On October 3, 1990, a Florida Jury convicted record store owner Charles Freeman on obscenity charges for selling the 2 Live Crew's As Nasty As They Wanna Be in a landmark case.
Freeman was arrested on June 8 for selling the album, which had been deemed obscene by federal judge Jose Gonzalez two days prior, citing graphic depictions of sex and sodomy. The album was sold to an undercover police officer. Freeman claimed that his arrest violated his first amendment right to free speech and was motivated by race. He said defying the album's band was a matter of principles.
"It's unfair, the jury was all white and doesn't reflect my community as a Black man in Broward county," he said. "There were no Blacks on the jury pool, only one and they don't know where E-C records is, they don't know nothing about the goddamn ghetto."
Freeman's trial made headlines worldwide, and he was hailed as a hero and martyr for the cause of free speech. Ironically, Charles Freeman lost his freedom and what wealth he had accumulated after he paid the $1,000 fine for selling the album. According to the Orlando Sentinel, he was forced to sell E-C records and legal bills caused him to fall almost $7,000 behind on his rent.
The father of four then racked up $60,000 in credit card debt. He was later arrested for cocaine distribution, and the FBI claimed that he was selling crack in his record store. Freeman pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
I never imagined I’d be about to go to jail for selling a record. I’m just trying to earn an honest living down here. No judge should be allowed to dictate what kind of music an adult can listen to.
- Charles Freeman owner of E-C Records
As Nasty As They Wanna Be was suffering from slow album sales until the obscenity ban. The lead single, "Me So Horny" was the group's first song to impact the top 40, reaching number 26 on Billboard's hot 100. The album also marked the first time that a southern rap group sold 1 million albums, achieving platinum status.
On May 7, 1992, the U.S. 11th Circuit Appeals Court in Atlanta overturned the obscenity ruling. The court determined that the 1990 trial failed to disprove the album’s artistic value, a requirement by the U.S. Supreme Court. “This isn’t just a victory for 2 Live Crew,” group member Luther Campbell said after the ruling. “The entire music industry won big on this one.”