NSFW: The Night the 2 Live Crew Came to Town

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The cover of the album with the song about the rat and the cheese, with original 2 Live leader Luther Campbell.

The cover of the album with the song about the rat and the cheese, with original 2 Live leader Luther Campbell.

They (the establishment) said 2 Live Crew was not for kids to hear. Really, that was the opposite of the truth. It wasn’t fit for adults. “Sophomoric” would be too flattering a term, so I’ll call it freshmanic. So, in order to put this story online, I’ve left some words in it blank that you’ll have to fill in yourself. It might read like a Mad Libs. Or, if you will, Tad Libs.

I was impressed with the 2 Live Crew’s brand of gratuitous mindlessness when I first caught wind of it. I was with a few friends walking through the mostly empty parking lot one night at the Oxford Mall. When you couldn’t drive yet, that’s where you went on Friday night in the ‘80s, and you’d kind of go back and forth between the left end of the mall—where the movie theater and Yesterday’s arcade were—and Pizza Hut, Mr. Gatti’s, Baskin-Robbins, and Danver’s, which were all together in front of the mall like a Mount Rushmore of Oxford food leaders at the time. It was 1987, I think. Let me note that I was 15 and already had a driver’s license. I was embarrassed to be at the mall, but I had gotten myself into some mischief at the end of ninth grade—involving spray paint and my n’er-do-well skateboarding buddies—and my parents grounded me for the entire summer. Well, a full grounding would probably have been better. This grounding had terms that allowed me to leave the house kind of like a trustee at the jail. I was allowed to leave the house and drive, but I could only drive to the mall. Nobody my age was still hanging out at the mall. I tried it once or twice. No offense to those fellows a couple years younger than me—Dee Hobbs and his crew—at the mall, but I felt like the most giant dork in town—or Wooderson—going to the mall the summer before 10th grade. I wore a scent called Not Getting Laid.

So, for the rest of the summer I just snuck away to other places such as The Hoka (a spot where I’d previously gotten into trouble as well). Mom and/or dad are probably reading this and just now learning of the parole violation. Sorry, but rocking with the eighth graders at the mall when you’re in 10th grade is cruel and unusual punishment. I hope you understand my violation of the mall rule. It also would later lead to the biggest house-egging incident in Oxford history. Sorry about that, too. Anyway, my eighth grade pals and I were bored and wandering through the mall lot when suddenly a lifted red Jeep CJ-5 on large tires roared up blaring music. The doors and top were off. In the driver’s seat of the Jeep, which was borrowed from Keith Shackleford, was Jason Plunk, one year my senior. He was established as cool and had DJed at some of our junior high dances. He had the Fat Boys on vinyl and professional turntables. Not in the Jeep. For the dances.

This particular night at the mall, Plunk was shirtless, wearing a bandana do-rag on his head. He had been at the lake all day and was sunburned and … talking kinda funny. He said, “Y’all gotta listen to THIS sick s**t. They’re talkin’ about nibblin’ on a _____ like a rat does cheese!”

Plunk turned up the volume as we stood in silence and absorbed the song that put 2 Live Crew on the map outside of Miami. It was “Hey, We Want Some ________.” The word that goes in the blank is a synonym for cat. Plunk was right about the rat and the cheese.

While I would not want to sit and listen to 2 Live Crew today like I would Run DMC or the Beastie Boys—and I don’t consider 2 Live Crew high art—hearing that song did have an effect on me later down the line by showing me anyone can put out anything on a tape; you didn’t have to be Stevie Nicks to have an album. You could, this music proved, rap at a fourth-grade level and somehow rule the thoughts of senators and their wives who have law and graduate degrees.

2 Live would soon become nationally famous and in the news all the time because of the controversy around their lyrics. In a country where problems such as poverty, potential nuclear war, and much more loomed, Tipper Gore and the PMRC were waving their arms around, pouring their energy into doing something about the rat and the cheese, to keep their children from ending up driving around shirtless in a Jeep on Friday night, corrupting junior high kids at the mall.

