South Florida

When thong bikinis and a raunchy rap album were banned

Luther Campbell, leader of the Band 2 Live Crew, is arrested by a Broward sheriff's policeman early Sunday before he was charged with violating obscenity laws during a performance at a club in Hollywood.
Luther Campbell, leader of the Band 2 Live Crew, is arrested by a Broward sheriff's policeman early Sunday before he was charged with violating obscenity laws during a performance at a club in Hollywood.

It was June 1990, and judges and lawmakers were busy making decisions on whether people should be able to hear raunchy rap and see bare buns.

The answer: Nope.

A federal judge deemed obscene the album As Nasty As They Wanna Be by South Florida rap group 2 Live Crew.

SEE MORE: 2 Live crew’s obsenity case in Flashback Miami

And a new law banning the wearing of thongs on beaches in state parks went into effect.

The 62-page ruling called the album, featuring Me So Horny, met the federal test for obscenity. The ruling was overturned two years later.

And on the beaches. Well let’s just say that the bottom didn’t fall out on the desire to flaunt flesh.

Here is a look back from the Miami Herald’s archives, first on the thong issue and then on the music drama.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

By Susana Belllido, Charles E. Hecker and Darren C. Hackett

From June 1990

Now a word from the man on the street — actually, this is a woman on a beach, but you get the idea — concerning Gov. Bob "I Know Obscenity When I See It" Martinez's latest defense of Public Morality:

"I think it's ridiculous, " says Marla Alain, 25, of Plantation. "You come here to get a tan."

Marla is stretched out in a natural-colored near-felony at John U. Lloyd State Park in Dania. Where she and the governor have parted company on this hot, sunny Saturday is on the question of "the thong."

For those of you who haven't been to the beach lately — or the last couple of years, for that matter — the thong is a Brazilian swimsuit, the word "swimsuit" being used here advisedly.

The thong is basically a couple strips of material only two inches wide at the widest, barely covering the breasts and buttocks. It is, for the most part, a female concern, although a few men wear the manly version.

The Florida Cabinet approved new restrictions last week that will make the risque swimsuits just as illegal as nude sunbathing on about 30 state-owned miles of Florida's 780 miles of beaches. The new rules take effect Friday, just in time for the weekend.

The basic idea behind what the Cabinet did is simple: On state-owned beaches, where families with the kids come for a day of fun, sun and picnic lunches, you don't want a few half-naked people ruining things for everyone else. The people being asked to cover up still can enjoy everything the beach has to offer. And like simple ideas everywhere, it has neatly divided beachgoers.

"I think there are more important things going on on the beach than women in string bikinis, " says Susie Lipke, 27, of North Lauderdale, sitting at John U. Lloyd and clad carefully in a neon-green-and-gray striped bikini with a generous amount of fabric. Nearby, a couple lounges only inches away from the marked nest of an endangered sea turtle.

"I think people should be able to wear what they want."

Last weekend, only a few people were wearing the controversial swimsuits on several of the umbrella-dotted state park beaches, causing some sunbathers -- young and old -- to wonder why the Cabinet would create a new rule to ban something that's not exactly a raging epidemic.

"It's a fad that really hasn't caught on down here, " said a Cape Florida ranger who asked not to be identified. "South Beach is the place." But even on South Beach -- which is not state owned -- thongs take a back seat to the ever-popular bikini for women and boxer swimsuits for men.

Several sunbathers who had ventured out in thongs and knew about the restrictions were unaware of the starting date. So to be safe they sat tight on their cheek-bearing thongs, fearing the park rangers who patrol the beaches on four-wheel all- terrain vehicles.

"You only see a few people wearing them, maybe five or six" on any weekend day, says Tevelio Diaz, a lifeguard who has been working for the last six weeks at the Cape Florida beach on Key Biscayne. "I just don't understand the law."

"As long as it's not going to show everything, what's the problem?" asks Robyn Wright of Fort Lauderdale, who later got up and strolled to the water in her peach-colored thong. "I'm not running around nude." Wright said she simply would go to one of Fort Lauderdale's city-owned beaches if she were approached by a park ranger for wearing a thong swimsuit.

In Palm Beach, an imaginary line stretches from a garbage can out to the ocean at John D. MacArthur State Park in Palm Beach County. On the south side, sitting in long shorts, under umbrellas and next to dogs, are people like Paul Hadden, 63, of Lake Placid.

