouble Funk for the last single from the Move Something album. I came back to the hotel with Mark [Brother Marquis] and Full Metal Jacket was on, and that part came on in the movie and Mark said, "We gotta do something with that!"

At that time, movies weren't as readily available and I don't even know if DVDs were happening, so I had to wait for the movie to come back on TV again, record it to VHS tape, and then take the tape and the VHS machine into the studio to dissect the dialogue. In order to get the music synchronized, I had to chop up [the dialogue] into bits and pieces and put it in time to the speed of the track, so it doesn't just run through like a person would see it in the movie.

Ted Stein, recording engineer, lead engineer on As Nasty As They Wanna Be: For one thing, David [Mixx] is a friggin' genius. He was the driving force behind this. When we were working on "Me So Horny" and the samples, he brought in a plastic bag with a bunch of VHS tapes. We had this TV/VHS combo in the studio, and normally when you record something like this, you would want to record directly into the console or a sampler. But we couldn't, because of the hum and noise I couldn't get rid of, so I stuck a microphone up to the speaker of the TV and recorded it that way. I thought, "This will be good enough to get something, and when we do it for real we'll get it another way." Dave was like, "Whatever." And that's the take we used.

Ron Taylor, As Nasty/'Horny" co-engineer/mixer: I was on the road with the Bellamy Brothers, a country act, and I wanted to get off the road, so another engineer [Stein] asked me to come down to help on what was a rather ambitious project: a double-album with a clean and dirty version. I worked on the record for months -- and I'm a musician and engineer who'd been on both sides of the glass for a long time, but I didn't really understand it when I took the gig. I thought, "How did they do this?" I didn't really know how they made a record without players. I'd never worked with samples before, so it was an education. Hobbs had a great record collection and a great feel for this stuff.

Mixx: That was my whole thing. I was the producer of all the music and my sources came from all kinds of things, whether it was a piece of a movie, or a comedy piece from an old record, anything... they had these blooper records back then, and I had a whole entourage of records to pull from. It was our third album, so at that point I was so used to getting whatever footage I could get from anything.

The other sample is Mass Production's [1979 single] "Firecracker," which was a hit when I was a kid in high school in California. A lot of records I messed with were either part of my childhood growing up or my teenage years... like Van Halen ["Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love" sampled on "The Fuck Shop"] on As Nasty As They Want To Be. I was raised in a black area, but we moved to a white area [Santa Ana, California], where the gang of white kids in their low-rider Nissan trucks were playing the Police, Van Halen and Kiss, so I was exposed to rock records.

"Firecracker" was a big disco dance record, and the Full Metal Jacket clip just grabbed me for how animated the girl was -- saying "me so horny" -- and it was very hard at that time to get girls to come into a studio and act raunchy. You also didn't really hear Asian women at that time being bold and overt.

Courtesy of DJ Mr Mixx
                       

Stein: The thing that struck me, even though I was not into the music that much, was the groove, which was just humongous. David's sense of what will move people both emotionally and physically was huge. He's a first-class musician in a very non-traditional sense.

Taylor: It made total sense once he started playing it with the track. The best part was he played it live! He [Hobbs] hit the pad to trigger the speech with the prostitute live, and then he overdubbed that onto the track he'd already recorded and we edited it down. Then, he had "me love you long time" on another pad and he triggered that, which was fucking amazing. And he'd fly in these drum fills and other samples and quotes.

Rick Williams, Mass Production (sampled vocals/drums): The first time I heard it ["Me So Horny"] my nephew sent it to me. I thought it was cool. Having your song sampled is a good way to be heard, so that others will like your music too. We were always associated with the song, but due to contractual crap, we as a group were unable to work together [again]. A few years back, six of us decided to get back together and start playing again and "Me So Horny" became part of OUR show!

Mixx: Luke wasn't a musician, so it was just Marquis and Kid Ice [on the track] -- Luke was more of a concert promoter. At the time no record company would take us, so by default we just had to do it ourselves. The group, especially Mark, were elated by the song.

Taylor: It was the early days of sampling and I was digging it. I consider the time I spent with those guys a really big part of my musical education. I would have never gotten to that on my own. It was like making a regular record, but instead of a band or rhythm section it was a freakin' box David programmed... he had a main loop, then he'd paste a drum and snare in to reinforce it, then an 808 bass kit, an 808 hi-hat that gave it that Miami bass sound.

Trick Daddy, friend, fan, fellow South Florida rapper: I first heard that song at the jam -- concerts with big speakers lined up on street corners where I grew up -- and you could hear it a mile away. At that time, people weren't accepting too much music from the South, let alone Miami -- they considered it all booty shaking or bass music. To have those 808 drums behind those samples and with those fine women in the video? And added in the explicit content in the music, it was like, "Wow!" I was 14 then, so that was my prime era.

Alan Light, former Rolling Stone reporter, "Debatable" co-host, SiriusXM's Volume: At that point, hip-hop was so New York dominated and there was an L.A. contingent that was rising, but not yet risen, and anything else was weird and out in the hinterlands. "What do you mean they’re making new hip-hop records in Atlanta and Miami?" That sounded kind of crazy.

