Luther Campbell: Still nasty, an excerpt from Ben Westhoff's new book, Dirty South

One evening at the Atlanta airport, I find myself stalking Luther "Luke" Campbell. This is my first attempt to ambush someone, in a journalistic capacity or otherwise, and I don't think I'm cut out for it.

Besides being a candidate for Miami-Dade mayor, Luke is the undisputed godfather of Southern rap music, and I've long been trying to speak with him. Tonight he's slated to perform at a Mexican restaurant in Athens — 70 miles east — and I plan to be there. On the trip over, I'm hoping we can knock out an interview.

The only problem is that I don't exactly have a scheduled appointment. A couple of months ago, he said he'd talk to me, but then stopped taking my phone calls. I've since gotten in touch with his booking agent, who said Luke should be able to meet with me here in Georgia. But after informing me that Luke's Fort Lauderdale flight lands at 7:30, the booking agent dropped off the face as well.

The honorable and horny Luther Campbell.
C. Stiles
The honorable and horny Luther Campbell.

Let me tell you: Stalking isn't as easy as it sounds. For one thing, two Fort Lauderdale planes land at 7:30, one Delta and one AirTran, and each deposits into a different terminal. So I plant myself near the baggage claim, next to a set of escalators where most passengers arrive.

I send a text message to Luke to say I'm here but, naturally, don't hear back. I pace. I sweat.

It's about 7:40 now. I've rented a car here in Atlanta, but in hopes he'll invite me to ride along with him, I've stashed it. For the same reason, my oversize travel bag is with me too.

At 7:45 he emerges, flanked by a sturdy-looking accomplice. Luke wears a small mustache and some scruff on his chin. A middle-aged former football player, he looks and moves like an athlete, and quickly darts left toward the food court. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I take off after him, dodging folks approaching baggage carousels.

"Luke," I say softly, and then again, more loudly. "Luke!"

He turns. I introduce myself as the guy writing the book about Southern rap he talked to awhile back. "Sorry for stalking you," I say with a half-giggle, noting that his booking agent green-lit this meeting, which is sort of true.

"He didn't tell me anything about that," Luke says, turning back around.

An inauspicious start, but I haven't explicitly been told to leave, so I lurk a few steps behind. As they head for the exit, I realize time is probably running out, and summon the courage to mention the interview. "Maybe we could bang this out on the ride to Athens?" I suggest.

He laughs quietly, impressed by my audacity. When a long SUV pulls up to the curb, he indicates I may climb aboard, and I scurry into the back seat.

His mood improves when the concert promoter, who is driving the truck, hands him two stacks of cash. He counts it, stashes it, and leans back in his seat. Before I know it, his tongue is loose.

In his early days, Luke called himself Luke Skyywalker, and 2 Live Crew's first record, The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are, came out on his fledgling record label, Luke Skyywalker Records, which he distributed out of his parents' house. He initiated the imprint because no one else would give his act the time of day.

"I didn't want to be in the record business, but I had to. In the days of hip-hop from New York, they weren't about to give no rappers from Miami a deal," he says, comparing such Northern prejudice to "slavery."

Never a rapper, Luke didn't appear onstage with 2 Live Crew in its early days. But after a month of lackluster shows, he decided to play a more significant role. "He felt [group members] Marquis and Fresh Kid were at a disadvantage, because they had the personalities of fucking turnips," says 2 Live Crew's DJ Mr. Mixx. When Luke had been a DJ coming up in the '70s, he prided himself on his ability to grab a crowd's attention, so now as a hype man he did the same thing, shouting chants and revving people up with lewd catcalls.

After watching Stanley Kubrick's 1987 Vietnam film Full Metal Jacket, Luke got the idea to sample a prostitute character, and the resulting song, "Me So Horny," off their 1989 album, As Nasty as They Wanna Be, became the group's most enduring hit. It also sparked controversy. Luke says he tried to keep his R-rated music out of kids' hands, noting he put warning labels on 2 Live Crew albums and they recorded separate, less-offensive versions of their works. Still, the fact that 2 Live Crew was raunchy and selling tapes to white kids is probably why censors made an example out of the group.

A lawyer named Jack Thompson from the right-wing American Family Association jumped into the fray, which convened with Florida Gov. Bob Martinez to take action. Before long, Broward Sheriff Mike Navarro moved to ban Nasty in that county, and a U.S. district court judge decreed the album obscene, an unprecedented decision mandating that anyone selling Nasty or performing its songs faced prosecution.

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4 comments
Rob Boyte
Rob Boyte

Thanks to Ben Westhoff for the flashback to the early '90s and our struggles against censors like Jack Thompson and abusive pigs like Sheriff Nick Navarro (I hope "Mike" Navarro was a mistake only in the New Times article and not Ben's book).

I don't recall ever listening to As Nasty as They Wanna Be - it's not my thing. But I do recall objecting to it being censored because freedom of expression is my thing. Not only did sales of this record increase from the attacks on it (Censors are stupid and never learn) but public opinion sided with the band, even from those who did not particularly care for the song. It is a Voltaire thing. Even State Senator Connie Mack, a Republican defended this song.

And, in October 1990 the six member jury agreed, acquitting Luther and two other band members, rejecting the oppressive censors; Thompson, Navarro, Governor Bob Martinez and U.S. District Judge Jose A. Gonzalez Jr who ruled the song obscene earlier that year.

IDK how Campbell would be as Mayor of Miami-Dade County or even if he has a chance against the well-funded Hispanic opposition who had exclusive venue at FIU but what the hell, I'm voting for him. Can he be any worse than the others?

Rob Boyte

Steve
Steve

Face down ass up!

Al Kohalic
Al Kohalic

thursday may 12th? this was written in the future!

 
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