Dollars 'n' Sex

Can Luther Campbell still cash in on the history of 2 Live Crew?

Less than 60 seconds into Don of All Dons, his comeback album and alleged swan song released this week, Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell is already knee-deep in raunch. "How many ladies' pussies smell good?" he coos to his unseen (and likely nonexistent) female audience. "Give yourself a round of applause if your pussy smell good. How many black ladies out there suck dicks?"

Hedonism, taboo, poor taste — such offenses have been Campbell's currency since the Miami native first hit the scene in the mid-Eighties with 2 Live Crew. They're cashed in on Dons, and they're cashed in on the double-disc audio book, My Life and Freaky Times, that's packaged with the album. And Campbell believes, given the inflation caused by a rampant religious right and hip-hop's mountainous stature on the cultural landscape, that currency is easily worth what it was twenty years back.

"You would think it wouldn't be; you'd think the world has really changed from when we was around doing these records and everybody thought it was shocking," he says via cell phone during a recent publicity stop in New York City. "But look — shit, a few years ago I got barred from South Carolina for five years. Like right now I'm in New York and I can't find a club where, you know, they get naked. It's topless. And in a city like this! I just left L.A. and the same situation. Having a party or a concert when I'm talking about some of the things that go on, it's shocking to them. They can never imagine stuff like that."

Which is why the 45-year-old rapper, pornographer, Pop Warner football coach, and father of four still does his business from his home in Miami Lakes and his office in Hialeah. South Florida — which also spawned Blowfly, another notorious, hilarious filth monger — and its oft-reputed, officially sanctioned, big-moneyed debauchery is sort of like a petri dish for panty-sniffing envelope-pushers.

By many accounts — excluding, probably, your mom's and Tipper Gore's — he's met those responsibilities head-on. Take a look at his CV; one can credit Campbell as first putting the "Dirty" in the Dirty South and establishing the region as a creatively and financially viable alternative to New York and California. "I look at fans of T.I. and Jeezy and Rick Ross and all these guys, and Trick Daddy and Lil' Jon and Ludacris," he says. "I look at those things and I'm like, if I didn't fight for the South, they wouldn't be where they at right now."

Which is progress that pop culture mavens and hip-hop cheerleaders can all agree as being positive. But the question most people forget to ask is, besides progress: Is the music actually positive, as in, any good? Did the controversy and the censorship battles and the invoking of the First Amendment actually help hip-hop? History proves the point moot. And not surprisingly Campbell has a very different, very valid take.

"I think it helped hip-hop in general by bringing it to the forefront," he says. "When anything is widely debated in this country, it brings it to the masses, to people around the world. If people are either for it or against it, it makes it a significant part of art. But always — I did a lot of research — the person that brings the fight becomes the victor. So in a large part of that, I am the victor. Because of the fight, hop-hop became a much bigger commodity than anything in the world."

Which leads to another distinction Campbell can rightfully lay claim to: He's the world's original hip-hop mogul, paving the way for modern entrepreneurs such as Jay-Z, Nelly, and Russell Simmons. Luke Records, the label he founded in 1983, was the first artist-owned hip-hop indie; his business acumen ensured that he and rappers Fresh Kid Ice and Brother Marquis and DJ Mr. Mixx kept the bulk of 2 Live Crew's massive profits.

"You ask 'em and they be like, öThat's Unc, that's our old-school,'" Campbell says of the artistic and business protégées he's nurtured. "I'm the O.G. Even with Jay-Z; he did quite a few interviews where he said, 'Look, that man there, he like the Michael Jordan. He introduced us to how to get money in the business.' Ain't nobody was doing that. So they give me my respect."

It's a lofty, alternate view of a history that most align with lewd anthems like "Me So Horny" and "The Fuck Shop." But Campbell admits the truth isn't entirely rose-color.

"I'd go in and win the fight," he says, "but throughout all that, I'd get the setback because I took on the world and the world looked at me as this person who fought for the right for people to say what they wanted to say. And for having the girls in music videos, and being able to go to the concert and hear some different lyrics. So people look at me a whole different way. I'm not looked at like the Russell Simmons or Jay-Zs of the world. I can't go get a job at a major corporation. I've always got that stigma attached to me. Because I'm the guy who fought, I'm blackballed for fighting.

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