Trick Daddy: And they were representing Miami, with their MU jackets, the cars with the bass, the grills... add that nobody would respect us in the music game then, and then they were being banned in our neighboring county? That made them national sensations.

Jim McCarty, former Miami Herald reporter: They didn't play it on the radio, but someone at work -- I worked out of the Ft. Lauderdale bureau -- brought it in and played the cassette and we said, "That's awesome! These guys are great!" You'd see Luke on the news, he'd show up at Miami Hurricanes football games and he was a local celebrity.

Light: It was a surfacing of this scene and sound and Luke as this entrepreneur of this circuit. It had a distinctive sound... that "Planet Rock"-based dance beat. It was definitely a novelty record. They were clearly a party/club thing, it was Miami, everyone wearing bikinis. It definitely seemed tied to a certain worldview.

Bruce Haring, former Billboard reporter who helped break the band's story nationally: It didn't really make much of an impression at first. I grew up left-leaning, thinking free speech is free speech. It didn't bother me. I was based in New York at the time and working for Billboard and there was probably some incident down there that happened with them. I was very alert to free speech issues and there was something that triggered our interest and seemed unusual at the time.

McCarty: When you look back on that stuff now, the things they're saying are hardly different from the dialogue you see on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. It was a Lenny Bruce kind of thing, where they were taking it one more step to where it was offensive to some people. I did like it.

Light: The lyrics were different for that time, coming out of Public Enemy and N.W.A [being] ascendant, which had a real sense of hip-hop as storytelling -- black America's CNN -- and then there's De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, which gave a sense of hip-hop as a lyrical form. I'm not saying it was in opposition to that, but these were clearly party records. No message, just sex and dancing and partying and using these records to have a good time.

Taylor: I was hearing it every night and some of these lyrics made my freakin’ hair stand on end. But it was all in good humor... okay, a lot of it was misogynistic, but at the time it was their sense of humor.

Mixx: The funny thing is that song was in competition with another record called "C'mon Babe" [off Nasty], which had a more traditional vocal delivery. But ["Horny"] was not as aggressive, it more laid back, not sleazy, but kind of sneaky. I always perceived us as being comedy, which is what our records were based off of -- if Andrew Dice Clay, Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor started a rap group with Dolemite -- which all got lost in translation when the obscenity stuff came up.

Courtesy of DJ Mr Mixx
                       

"So much stuff would slide past people and they didn't even know it then"

Mixx: There wasn't any blowback at first. It wasn't until the record was out for three months and it was getting some radio play, selling 10,000 units a week. We could go to a city like Baton Rouge and have two shows, one in the white part of town and another in the black part, which never happened [before]. We did daily doubles in a lot of cities because of the way it was set up to cross- over, with people paying to see it on the Video Jukebox and a couple big radio stations in the Bay Area and Miami playing it.

Joe Weinberger, 2 Live Crew's former outside attorney: That record pretty much crossed them over and it was more popular because they had that sample of Full Metal Jacket. Unfortunately, Luke didn't clear the samples on it and it came to me to try to clean up the mess afterwards.

Light: Right around then was an incredible moment where technology got ahead of the law with albums like [the Beastie Boys'] Paul's Boutique and [Public Enemy's] It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. There was a moment when you could take anything and sample it and there was nothing on the books to stop you from doing it. It was the wild west, and even if you could identify it, it wasn't clear what the process was.

Stein: I remember saying to Dave, "You can't use this, you don't have the clearance for radio, no way." He said, "don't worry about it." He knew he was mining gold -- or platinum -- and if we got sued later it would be the cost of doing business. The main thing that stands out to me was how he found those grooves and samples and just said damn the legality of it. He definitely helped open people’s eyes and ears up to what you could do.

Mixx: Maybe three months out, when the record started getting radio play and gathering momentum, Mass Production reached out first, and we got that situation settled for half the publishing and some advance money and once it was declared obscene by the courts the movie people started taking notice.

Weinberger: They wound up probably with a bad deal, but it got them more exposure. Warner Bros. films [which released FMJ] negotiated that the group had to do two songs, one for Boyz n the Hood and another one for New Jack City, and they didn't get paid for that.

Mixx: At the time there was no such thing as rap radio [and] you were fortunate for a rap record to be on radio at all. The track was finished and I went in and added some more comedy bits and that moaning from [Richard] Pryor [Which Way Is Up?]. At that point you could slip bits in there and they never knew it was part of it. That was a part of hip-hop then... so [many samples] would slide past people and they didn't even know it.

Stein: The best part was, when we did clean versions later on, we would have a regular clean, with not even the "f" or "k" sound and then Wal-Mart clean -- there were no ProTools back then -- so Dave would play a mix and hit the sampler or drum machine and play a car honk or bed spring sound.

Haring: There was no Internet then, so we called all 50 states and found out by speaking to retailers that this was far more widespread than just on the coasts. Record retail was important then and nobody had called up someone in South Dakota to find out what it ["Horny"] was doing. We found out that markets all over were pulling it from shelves, or not selling, or selling it under the counter, having problems with local law officials.

Light: At the time, the culture was more freaked out about sex than violence and... the fact that white sorority girls were dancing to this record is what drew Thompson's attention. Not just behind closed doors, but on a pop record.

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"They realized there was far greater importance to this for civil liberties"