Tuesday, August 14, 1990

New York Newsday features Op-Ed Column by Richard Grayson: "A Rap Smuggler Sings the Blues"

New York Newsday today (Tuesday, August 14, 1990) features an op-ed column by Richard Grayson: "A Rap Smuggler Sings the Blues," about his efforts to send 2 Live Crew's As Nasty as They Want to Be CD's to South Florida, where they are banned as obscene.


By Richard Grayson

I am a writer living in exile in New York City. Currently I am involved in smuggling forbidden works to the people of my homeland, whose government would immediately arrest me if I were caught. But I'm not a Chinese dissident, or a member of the African National Congress, or a freedom fighter from a totalitarian nation.

I'm a snowbird.

I live in South Florida much of the year but return to New York every May. I enjoy the contrasts between the streetlife on Manhattan's Upper West Side and the palm trees and swimming pools of Broward County. And I dislike northern winters and tropical summers.

For months I had followed the controversy involving the rap group 2 Live Crew and the sexually brutal lyrics on their album, "As Nasty As They Wanna Be." Two judges have ruled that the band's songs violate Florida's obscenity laws. I have listened to people argue the issues on Miami talk shows and in the local newspapers, and I have discussed censorship with my writing classes at South Florida colleges.

Several months ago, Broward County sheriff Nick Navarro arrested a record store owner for selling the album.

As a writer who has received government funds for my fiction, I had been shocked when Sen. Jesse Helms succeeded in placing content restrictions on grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Helms and his right-wing allies kept saying that the issue wasn't one of censorship but of abuse of government funding. They assured us they would let the free marketplace take care of art they deemed obscene. But apparently the free market wasn't working in 2 Live Crew's case; their album has sold over a million copies, and not one penny from the taxpayers was involved.

I thought a lot about this as I took a 40-block stroll on upper Broadway one evening. Stopping in at record stores along the way, I found a few copies of "As Nasty As They Wanna Be" in most of them. It seemed absurd that in New York I could buy the album with no problem, but in Fort Lauderdale I could not.

Late that night I hit on a way to fight the Florida censors. I wrote a press release announcing the formation of Radio Free Broward, dedicated to sending the 2 Live Crew album to fans in the "captive counties" of South Florida that were covered by the federal judge's ruling. Calling myself a member of the "snowbird exile community," I faxed the press release to South Florida news organizations. Soon I was giving interviews to local radio and TV stations and newspapers.

Since the Radio Free Broward story was covered in the media, including on MTV, I've received over 20 letters and calls from South Florida residents asking how to get a copy of the 2 Live Crew recording. I send back letters quoting a price and explaining that I'm not making any profit, just covering my costs. I've filled half a dozen orders so far, sending the obscene materials via the U.S. Postal Service. (It's not obscene on my end, so it's legal to ship the recording, postal inspectors have told me.) Almost every day, another query or order arrives.

There have been some interesting letters. One, from a Miami Beach man who told me he was born in Cuba, said the actions of the federal judge and the Broward County sheriff, both Cuban Americans, made him feel as if he were still living in a communist country.

The saddest query came from someone who was afraid to give me his name. The writer had me send the album to a post-office box and paid me cash. Perhaps he feared entrapment, but it disturbs me that a U.S. citizen who just wants to buy a record feels like a criminal.

I also got an unsigned postcard (palm trees on the back) that read: "You are a pig and your mind is in the sewer. . . Stay in New York!"

The truth is, I haven't heard a single cut from "As Nasty As They Wanna Be." I have no interest in the kind of lyrics 2 Live Crew's songs contain. But as a writer, I can't abide any words, however vulgar or sexist or anti-Semitic or homophobic, being banned in the United States.

So while I'd prefer that people spend their time and money on different kinds of music - or better yet, on my own books - I'm determined to give my fellow Floridians the same rights I enjoy while I'm living in New York. The last time I checked, Broward County was still covered by the same Constitution as Manhattan
and Brooklyn.
Richard Grayson's most recent book isNarcissism and Me (Mule & Mule). He teaches English at Florida International University and Broward Community College.

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