2 Live Crew ~ 2 Live Crew is What We Are (1986)

Posted on December 24, 2012

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1986 was a pivotal year in rap music; one which saw the artform take on many different shapes. The Beastie Boys brought college keg party energy to the game. Mantronix took listeners to the far reaches of technology. Stetsasonic, the first official Hip Hop band, introduced the expanded group aesthetic. And Run DMC carried Hip Hop on their backs, and into the mainstream. But, for all the plot twists we saw that year, no one expected what came from South Florida: a quartet of X-rated raunch kings from Miami, who called themselves the 2 Live Crew.

Though they became synonymous with South Florida and the Miami bass sound, 2 Live Crew actually had roots in Southern California. The nucleus of the Crew was formed in the Los Angeles suburb of Riverside in 1983, by three Air Force veterans: emcees Amazing V (Yuri Vielot) and Fresh Kid Ice (Chris Wong Won), and turntablist Mr. Mixx (David Hobbs). One year later, the trio established their own label – Fresh Beat Records – through Hollywood distributor Macola Records, and released two singles that bubbled on the underground, with an impact that stretched across the U.S. from So Cal to South Beach. Miami promoter-entrepreneur Luke Skyywalker a.k.a. Uncle Luke (Luther Campbell) caught wind of their music, and booked 2 Live Crew for a series of shows in South Florida. In early 1986, as the Crew’s buzz was slowly building, Amazing V broke camp, opting to be a full-time military man instead of a rap artist. To take his place, Mr. Mixx chose Brother Marquis (Mark Ross), a Riverside rapper he’d befriended; and with Marquis in the fold, the 2 Live Crew left Riverside for Miami. Later in ’86, after touching down in South Florida, the Crew linked up with Luke Skyywalker, and paid tribute to him with “Throw The D”, a raunchy record based on the Miami bass sound Skyywalker promoted. Skyywalker tried in vain to get local labels to distribute the song, and ultimately decided to do it himself; founding Skyywalker Records, pressing up “Throw The D”, and selling over 200,000 copies of the single. The Crew was off and running, but was missing one component: Uncle Luke himself, who became not only the group’s manager, but a colorful character that livened up their stage shows. In late ’86, 2 Live Crew capitalized on the momentum from their hit single and live dates, with an 8-song smut bonanza that served as their debut album: 2 Live Crew is What We Are.

2 Live Crew is What We Are is a brief blazer, with eight songs that clock at barely half an hour. 2 Live Crew became notorious for their raunchiness in years to come, but the group had other flavors for the palate, as clearly evidenced by this album. The opening cut “2 Live Is What We Are (Word)” is a prime example of this; a basic old school banger with simulated crowd noise, low bass boom, nimble scratching from Mr. Mixx, and tight, braggadocio verses from Fresh Kid Ice and Brother Marquis, who trade the mic back and forth from start to finish. After easing into the set with a little B-Boy energy, Uncle Luke then shocks us to attention with “We Want Some Pussy”, a 2 Live Crew classic that’s both loved and loathed. Over a bottom-heavy track with rock guitar riffs, Ice and Marquis spit X-rated, color by numbers rhymes; Luke leads a lewd cat call on the hook; and the group as a whole creates a track that still thumps, even after more than a quarter century. “Check It Out Y’all” has a production template similar to Rick Rubin’s early work at Def Jam, with thundering, sparse drum kicks and not a hint of melody, and it features Fresh Kid Ice and Brother Marquis flowing like water, and blending battle rhymes with off-color limericks, while Mr. Mixx cuts and crossfades on the turntables. And “Get It Girl” is an introduction to the traditional Miami bass sound; with rump-shaking staccato drums and echoing vocal edits, which Ice and Marquis use to tempt females with flirtation, and the selfless offering of their love muscles.

For the remainder of this album, 2 Live Crew continues their free-wheeling ways. “Throw The D”, their first hit after settling in M.I.A., advertises a suggestive dance; inspired by Uncle Luke’s crew the Ghetto Style DJ’s, and accompanied by a waist-bending Miami bass groove. Mr. Mixx gets a chance to represent on “Cut It Up”, a scratching odyssey where Mixx goes for his on the 1s and 2s, and Fresh Kid Ice and Brother Marquis tout his mixing skills. Fresh Kid Ice takes the lead on “Beat Box (Remix)”, a hollowed-out reworking of one of 2 Live Crew’s earliest songs; with enough bass to split cinder blocks, and a vital sonic assist from group collaborator Bob Rosenberg, who airs out the track with well-placed digital edits. And the album closes with “Mr. Mixx On The Mix”, a dance floor ready showcase for Mr. Mixx, who splices in a beat loop of Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache”, and speaks with his dexterous hands on the wheels of steel.

2 Live Crew is What We Are was a massive independent success in its day; selling more than 500,000 copies in the United States, and earning 2 Live Crew a large cult following of fans. But, on a deeper level, this album introduced the rap world as a whole to the South, a region of the U.S. that had gone largely ignored in Hip Hop until 2 Live Crew stepped on the scene. As the years passed after this album, Uncle Luke and 2 Live Crew continued to push the provocative envelope, and earned both great popularity and historic infamy in doing so. By 1989, 2 Live Crew had become platinum-selling superstars, as well as pariahs for the decency brigade, with censorship debates sparking across America over the explicit content of their music, and record retailers even being jailed for selling their albums. But, controversy notwithstanding, 2 Live Crew holds a special place in rap history. Besides introducing Miami bass to the world outside of the 305 area code, 2 Live Crew helped lay a foundation for the Dirty South in the world of Hip Hop. Their journey to victory and villainy began with 2 Live Crew is What We Are, and whether you’re a 2 Live Crew fan or not, this album deserves a listen. After more than 25 years, it’s still got flavor for days.

To listen to 2 Live Crew is What We Are, click here.

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