He, for one, doesn't want to see any more of the near- nudity that makes his grandchildren's jaws plunge. "I think certain things should be private. It ought to be reserved for the honeymoon."

On the other side of the line, where men in Speedos sunbathe alone and surfers stay away from the kids, beachgoers are more forgiving. "It should be free, open, " says Loren Van Dusseldorp, 18, of Hollywood, who doesn't mind his mom wearing G-strings but avoids them himself because he is a surfer and sea lice already have got him and he could get rashes in strange places.

"It's in the Constitution: You can do what you want. Don't they have freedom of speech in there?"

Since 1974, the thong has been sported by men and women on the beaches of Brazil and the French Riviera. But it was only in the last few years that people adopted the fashion in Florida.

Barbara Henriquez, who owns the Miami-based swimwear company Darling Rio and serves as the company's chief designer, said the trend is a culmination of America's recent obsession with firm thighs and washboard stomachs.

"Many American women are more physically fit and more health-conscious these days, " says Rio, whose company sells approximately 20,000 thongs nationwide annually. "The thong is a natural thing for a woman with a beautiful body. They look good in them, and there's nothing vulgar about it."

Joan Brent, sales manager of Nomad Surf & Sport in Delray Beach, says thongs are selling briskly and should be "the thing this summer, " while Don French, owner of Ocean Magic in Jupiter, says the governor may inadvertently have done for thongs what he did for rap music.

"It's like 2 Live Crew, " French says. "It gets people out buying because of the mystery of it all."

Of course, the people in the middle of all this are the park rangers, who -- come this weekend -- also will become The Taste Police.

"We're in a state park, we have a dress code, " says Larry Growden, a ranger at John U. Lloyd in Dania and a 15-year veteran. What with the wide range of bikinis out there, it's not always easy to tell on which side of the law the tan line falls. But Growden demonstrates his best guess by drawing imaginary lines across his 53-year-old uniformed derriere.

"I like to look at a pretty woman, but I don't like to see them naked, " he says.

"All in all, I'd say the whole situation is a pain in the butt, " says Broward lifeguard Graham Irwin, who believes the new rules shouldn't be much of an enforcement hassle, and besides, he doesn't mind being extra-vigilant for stray string bikinis.

"You have to keep an eye on it."

The rule

Until last week, the only thing indecent on state beaches was indecent exposure -- and nude sunbathing. But beginning Friday, the Cabinet has drawn new tan lines, prohibiting exposure of "male or female genitals, pubic area, the entire buttocks or female breasts below the top of the nipple, with less than fully opaque covering."

In Dade, the affected beaches include: Cape Florida on Key Biscayne, North Shore in North Dade and Oleta River State Park.

In Broward: John U. Lloyd in Dania and Hugh Taylor Birch Park in Fort Lauderdale.

In Palm Beach: John D. MacArthur.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

By Steve Rothaus

From July 1990

The bottom hasn't fallen out of the skimpy bathing suit business — despite the state's beach ban on thong swimsuits and string bikinis.

To the contrary, the teeny-weeny bathing suit biz is booming, South Florida stores say.

"It's better than ever, " James Henning, owner of Trader Tom's Swimsuits in Fort Lauderdale, said Monday.

Last month, the Florida Cabinet outlawed the wearing of string bikinis and thongs at state parks and beaches.

But, rather than stem sales, happy merchants in South Florida have discovered the ban has encouraged many beachgoers to wear and flaunt the things the state would like to forbid.

"It's like forbidden fruit, " Henning said.

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A thong ban took effect on state beaches in 1990. Miami Herald File

Before the ban, Sandy Cardenas, a salesperson at Dominique's Boutique in Fort Lauderdale, said she sold two or three thongs a week. Now, she said, she sells three or four a day.

"It's a kind of sense of rebellion, that, 'You can't tell me what to wear, ' " Cardenas said.

Rick Cohen, who owns a pair of beachwear stores in Dade, Alice's Day Off on Sunset Drive and in International Mall, is offering a "Beach Bust Rescue Team." Cohen says he will bail out anyone arrested for wearing one of his banned suits -- for free. The bail-out service is available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

Cohen said sales of the controversial suits haven't dipped in his shops, and he has yet to get a call from a bare-bottomed beach-goer behind bars.

"This whole state is surrounded by water, " said Mark Sidle, vice president of Swim and Sport, a chain that has 14 locations statewide. "There are so many places you can still wear them -- your boat, your pool."

