Brother Marquis, mainstay of hip-hop’s 2 Live Crew, dies at 57 (2024)

Brother Marquis, a foundational member of the rap group 2 Live Crew, the raunchy Miami-based outfit whose sexually explicit lyrics delighted fans and dismayed local prosecutors, sparking a national debate over freedom of expression, died June 3 at his home in Gadsden, Ala. He was 57.

His death was confirmed by 2 Live Crew’s manager, DJ Debo, who said the cause was not known. The group announced his death on social media Monday but did not share details.

Well before the emergence of rap provocateurs like Ludacris, Lil’ Kim and Megan Thee Stallion, 2 Live Crew honed a sound that was unabashedly coarse and crude, dancing across the bounds of good taste while incorporating dirty words and titillating descriptions of sex in songs like “We Want Some P---y,” “Hoochie Mama” and “One and One,” a filthy reinterpretation of the Kinks’ “All Day and All of the Night.”

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Ignoring critics who deemed the group’s lyrics sexist and misogynistic, Brother Marquis (born Mark Demetrius Ross) provided some of its most mischievous rhymes, helping anchor a core lineup that included DJ Mr. Mixx (David Hobbs) and fellow rappers Fresh Kid Ice (Christopher Wong Won) and Luke Skyywalker (Luther Campbell).

“I’m like a dog in heat, a freak without warning,” Marquis rapped on one of 2 Live Crew’s biggest singles, “I have an appetite for sex, ’cause me so horny.”

Featuring dialogue sampled from the Stanley Kubrick film “Full Metal Jacket,” “Me So Horny” became the group’s first Top 40 hit, topping the Billboard rap chart and opening 2 Live Crew’s third album, “As Nasty as They Wanna Be” (1989), with a bang — or rather a moan.

The album horrified conservatives, evangelicals and anti-p*rnography crusaders, and in 1990 it became the first record to be declared legally obscene by a federal court. U.S. District Judge Jose Gonzalez wrote in his opinion that the record appealed “to dirty thoughts and the loins, not to the intellect and the mind.”

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Days later, a Fort Lauderdale record store owner was arrested for selling the album to an undercover officer. After performing songs from the album at a show in Hollywood, Fla., Marquis and the group’s two other rappers were also arrested on misdemeanor obscenity charges. (Mr. Mixx, who had been manning the turntables, avoided the charges, which carried a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $1,000 fine.)

While the store owner’s conviction was overturned on appeal, the 2 Live Crew rappers were acquitted after a trial that included expert testimony from literary scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr., then a professor at Duke University.

“These young artists are acting out, to lively dance music, a parodic exaggeration of the age-old stereotypes of the oversexed black female and male,” Gates wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times, defending the group against accusations of obscenity. He added that in 2 Live Crew’s music, “parody reigns supreme, from a take-off of standard blues to a spoof of the black power movement; their off-color nursery rhymes are part of a venerable Western tradition.”

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A federal appeals court overturned the initial obscenity ruling in 1992. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear additional arguments in the case, although in 1994 it ruled on behalf of 2 Live Crew in a separate dispute, concluding that the group’s parody of “Oh, Pretty Woman,” the Roy Orbison hit, constituted fair use rather than copyright infringement.

The group split up a few years later, although for a time its members’ legal issues only enhanced the group’s appeal. In the wake of their obscenity conviction, they released “Banned in the U.S.A.” (1990), their highest-charting single, which reached No. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sampled Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the U.S.A.,” as well as a news report discussing the obscenity case.

“The First Amendment gave us freedom of speech,” Marquis rapped in the song, “so what you sayin’, it didn’t include me?/ I like to party and have a good time/ There’s nothin’ but pleasure written in our rhymes.”

Sources vary on his date of birth, but according to DJ Debo he was born April 2, 1967. He grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and as a teenager he moved to Riverside, Calif., where he started making rap records in high school and met Mr. Mixx, a founder of 2 Live Crew.

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The group began as a trio without Marquis, who joined when he was about 19, after one of the original members dropped out. He was featured on the group’s 1986 debut album, “The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are,” which helped pioneer and popularize the booming sound known as Miami bass.

Information on survivors was not immediately available.

After the release of the 1998 album “The Real One,” Brother Marquis left 2 Live Crew and worked on solo projects, later reuniting with Fresh Kid Ice, who died in 2017. Away from the group, Marquis also rapped on the 1993 song “99 Problems” with Ice-T. The rapper credited Marquis with coining the song’s classic hook — “I got 99 problems, but a b---- ain’t one” — which was further popularized by Jay-Z in a song of the same name.

Long after 2 Live Crew’s core lineup split up, Marquis distanced himself from some of the group’s lyrics, telling a VladTV interviewer in 2022, “I really wasn’t comfortable with all the profanity that we were putting into the music, but when you see the reaction in the community and everyone’s loving it, you know, you kind of go with it.”

He was proud, he said, of the role that he and the group played in promoting free expression. “No one can ever take away from me what we did,” he told the magazine Heat Seekers. “I can take that to the grave that we made a difference.”

Brother Marquis, mainstay of hip-hop’s 2 Live Crew, dies at 57 (2024)
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