It was 2 Live Crew, of course, that taught me
it was actually okay to like
Fighting against the current on the way to
second period Biology, I felt a quick tug. Pete had snagged
my arm but he shouldn’t have been there, everyone knew
he never missed History on the other side
of the school—yet there he was, waiting.
In his hand: a tape.
There was a power, once, in tapes.
Battered, worn, outer shell scratched, faded, yet the word
Megadeth remained, clear as day. He held it out to me. I preferred
not to be rude, to a friend. But,
you know, Megadeth.
I wasn’t really looking to listen to regular death, so
this was a little much.
you gotta hear this.
The right to be angry is the most American thing anyone can claim.
Everything else is born from that. It is the very reason we want our guns
or speech protected. More than
a flag, more than a song, this
is what brings us together, what makes us one.
Check the stage, I declare a new age
Get down for the Prophets of Rage.
Pete thrust that tape into my hands and
I could see those little tabs at the top
had been pierced, ruptured,
What is it?
He only shook his head,
and just like that, he was gone.
Clear the way for the Prophets of Rage.
In the summer of 1990, three members of 2 Live Crew were pulled
off stage and arrested as they played at a sex club.
Officially, they were charged with obscenity for music performed at a sex club.
That may be the greatest sentence I will ever write.
When I finally got around to homework that evening, I threw Pete’s
tape on, figuring if I’m already doing algebra,
ain’t no tape gonna make it any worse.
No work got done that night.
It Takes A Nation Of Millions to hold us back.
The music was like bug repellant for parents, a screeching whine
that repeated, endlessly, effortlessly, the loop
was the meaning, the meaning was in the loop. I mean, the album started
with a goddamn air-raid siren, a warning, a call
and response that flicked something buried
within cultural DNA.
It’s like that, I’m like Nat leave me the hell alone
If you don’t think I’m a brother—check the chromosomes.
It is an inconvenient truth
that free speech can be attacked on all sides, when a right-wing Florida DA
locked arms with a Democratic soon-to-be Vice President’s wife
to lock up some Black dudes
for singing about butts. The surreality of
strange bedfellows goes both ways, however,
and in July 1990 2 Live Crew released Banned in the USA, notable
as the first album to come equipped
with a parental advisory sticker.
You have to understand, the title track
drove white people in Jersey fucking insane.
I played Pete’s tape, flipped it,
played it, the loop was the meaning,
the meaning was hidden in the loop.
(Stereo, stereo) describes my scenario.
You see, this was Bruce,
the Poet of the Parkway, the god whose words united
Wall Street commuters with Meadowlands tailgaters,
who traced a sacred lineage from Dylan all the way back
to Whitman, but better, more real
than either of them could hope to be.
A man of the people.
And we all knew which people.
My friends and I basked in the outrage of all those who
screamed their love for Jersey Jesus, and
shrieked their horror that some no talent Blacks
had taken sacred tracks
and turned them into some weird anti-American defense
of perversion. Finally, we thought, the music of the people
who refused to hire us,
who labeled me Zebra or half-breed,
who didn’t bother to hide their disbelief when we aced math tests,
who assumed we cheated when we bested their kid’s SAT scores,
for once the music of the people
who hated everything about us
would be used to speak for us.
Kurt Loder, MTV News,
interrupting Yo! MTV Raps! to report on the controversy,
read a statement from
The Boss himself:
Anyone who doesn’t support
2 Live Crew’s use of “Born in the USA”
obviously never listened to
the lyrics of my song, anyway.
In those days, MTV still played music,
the time allotted to hip hop was over,
they went straight to the video,
Born in the USA.
And for the very first time,
my friends and I
Martin Wiley writes: “I was a long-time poet and spoken word artist, but for the past few years had labeled myself as a “recovering poet.” My seven year old daughter’s love of words has dragged me, mostly happily, off the wagon. After receiving my MFA from Rutgers-Camden, I remain in Philadelphia, teaching at community college, working as an activist, being a dad and husband, and finding time, when possible, to write.”