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Remembering the Time Uncle Luke Took Hip-Hop to Supreme Court | BHM

Remembering the Time Uncle Luke Took Hip-Hop to Supreme Court | BHM

Remembering the Time Uncle Luke Took Hip-Hop to Supreme Court | BHM

Remember the historic moment when Uncle Luke went to Supreme Court for hip-hop? 2 Live Crew’s Luther Campbell (aka Uncle Luke) fought to pave the way for rap and Hip-Hop music today.

The Importance of Uncle Luke’s Supreme Court Case

Luke Skyywalker (A.K.A. Luther Campbell)’s Supreme Court case is legendary in the rap world.

To refresh your memory,  The Florida-based “party rap” group 2 Live Crew holds the distinction of releasing the first sound recording to be declared obscene. After dropping the album called, “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” in July of 1989, the group was summoned to court. Orbison’s music company Acuff-Rose Music felt enough heat to sue Campbell in 1993, but the bigwigs lost.

Campbell won the case in 1994 and established a very important exemplar in media law: Parody, in all forms, is protected under the First Amendment. In other words, Saturday Night Live and every meme you share on social media wouldn’t exist without Campbell. (Imagine a world without memes! Scary, right?)

Remembering the Time Uncle Luke Took Hip-Hop to Supreme Court | BHM

Uncle Lukes Supreme Court Trial For The 2 Live Crew Group Album

The 1989 album was released with an “Explicit Lyrics” advisory sticker. However, it was investigated by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office beginning in February 1990. The resulting case made it all the way to the Supreme Court. Before that, a state court decision against the group marked the first time a musical recording was ever officially declared obscene in the United States.

2 Live Crew was barred from performing the material in question. In addition, they were arrested shortly after when they protested the ruling by performing the songs. “At that time it was an attack on Hip Hop,” Luke recalled.

We got kicked off stage, ’cause they said [2 Live Crew] did ‘Booty Music,’ saying we weren’t Hip-Hop. With the conventions, they told us the South would not be [popular in Rap music], and I told them, ‘F*ck y’all.’

Uncle Luke Took Hip-Hop to Supreme Court | BHM
Luther Campbell, leader of hip hop group of 2 Live Crew, right, holds a copy of a federal judge’s order ruling his best-selling album to be obscene (AP Photo/Bill Cooke, used with permission from The Associated Press.)

Supreme Court Appeals Said Their Music Had Artistic Value and was Not Obscene

While on the case, prosecutors made many complaints about the “obscene” music.

”You’re going to hear graphic descriptions of sexual intercourse, anal intercourse, oral intercourse,” one prosecutor shares. This would be a repetitive claim considering the state of rap and hip-hop music today. Claims didn’t stop there, and the rap group faced many lawsuits for various reasons.

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Despite the fact that the Crew had grabbed headlines for their raunchy music, this case was purely based on copyright and not obscenity. Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music was argued on November 9, 1993, and decided on March 7, 1994. The Court voted unanimously in 2 Live Crew’s favor to overturn the lower court’s ruling.

After a long, heated uphill battle In May 1992, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Gonzalez’s ruling in Luke Records v. Navarro.

It took the appeal court-based decision on the fact that the state did not counter arguments. Even though 2 Live Crew’s music was graphic, the music had artistic value. Florida authorities appealed to the Supreme Court but were denied certiorari in Navarro v. Luke Records (1992), leaving the circuit court ruling in force.

The Supreme Court Aftermath

Do you think songs like Cardi B’s “Up” or  ‘WAP’ would be on the airways with no problems thirty years ago? The answer is most definitely not; considering the fact that Uncle Luke was taken to the Supreme Court for the same obscenities in his songs.

Uncle Luke is the man whose booty-shaking madness made the U.S. Supreme Court stand up for free speech. For that, our music today, as well as our entertainment benefits from it.

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