The law prohibiting the exposure of the entire buttocks and female breasts applies to the approximately 30 miles of state beach only. This leaves hundreds of miles of beachfront for bun barers to gather.

But many of the thongs and string bikinis that are being sold never make it to the beach, said Henning, the Fort Lauderdale swimwear store owner. He said they are worn in private swimming pools, as underwear and on-stage -- by strippers.

The bikini was introduced after World War II and became popular on the nation's beaches in the 1950s, he said. Then, in the late 1970s, European designers introduced the thong.

"Where do we go now?" Henning said. "How much is enough?"

He has a suggestion: transparent bathing suits.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

By Scott Higham, Anne Bartlett and James F. McCarty

From June 1990

A federal judge in Fort Lauderdale ruled Wednesday that 2 Live Crew's album As Nasty As They Wanna Be isn't just nasty -- it's downright obscene, and police can arrest record shop owners who dare sell it in South Florida.

U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr.'s 62-page decision, the first from the federal bench to brand a musical recording obscene, is expected to have a powerful impact far beyond the three counties he cited -- Broward, Dade and Palm Beach.

Gonzalez said the Miami-based band's hot-selling rap record offends community standards and fails the U.S. Supreme Court's litmus test for obscenity. At the same time, he castigated Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro, saying he violated the Constitution by warning record shop owners they could be arrested for selling Nasty.

Still, Navarro was delighted by the ruling on the band's sexually graphic album. "If you sell it, you're going to jail, " he said.

Luther Campbell, 2 Live Crew's leader, said the ruling didn't matter. "We'll keep making the same music. We probably won't sell no records in Broward County, " he said.

Wednesday's ruling provides police and prosecutors with a tool to target rap bands, rock groups and raunchy performers. Albums by Guns 'N Roses, Eddie Murphy and the rapid-fire, foul- mouthed comic Andrew Dice Clay could be next, civil rights lawyers say.

"It changes the balance of power, " said Bruce Rogow, a Nova University professor and constitutional law expert who represented 2 Live Crew in the case. "It's going to give ammunition to those people who want to be repressive."

Gonzalez said As Nasty As They Wanna Be goes too far. The album, which has sold nearly 1.7 million copies nationwide since its release last summer, is laced with explicit, violent lyrics.

"It is quite true that not all speech with sex as its topic is obscene, " wrote Gonzalez. "The As Nasty As They Wanna Be recording is another matter. . . . It is an appeal directed to 'dirty' thoughts and the loins, not to the intellect and the mind."

Under the ruling, it would not be illegal to buy or listen to the album. But those convicted of selling it to an adult could spend one year in prison and pay a $1,000 fine, and selling it to a minor could draw a five-year prison term and $5,000 fine, sheriff's spokesman Al Gordon said.

Navarro and his attorney, John Jolly, said sheriff's deputies will stop warning record stores about the record and that Navarro will wait until there's an arrest to put Wednesday's ruling to the test of a criminal trial.

Gonzalez said the album failed a three-part test of obscenity standards set down in a 1973 Supreme Court decision. Before material is banned, the ruling says, an average person applying community standards must find that it appeals to prurient interests, is patently offensive and lacks serious artistic, political or scientific value.

Gonzalez defined the community as Broward, Dade and Palm Beach counties because they share the same geography, culture, news media and transportation network. The judge said he is qualified to comment on the community's standards because he has lived in Broward since 1958.

Rogow, attorney for the rap group, vowed to appeal. While the ruling's effect is confined to South Florida, he and other legal experts said it is politically powerful, encouraging police and prosecutors elsewhere to test Gonzalez's reasoning.

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Luther Campbell, leader of the Band 2 Live Crew, in court with lawyer Bruce Rogan. Miami Herald File/1990

"It sends a signal to a lot of state and local prosecutors that this can be done, " said former federal appeals court Judge Robert Bork, a conservative constitutional scholar and unsuccessful candidate for the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Courts, judges, grand juries and law enforcement officers in communities all over the state have issued similar findings, " said Jon Peck, spokesman for Gov. Bob Martinez, who has crusaded against the album. "There's no reason to believe that will stop now."

Harvard University professor Alan Dershowitz, a liberal constitutional law expert, said Gonzalez misinterpreted the legal meaning of "obscenity."

"What he really means is it's filthy and disgusting, so it's really a dirty words case, not an obscenity case."

Some police departments in South Florida weren't sure how they would proceed.

Metro-Dade police said they are studying the ruling.