The pointless histrionics really hit the fan when 2 Live put out its next album, As Nasty as they Wanna Be, which featured what would become their most well known song: “Me So Horny.” Their records and tapes were banned in many cities, and record store owners actually went to jail for selling them. The 2 Live Crew was involved in cases that went to the Supreme Court. A lot of tax dollars went into parsing out whether or not you could tell a record store not to sell someone music by high school dropouts waxing about, well, waxing behinds.

________

Blue Poetry: Moon Pie Curtis (left) and Captain Midnight.

Blue Poetry: Moon Pie Curtis (left) and Captain Midnight.

Cut to the early ‘90s, in my early 20s, and my buddy Josh and I started a band called Cardinal Fluff. He was an actual musician and great guitarist. I was a guy who had heard a 2 Live Crew tape, among other things, and kept begging him to start a band with me so I could shine my ass. He made me learn to play guitar a little bit, and we ended up writing a bunch of original material together that landed somewhere between KISS and the Dead. The lyrics were what we came to refer to as “blue poetry.” We had songs such as “Family Jewels,” “The Melon Song,” “In Your Window,” “Proud Totem,” and “Statutory Blues.” Most of the popular music of that time was super-serious by guys wearing street clothes. Our visual stage presentation was kind of a thrift-store P-Funk of sorts. I called myself Moon Pie Curtis, and Josh was Captain Midnight. We still are those characters and have been insisting upon ourselves now for a quarter century. For the first few years of Cardinal Fluff, we recorded our songs at home on a four-track and would play cassettes for people at parties, talking a great game about what we grandiosely considered the second coming of Simmons/Stanley, Garcia/Weir, Hall/Oates, Brewer/Shipley, and/or Fagen/Becker. I’m sure some considered it more Ren/Stimpy. But dreamers gotta dream.

By 1996, we finally had put together an actual band to take our alleged brilliance to the stage and started playing gigs, usually at Proud Larrys’. Our whole thing was we wanted to have a good time and not stare at the floor like we were out of Seattle. We certainly weren’t really like the 2 Live Crew, but we had a little bit more of the rat and cheese than Eddie Vedder in our mix.

The guys who owned Larrys’ were also involved in another venue called the Lyric Hall (no relation to the present Lyric Theatre). It was located in what is now the middle section of the Library Bar & Grill. The Lyric was where the “big” shows were showcased—acts too big for Larrys’. We found out the 2 Live Crew would be coming to the Lyric Hall. The show was the idea of Thomas Fishman, one of the three Larrys’ partners. The other two owners, Jeff Bransford and Scott Caradine, were a little more nervous at the proposition. Midnight asked if we could slip into the showcase and play a half-hour opening set. All we wanted in return was a case of domestic beer and to be allowed to stand next to the stage to watch 2 Live after we were finished. Deal struck.

Seems like it was maybe a week or so before the show. Whenever it was, we spent the entirety of the span between then and the gig talking amongst ourselves about the enormity of this occasion, planning our setlist, deciding what to wear, and annoying anyone within earshot by talking about nothing but opening for the 2 Live Crew.

The night of the show, we showed up early to load our equipment in and soundcheck, in the empty Lyric Hall. Bransford told us that the 2 Live Crew would be using the “dressing room,” which was a room behind the stage, so we would need to dress in the kitchen. I still remember us changing into our stage costumes in the kitchen while saying, “I can’t believe this s**t is about to happen.” And we really did not have, at that point, a scintilla of a clue what was actually about to happen.

Bransford then told us that he just got off the phone with a friend who called to report he’d seen the Crew’s bus pull into town on West Jackson and stop at a supermarket, where they “cleared out the produce section.” None of us had any idea what to make of this but unanimously considered it great news.

2 Live Crew with Luther's replacement.

2 Live Crew with Luther’s replacement.

The bar was still empty and not yet open when the three members of the 2 Live Crew arrived. We had already soundchecked and left our set list taped to a stage monitor. They strutted in slowly, wearing long, orange-white-and-green, leather University of Miami logoed trenchcoats. Their eyes moved from side to side, sizing up the room. We would later realize they were identifying the quickest escape route. They ordered three shots of Cuervo. The infamous 2 Live leader Luther Campbell, aka Luke Skyywalker, aka Luke, had left the group a couple years before, but core members Brother Marquis and Kid Ice soldiered on, replacing him with some guy. I still don’t know that guy’s name, but that’s who was in the group at the time.

