As Nasty as He Wants To Be

Miami Beach sours on Luther Campbell's Memorial Day freak show

"You want my prediction for Memorial Day Weekend?" asks Rudolf with a mischievous grin. The Billboardlive nightlife director pauses a beat for dramatic effect and then cracks to Kulchur: "It's not going to be nearly as interesting as last year."

That's certainly the message the city of Miami Beach was hoping to send at last Wednesday's meeting of the Nightlife Industry Task Force. Inside a packed city hall room, Rudolf was joined by a veritable army of nightclub figures -- including Level's Gerry Kelly, crobar's David Silver, Spin's Tony Cho, and SMAC Entertainment's Angel Febres -- who had been personally asked to appear by the city manager's office. Along with an array of police officials, Beach assistant city manager Christina Cuervo laid down the law.

Yes, the city was expecting full occupancy in its hotels. And yes, some 250,000 to 400,000 predominantly black revelers were anticipated, all looking to get their groove on alongside P. Diddy, Busta Rhymes, and a who's who of hip-hop's glitterati. But, Cuervo stressed, the looming holiday weekend would not be a replay of last May's chaos when the Beach's avenues hosted gridlocked tailgate parties by day, and mass brawls by night.

Ludacris at last May's Memorial Day bash -- one of the many rappers expected to return
Steve Satterwhite
Ludacris at last May's Memorial Day bash -- one of the many rappers expected to return
The gloves are off: Luther Campbell sees conspirators at city hall
Cindy Karp
The gloves are off: Luther Campbell sees conspirators at city hall

"Last year caught everybody by surprise," conceded Beach police Capt. John DiCenso to the gathered audience. "We did lose control of Collins Avenue." This May 23, however, "When you come across the causeway to Fifth Street, you're going to be greeted by a county uniformed officer at each intersection," part of the 87 Miami-Dade officers and an unspecified number of Florida Highway Patrolmen who will be supplementing the Beach's entire force of 380. "We're not looking to make mass arrests," DiCenso added, but drinking on the streets will not be tolerated. "If they don't comply, then they're going to be arrested."

Conspicuously absent from this city hall meeting -- and from most of the Beach's Memorial Day weekend plans as of press time -- was Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell and his Progressive Righteous Organized Inc. (PRO). Only a few weeks ago, Christina Cuervo was singing the notorious rapper's praises.

"I have all the confidence in the world in Luther Campbell and his PRO group," Cuervo declared, voicing approval for PRO to close Ocean Drive for "Umoja," an African-arts-themed festival, as well as host three nights of hip-hop concerts inside the Miami Beach Convention Center. The city commission gave its thumbs-up as well. It was hoped that once the Beach's nightclubs had reached capacity, these events would draw the crowds left milling outside.

On the surface it certainly seemed like a winning alliance. Last year's Memorial Day fracas left Beach officials caught between outraged residents looking for a law-and-order crackdown, and critics such as then-Miami NAACP head Bishop Victor T. Curry, who saw racism driving the city's pained reactions. Curry even publicly floated the idea of moving the 2003 NAACP national convention from the Beach in protest -- a contretemps that ended in his own resignation.

Into the breach stepped Campbell, looking to placate both camps: Here was a black entrepreneur -- a class of '78 Beach High graduate, to boot -- offering up his own plans for dealing with Memorial Day. And if Campbell managed to turn a nice buck while keeping the peace, well, as he unabashedly told Kulchur, "It's about time black folks were allowed to earn a living on Miami Beach."

Behind the scenes, Beach officials were understandably less sanguine about their new business partner. After all, Campbell's celebrated hitmaking days as the frontman of 2 Live Crew are a decade gone. Local media may continue to lionize him, but the rapper has long since passed over to the margins of the music industry -- which calls into question just how much influence Campbell could wield on the national hip-hop milieu set to arrive here.

Indeed, since emerging from a 1995 bankruptcy, Campbell's mainstay has been his Luke's Freak Show X-rated video line, dedicated to capturing on camera the fine art of separating a woman from her thong -- preferably in front of a hooting crowd of spring breakers. There is no small irony in this being the precise scene Beach officials are looking to prevent.

Even Campbell himself seemed amused at his newfound role of civic diplomat. During an April interview with Kulchur inside his 12th Street office, he explained how PRO was hoping to coordinate the booking of hip-hop acts throughout South Beach's clubland. He wanted to ensure "crazy-ass artists" and their "crazy-ass" fans would be barred. And just which rappers was the onetime defender of free speech hoping to censor?

Campbell answered with a triumphant laugh and switched to the third person: "I wouldn't let a nightclub book Luke! You want Luke and the Luke girls? Nah, you can't have Luke. All those girls getting naked, girls getting sexually active -- Memorial Day weekend is a family-oriented event!"

Confused? Campbell proceeded to break down his tangled persona, one that finds his office walls decorated with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King portraits next to posters of the leering rapper in a hot tub, surrounded by a bikini-clad harem.

"I'm an entertainer," he explained. "Five percent of the time I'm Luke. Ninety-five percent of the time I'm Luther Campbell ... I've got political concerns like anybody else. I care about what's going on in Jerusalem, the state of Florida -- why they didn't count all our votes. I really want to run for governor! But if I go political, I might go broke. So I gotta stay on the wild side to pay the bills."

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