West Palm Beach police Sgt. Mike Fulk said he expected most record stores "will remove it from their shelves because it is a small part of their inventory, and they probably do not want to risk arrest."

Hollywood Mayor Sal Oliveri will hold a meeting this morning at City Hall to discuss 2 Live Crew's two performances scheduled for Saturday at the Futura nightspot on Hollywood Boulevard.

Gonzalez's decision was not a clear victory for Sheriff Navarro, who in March obtained an opinion from Broward Circuit Court Judge Mel Grossman that Nasty was probably obscene and that record shop owners could be arrested for selling it.

Once Navarro received the opinion from Grossman, he started to warn record shop owners. Gonzalez called that a violation of the Constitution because it was an "improper prior restraint of free speech." He ordered the sheriff's office to stop the warnings.

"We're going to change our procedure, " said sheriff's attorney John Jolly.

Grossman defended his role.

"I always thought it was better to get an opinion from a neutral judicial officer than rely on a police officer's own personal judgment whether to make an arrest, " he said Wednesday.

The ruling came nearly three weeks after Gonzalez's courtroom was turned into a X-rated extravaganza, with lawyers for 2 Live Crew showing the judge just how nasty other performers, publishers and movie makers could be. They rolled clips of porn films and produced copies of hard-core magazines.

Their point: Black rap music is being unfairly singled out by Anglo and Hispanic sheriffs and prosecutors who don't understand it.

The controversy will only help 2 Live Crew, said Rogow, their lawyer.

"To have a record declared obscene is a first. It gives the record a much longer life, " he said.

Band leader Campbell said his band's newest album will be even raunchier. Its title: Banned In The USA.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

By Stephen Smith

From June 1990

Two days after a federal judge declared that 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be album is obscene, the music stopped in some places and kept thumping in others:

▪  In Broward County, the owner of a hole-in-the-wall record shop was arrested when he sold an album to an undercover police officer.

▪ In Dade County, one record store is giving away copies of the album -- if customers buy a $15 or $20 blank tape.

▪ And in Palm Beach Gardens, the owner of the Sound Splash store decided he's going to be as busy as he wants to be and will keep selling the album. "The whole thing in general, " John Sweeney said, "has gotten very out of hand and very out of proportion."

Said John Terry, manager of a Disc Jockey record store in Oakland Park, where the album is off the shelves: "I don't like 2 Live Crew. I think their music stinks. But I don't think we should censor anything."

In Broward, Charles D. Freeman sold his last Nasty album at 11:15 a.m. Friday.

A man walked into Freeman's shop, E-C Records, and asked if the store carried the album. Sure, Freeman said, a shipment just came in. The man asked for a tape version and a record. That'll be $8.49 each, Freeman told him.

So the man -- Broward sheriff's detective Eugene McCloud -- took his purchase, turned toward the store's front door, then turned around again. You're under arrest, he told Freeman.

The charge: sale of obscene material.

"I'm going to sell As Nasty As They Wanna Be until the Supreme Court says I can't, " Freeman said. "I'm not being brave. It's just the same thing you would do if you went into a store, and they told you you can't buy underwear and socks."

Five sheriff's deputies descended on E-C Records, 1431 NW 31st Ave. in unincorporated Broward. Even the top cop himself, Sheriff Nick Navarro, showed up as Freeman was being led away, his wrists in handcuffs.

It was Navarro who dispatched his deputies in March, warning shop owners they'd better not sell the album -- and if they did, they might be arrested.

The Miami rap group sued Navarro in federal court. Wednesday, U.S. Federal Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr. ruled in Fort Lauderdale that the album is obscene and that police can arrest record shop owners peddling it.

Freeman, who basked in television strobe lights the day of the ruling while pledging to keep selling the album, was the first arrest.

"This man, he was not defying me, " Navarro said Friday. "He was defying the law. He made the statement to everyone that he was going to defy the law. I could not, in good conscience, sit back and let him do this."

So Freeman, 31, was arrested and charged with a first- degree misdemeanor, which could bring him a $1,000 fine and a year in jail if he's convicted. Police released documents showing that Freeman was arrested five times in the past decade. Most charges were dropped, and Freeman's only conviction was on a misdemeanor charge of possessing marijuana, records show.

Friday evening, after seven hours in jail, Freeman was bailed out by friends who posted his $100 bond. By 6:30 he was back at his shop, ringed by a cheering chorus of customers.