We stepped to them and introduced ourselves. I said, “Y’all have been a big influence on us.” Marquis said, “Damn, you makin’ me feel old and s**t.”

They then did their soundcheck, which took all of about one minute. Most rap groups had a DJ handling the music at concerts, like Jam Master Jay in Run DMC. Not 2 Live. They just gave a cassette of backing music to the sound man, and they brought their own wireless mics. We would later conclude this setup was all to better facilitate a clean break at the right time. Kid Ice glanced down during soundcheck at our setlist on the monitor. The first song was “Family Jewels.” He said, “Family Jewels? I like that!” Day: made.

At showtime, a rap group from Holly Springs called Total Eclipse opened up. There were two or three rappers in it, one of whom was a girl, and all I remember about their songs was they kept saying “Total Eclipse, y’all! Total Eclipse, y’all!” throughout the set. Then Cardinal Fluff—like olive loaf sandwiched between two rap groups—went on, to the biggest crowd we had ever faced, packed wall-to-wall like sardines in a can. We played 30 minutes, but the audience was just ready for us to wrap it up and cut to the Crew. We had given the soundman, our friend Al Cotten, a blank cassette, to record our set through the soundboard so we could listen to it later. He left it recording when the 2 Live Crew came on. They came on.

The audience was majority white and included a great many demure-looking sorority girls. And yet when the 2 Live Crew launched into their sickeningly profane classics, the entire crowd chanted every line in unison and pumped their fists. They knew all the words. Not just all the words to “Me So Horny” but all the words to “The F___ Shop” and “S&M.” These are album cuts for aficionados. If you are so inclined to learn what these lyrics are, YouTube is your friend. It was then that I realized that whatever hometowns all these people came from, each town must have had a shirtless older guy with a do-rag in a Jeep.

Someone later would liken the energy of the room to that of a Nazi rally in 1938. Only with lyrics about sexual deviance instead of genocide. The nameless guy who replaced Luke was wearing an Ole Miss basketball jersey. Between songs, the members would excite the audience with references to local icons, such as Colonel Reb. “What y’all little cartoon man name?” the nameless guy asked. When the crowd roared, “Colonel Reb!” Kid Ice declared, “We gonna get Colonel Reb _____ hard tonight, right? Colonel Reb got a big ol’ _______.” At another point, one of them said, “Colonel Reb be f______in’ some hoes!” Colonel Reb had never been so cool. He was, that night, the John Holmes of mascots.

But the lyrics and stage banter were really a minor detail, Ned in the Primer compared to the rest of the presentation. See, the 2 Live Crew brought with them the Me So Horny Dancers. I am not certain but surmise they were recruited from Miami strip clubs. Awful strip clubs. They are known for their large, jiggly posteriors and the fact that they strip their clothes off during the show.

This is where that “cleaning out the produce section” part of the story rears its head again.

The Me So Horny Dancers didn’t make a salad. It is difficult for me to describe in print what happened, but I will simply say that among the food items were cucumbers, carrots, and bananas and cans of whipped cream. I will also note that while most food is placed into the human body orally, the dancers discovered an alternate entrance or two and began inserting these items as though their pelvises were Cuisinarts, many years before Ron Shapiro would open Oxford’s first juice bar.

The healthy, vegetarian course completed, dessert and after-dinner candies were then served. The Me So Horny Dancers brought male audience members onto the stage, pulling down the pants of at least one such individual—who I will not name here, but he later was made to testify later in municipal court—and adorned his issue with whipped cream, then licked it off. He was the drummer of another band in town, and you know how drummers are. Lollipops were also given the orifice treatment and distributed to those with a sweet tooth.

