We Won't Get Fooled Again

Is Luther Campbell really Miami Beach's Memorial Day savior?

Indeed, based on the stack of glowing hometown media profiles that Campbell has received over the past decade -- from his platinum-selling 2 Live Crew's 1992 obscenity trial before the Supreme Court, to his more recent solo work and X-rated video releases -- he would seem to be Miami's preeminent hip-hop playa.

Outside of South Florida, however, Campbell is viewed as lessmacher thanschlemiel. That point was painfully driven home during last August's Source Hip-Hop Music Awards. As the industry's movers and shakers descended on the Beach's Jackie Gleason Theatre, Campbell was left out in the cold, angrily grousing on WEDR-FM (99.1), "Where's myaward?" The message was clear: 2 Live Crew and its hits were ancient history. More than a decade on from such introspective odes as "Me So Horny" and "We Want Some Pussy," Campbell may not have changed (on his 2001 album Somethin' Nasty, he'd progressed as far as "Eat the Pussy"), but hip-hop has. And in its eyes, Campbell may be entertaining, but he's little more than a relic.

In fact since emerging from a 1995 bankruptcy, Campbell's focus has been less on music than film. His Luke's Freak Show adult-video line ("mo', mo', and mo' women take it off") is up to volume 11, with each edition selling upwards of 30,000 copies. At $16.95 a pop, that's kept ol' Uncle Luke in a comfortable six-figure income bracket.

Not that he doesn't still have his creditors. After recently winning a $10,913 judgment against Campbell for past-due legal fees, attorney Danny Kaplan griped to the Herald's Joan Fleischman, "Luther hasthe money -- or access to it. He's a slippery guy."

Campbell doesn't exactly argue that contention, instead branding Kaplan a shyster: "I'm suing him for malpractice." And the $27,738 the United Parcel Service is suing him for?

"Shit, only $27,000?" he laughs to Kulchur. "With all the videos I ship every month, that's a good bill."

It's just such a cavalier business attitude that leaves some Beach circles nervous. Campbell says PRO has been meeting with club owners, asking them to use the group as a booking coordinator for all their Memorial Day weekend activities. Otherwise "out-of-town promoters would bring crazy-ass artists that attract crazy-ass people to see them." In exchange for this guidance, Campbell continues, so far Level, Liquid, Steam, and Static have agreed to pay PRO a $2,500 "sanction fee" to cover the cost of Nation of Islam security and event advertising. "I'll probably only make a little money on that," he notes, with the bulk of his take accruing from Ocean Drive vendor sales and his Convention Center party. "My main thing is to make sure folks come down here, have a good time, and not just get written up as if they live an animalistic lifestyle."

Not everyone, however, sees Campbell's moves in such a benevolent light. To some, Campbell is simply trying to capitalize on the racial tension and public jitters surrounding Memorial Day, ensuring that PRO snags a sizable chunk of what promises to be a very lucrative weekend.

"They're just trying to reserve clubs so other promoters can't book them," says one prominent nightclub figure who was approached by PRO. When he rejected PRO's bid to rent out his establishment, calling it half of what other promoters were offering, he says the PRO rep went ballistic. "He threatened me: “We control Ocean Drive, we control the streets! If you don't want trouble, you better deal with us.' I had to throw him out of the building."

Campbell doesn't deny he's encountered resistance from some nightclub operators, but he flatly rejects the allegation of a thuggish shakedown. "Nobody was ever threatened," he insists. "You don't have to give us your club. If you want to work with promoter X instead of PRO, fine, but please come talk to us. When you work with us, you work towards the overall program of the weekend." His voice rising, he arches an eyebrow and continues: "If certain clubs work against us, then they don't give a damn about black people, Miami Beach, the whole community! I don't have a problem with going to the press, the police, and the city to let them know who's not on board."

That sounds a bit like a threat.

"If shit hits the fan, it reflects on all of us," Campbell counters sternly. Then, with an exasperated sigh, he shakes his head and smiles. "If the city doesn't want to work with me, fine." Gesturing to the office around him, he quips, "When Memorial Day weekend comes, I'll put up my storm shutters and be out of here. I do not need the grief. I'll be on vacation at a golf tournament."

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