"I feel I'm making a point, " he said. "They made their point at first, but I'll make my point in the end."

He expects a new shipment of Nasty to be delivered Monday.

"As long as these hundred-dollar bills keep coming" for bail, he said, "I'm going to keep selling this record."

Police said it was easy to find Freeman -- even easier to know he was still selling 2 Live Crew's album. All they had to do was switch on the TV.

"He obviously wanted to be the first to be arrested, " sheriff's spokesman Jim Leljedal said. "Maybe he thought it would help business."

E-C Records was swamped, all right. But everybody wanted the one thing they couldn't have: the nasty version of the 2 Live Crew album. Officers had confiscated all the albums at the store.

At Adrian Hines' store, Royal Sounds in the Lauderhill Mall, "it was a good seller, and we still get a lot of requests for the record, " Hines said. "We've run this record store for the past 12 years, and I've never seen anything like this."

Nor have other record shop owners across South Florida. They've pulled albums off their shelves and turned away customers.

The owners of a Dade record shop, though, think they've found a way to avoid arrest. Buy a blank tape for $15 at the Grove Merchant, and you get the record version of the 2 Live Crew album. Buy a blank tape for $20, and you get the compact disc version.

It's not such a great bargain: the record normally retails for $9.95, the CD for $14.95.

"We warned people that it's nasty, " Ricky Coleman, a clerk said, "but they still wanted it."

FROM THE ARCHIVES

By Jean Marie Lutes

From June 1990

Two members of the Miami rap group 2 Live Crew were arrested in Hollywood on obscenity charges early Sunday after giving a typically raunchy show embellished by a barrage of insults aimed at Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro, who has led the fight to keep their songs off record shelves.

The arrests of band leader Luther Campbell and band member Chris "Fresh Kid Ice" Wongwon on Hollywood Boulevard came after the band finished a late-night performances at Futura, a Hollywood dance club packed with gyrating fans who chanted lyrics along with the rappers.

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2 Live Crew's performance at Club Futura in Hollywood. Miami Herald File/1990

Two other band members -- Mark "Brother Marquis" Ross and David "Mr. Mixx" Hobbes -- drove off in a separate car, evading police. Navarro said arrest warrants would be issued for them today.

It was another step toward national prominence for the young rap group, which gained national attention last week after a federal judge ruled that their album As Nasty As They Wanna Be is obscene and can be banned.

On Friday, Broward Sheriff's Office deputies arrested a Fort Lauderdale record-store owner for selling the album.

After plainclothes deputies inside the dark, smoke-filled club heard the group launch into the sexually explicit lyrics from its now-notorious album, they called the sheriff for advice.

"We didn't want to create any commotion in there, so I told them to let them get out of there and arrest them away from the premises, " Navarro said.

About 3 a.m. Sunday, a dozen police cruisers followed two band members as they left the Hollywood Boulevard club. They drove several blocks west to the City Hall traffic circle, where the rappers pulled over and got out of a maroon Jaguar, their hands raised.

As traffic backed up and camera crews swarmed over the street, Campbell and Wongwon were placed in a BSO van and taken to the Broward County Jail.

Campbell and Wongwon were charged with a first-degree misdemeanor -- violating a state statute that prohibits certain acts in connection with obscene, lewd performances. They were released Sunday morning after agreeing to appear in court at a later date.

Earlier that night, Campbell led the enthusiastic, 400- member crowd in reverberating chants of "F--- Nick Navarro, f --- f--- Nick Navarro."

The sheriff said the arrests weren't related to the group's repeated insults.

"That doesn't mean anything to me, " Navarro said. "I have been insulted many times in my life. I've been called every name in the world. I just do my job. If they want to take the low road, that's their problem."

2 Live Crew fans say Navarro is the one with the problem.

"When I was watching Luke inside the back of the police car, first I felt sorry for him because all he's really doing is expressing himself, " said Ira Honig, "Tony the Tiger, " nighttime disc jockey at radio station Power 96.

"Then it turned toward anger at the people that arrested him, " Honig said. "There wasn't anything that went on on that stage last night that they haven't done before. Why is it such a big deal?"

"They appeal to anyone, " said Elaine Dunbar, 21, of Fort Lauderdale, who was singing along with the locker-room lyrics Sunday morning. "They say what everybody's thinking anyway."

Fans also pointed out that the furor has just added to 2 Live Crew's popularity.

"There are lots of people here tonight who never heard of 2 Live Crew until this week, " Dunbar said.

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