My bandmates and I stood off to the side of the stage watching with jaws dropped. About the time the show-and-tell onstage reached its nudest and most unsanitary, which was about 30 minutes max into the 2 Live set, Bransford and partner Scott Caradine pulled the plug and shut off power to the sound system. About 15 minutes later Oxford police rushed in, by which time Marquis, Ice, nameless guy, and their dancers were probably already to I-55. No wonder the 2 Live manager demanded full payment up front and brandished a pistol to indicate it would be a good idea to comply.

The cops confiscated video cameras from audience members and arrested people. I’ve still never seen any video footage from the show, but our audio tape did survive—at least until it was ruined in Katrina at Captain Midnight’s house in New Orleans in 2005.

In the days following the show, we learned that 2 Live Crew had pulled this same routine in a number of other cities and towns, which was as follows: Show up with only the shirts on their backs and their mics, perform the X-rated show for about 30 minutes, then run to the bus when the cops come and leave the state, leaving their cassette and letting the club owners hold the bag and suffer the consequences. Apparently, I was told, 2 Live knew that local authorities in a given town weren’t going to extradite them from another state over something like this and would instead sacrifice the club owners to show the community justice had been served and someone had been punished for daring expose young adults to sexual content—content these legal grown folks had memorized over the last several years after hearing it from a shirtless guy in a Jeep, were aware of, and had paid good money to hear.

Bransford and the other owners were put in jail and lost their liquor license for that bar forever, which meant they had to shut the Lyric Hall down. 2 Live was never held accountable. Plunk is still figuratively rocking shirtless in a Jeep in my Facebook feed (that’s a good thing) and has to date evaded punishment for public indecency from blaring the tape. Captain Midnight lives in Nashville and has a band and still belts out blue poetry, and so does Moon Pie Curtis in Oxford. I have a show at Proud Larrys’ this Friday night, June 13th. Maybe I’ll swing by the farmers market and fill up a basket with some good local produce. How are the cukes this year?

— Tad Wilkes, tad.wilkes@hottytoddy.com

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4 Comments

  1. midnightfluffJune 11, 2014 at 2:25 PM

    Great read…

    a couple of notes from my back pages…

    Tom was running sound that night. We had a good mix on stage. I asked if he would tape our set and then fill side two with as much 2 Live Crew set, as would fit. Katrina ruined a lot of my stuff, but the tape survives (or does it?). I am confident that it is the only known copy in existence.

    I think this is important… The actual promoter was a guy named Fish. I don’t think Jeff or C were super-thrilled about the whole thing, but I saw Fish pre-show, he was sweating and looking nervous as hell. It was Fish who told me about the produce spree at Jitney Jungle . I don’t think Jeff or Scott had any idea of the shit that was about to go down.

    Also, I asked Jeff to let us open. He talked to Fish and we agreed to a 30 min set. Our payment was a case of domestic beer and a private viewing area from the side of the stage, with a couple of passes for friends. The show was already sold out. They didn’t need us to help sell tix. Free drinks and VIP seats in exchange for a short Fluff set? No problem.

    I do remember changing in the kitchen. Will Gault was there working on a Shrimp dish. He let me try one. It was excellent. Like Tad, Tom, and myself, Will Gault also continues to hone his craft and vision. He runs without question, one of the finest restaurants in the south, Vince’s in Leland. I think he’s opening another one, too.

    The Captain Midnight Band still plays “Family Jewels” as a set opener, but I can’t go into a bank and look at a bowl of Dum-Dums without thinking about Col. Reb and his Hoochie Mamas.

    While exciting and memorable, this event sadly threw a monkey-wrench into the future of great national-act shows in Oxford for some time. Jeff and Mitch (Uncle Buck), were bringing in acts like Peter Rowan, Ween, Warren Zevon, Junior Wells, Bela Fleck, MMW, Morphine, and such to our small town and the 2 Live Crew show pretty much fucked that up.

  2. Shelby Hooker RayburnJune 11, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    Nice work, Tad.

  3. Kyle WooddallJune 11, 2014 at 7:20 PM

    Fluff, play me that “jug O’wine” song. These were great times. I was right there with you my friend.

  4. Kyle WooddallJune 11, 2014 at 7:25 PM

    shut it down after that. Seems like that venue was just getting going.

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