By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
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By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
Luther Campbell is a serious businessman. "Everyone in Miami who does rap music has worked for me in one way or another," the former 2 Live Crew frontman says on a recent afternoon at his Miami Lakes home. The man alternately known as Uncle Luke is relaxed, lounging in a light yellow polo shirt, white Bermuda shorts, and white Nike Air Force Ones, and proceeds to talk nonstop for more than two hours. "Right now Miami is a force to be reckoned with, and I am happy about it. I feel like I am responsible. If I took off, like, every other successful person, there would've been nobody trained down here to do what they are doing right now."
The occasion for the interview is the infamous rap mogul's big-splash, mainstream comeback: He has just finished filming the first season of his reality show, Uncle Luke's Parental Advisory, airing now on VH1. Something like a Miami bass version of The Osbornes, the show charts Campbell happily married with children, but not necessarily getting boring and settling down. He's back to releasing music, starting with sort of an expanded version of the show's theme song, called "Uncle Luke's Rodeo."
But what he really wants to do, off the bat, is set the record straight about his role as a pioneer of Miami hip-hop. He takes me to task for my recent New Times article about, well, the other members of 2 Live Crew. "I understand what you were trying to do, but in the sake of hyping them, you made me look like an asshole. What the fuck is that? I was not just their hype man; I was the hook man," he insists. "I gave them hits. The brain of that operation was me. They would write their verses, but it was all based on my hooks. Since you wrote that article, I'm gonna give you the real deal."
He laughs hysterically and continues, addressing his former musical partners. "You can talk shit about Uncle Luke all day, but when you slander me and say that I took money from you, that's bullshit. Hell yeah, I got $5 million from Atlantic Records. They did a deal with Luke Records, and I owned Luke Records. They were doing a record deal with me and my company.
"2 Live Crew can't blame me for where they are at in their lives. They can only blame themselves," he says. "I bought those houses and clubs with my own goddamn money. I can do whatever the fuck I want with my money. I built me some clubs, some houses, some apartment buildings, and I sell everything I get. Before Atlantic Records gave me that $5 million, I was making $10 million a year on my own. When I went and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, 2 Live Crew went their separate ways. They need to be accountable for their own decisions."
Beyond 2 Live Crew, Campbell also takes credit for the success of countless local luminaries, among them Trick Daddy. "He was just out of prison and he stayed with me in my condo down on Biscayne Boulevard. He had a stack of lyrics that he wrote while in prison. I was in Chapter 11, so I could not sign Trick to my label [Luke Records]. Slip-N-Slide found out that he wasn't signed to my label, because he was not property of my estate. After he signed the contract with them, I could not even talk to him."
But Slip-N-Slide as well, he says, is part of the extended Luke family tree. "You look at any record company in this town, somebody there worked for me," he says. "The main people that work at companies like Slip-N-Slide or Poe Boy have worked for me. I trained them. The biggest promotion companies in Miami, they have either worked or interned for me."
But eventually his thoughts return to his family and his TV show. "This reality show will give people a chance to see how I run my business, how I interact with my wife, and how I raise my kids," he says as his 27-year-old wife Kristen walks into the kitchen and toasts a bagel. Campbell ambles over to the sink and washes some dishes before handing me a can of Sprite. "We are a fun family."
Again, though, he turns back to Miami hip-hop, specifically the recent revelation that supposed hustler Rick Ross once worked as a county corrections officer. "They've been asking my opinion about Rick Ross all week. I really don't know what the big deal is. I'm speaking from being a 47-year-old man. I was a cook before I was rapping. How about you? What were you doing before you were working at Miami New Times?" We both laugh as he continues, "I know that if he did have a job as a correctional officer, he still had to go home to Carol City. He had to pass all the drug holes. He heard all the stories about the drug game and he started writing about it. Then he started rapping about it."
He leans back in a chair and rubs his palms together. "I look at rap music as an art form, no different than George Lucas when he makes Star Wars. People feel the passion of Rick Ross's music and that's what makes him a credible artist. People in Carol City know Rick Ross, and they know that police go to jail every day. They know that it don't make you no clean-squeaky motherfucker just because you got a uniform on."
Campbell holds up his hands as if he's having an epiphany. "Al Pacino is not a gangster. Frank Sinatra was, but you never heard him sing about that shit. Denzel Washington? We know he was not Malcolm X, but he did a hell of a job. Jamie Foxx was not Ray Charles, but he won an award for it," he says. "I would sign a former prison guard before I would sign a bus driver. The bus driver just hears it at the back of the bus."
Uncle Luke himself, meanwhile, has just emerged from living in a TV bubble. But even in the framework of that "unscripted series," the man who was "banned in the U.S.A." comes off pretty normal, like many other married guys raising teenage children. "My show is real reality," he says. I tell him I feel like a nephew, as I pick up my video camera and hit the record button.