'As Nasty As They Wanna Be,' 25 Years On

Twenty-five years ago today a nation still adjusting to the idea that Ronald Reagan was no longer its president saw the release of an album called As Nasty As They Wanna Be by a Miami hip-hop collective named 2 Live Crew. While the band’s arrest and subsequent trial for obscenity have justly received the lion’s share of historical coverage, it seems fitting on this anniversary that we recognize the important work the band did in raising awareness for and discussion of horniness in American society. It is difficult to comprehend (or remember, if you are of a certain age) just how heavy the proscriptions against the mere mention of horniness were back in 1989 — particularly living as we do in an era where apps are competing wildly to be your medium of choice in which to express your desire to do or accomplishment in having already been able to do sex in its many forms to people you know so that other people you know can read about it — but many Americans found it so difficult or shameful to even admit that they might be experiencing bouts of horniness that they were unable to use the euphemisms of the period to articulate such feelings (these were mostly metaphors relating to the plumbing and chimney-sweeping trades). If you were suddenly transported back to 1989 right now the first thing you would notice was how people were actually able to pay attention to anything for more than thirty seconds, but the second thing that would make a powerful impression on you is just how embarrassed and scandalized the everyday citizens of that time would be as soon as you mentioned horniness, which, as someone who lives here in 2014, you would do almost immediately, because why would we ever bother to have a feeling that we didn’t tell the whole goddamn world about? (At this point it is necessary to mention the unpleasant fact that some of the ethnic and racial characterizations set forth on the album are what the social theorists of the era would describe as “problematic,” but, without seeking to minimize those quite valid complaints, this is not the forum in which to debate those matters, plus you need to weigh the offset value of introducing a whole new generation to the work of Stanley Kubrick.) In any event, the importance of this record in regards to the public discourse surrounding horniness cannot be overstated. Today we celebrate an album that, as much as anything else in the time since its release, made us who we are: a nation that is indeed as nasty as we want to be.