"Black Cherry, where you been?" growls radio talk show host Luther Campbell, looking very much the suburban dad in white shorts, blue sweater-vest, and white T-shirt. He shoots a glance across the room as she shimmies to her microphone. Dressed in impossibly high gold heels and skintight hot pants (also gold), she apologizes. No harm done. Campbell always seems to have strippers to spare. Helping at the mikes tonight are Freaky Red and Miss Kitty Hurricane. As a gesture to show all is forgiven, Campbell purrs over the air: "Black Cherry, I want some head ... phones. Give me some head ... phones."
Welcome to The Luke Show, broadcast Friday nights from 10:00 p.m. to midnight on 99 Jamz (WEDR-FM 99.1). A barely controlled raunch party, it dominates the time slot after having been on the air only a few months. As the show progresses, Black Cherry, Freaky Red (who's wearing spandex) and Miss Hurricane (in a silk pantsuit and hat with gold trim) all compete in "freaking": They attempt to fluster callers by describing sexually arousing scenes. Then Campbell's sidekicks, 22-year-old DJ Khaled and a gaggle of rowdy boys, pitch in. Before you know it, they're planning a more intimate gathering over which Campbell is expected to preside. "Y'all are on your own, I'm off the market," he says over the air. "I got my old lady waiting at home."
To the astute listener, Campbell's comment was a revelation. Campbell, of course, is the famously crass rapper whose 1989 album with his group 2 Live Crew, Nasty As They Wanna Be, prompted legal charges of obscenity and a Congressional debate on censoring lyrics. Now it sounded like he had morphed from nasty to cuddly. Could this be the end of an era?
If so, what an era it was. For years Campbell has been controversial. People have sued him for everything from child support to contractual rip-offs. In 1994 Alabama police arrested him for lewd conduct during a club performance. That same year another musician won $1.6 million from him in a royalty dispute, forcing the rapper into bankruptcy. He was even banned from the sidelines of University of Miami football games after paying off players.
Remarkably, he survived all that and carried on. He had a hit single this year with "Raise the Roof," and he produces a group called H-Town that recently had a platinum hit, "Knockin' da Boots." He has appeared in movies with Snoop Doggy Dogg and Ice Cube. He also hosts The Peep Show on pay-per-view, which features erotic music videos and strippers caressing guests as Campbell interviews them. He may well be South Florida's most unrepentant libido pusher.
But if his radio comments are to be believed, it's all business. "I'm not a kiddie no more," he insists. "I really don't have time to engage in sexual activities that don't pay money. I mean, the only time I see a bunch of pussy is when I do The Peep Show."
That's good news for the object of his affection, 21-year-old Donyale (Campbell declines to give her last name), a college student in Atlanta who visits most weekends. Campbell, 37 years old and never married, met her in the bar of the Marlin Hotel on South Beach five months ago. "Yeah, Mr. Freak is going home to his old lady," he says in a low tone. "This is the first time in my life I've ever been faithful."
It's sort of like Hugh Hefner getting married: The change has taken his friends by surprise. Several days after the show, his feet up on a black table in the Twelfth Street offices of Luke Records on South Beach, Campbell reflects on his publicly avowed admission of fidelity. "Everybody heard that shit," he says. "I went to a club that Monday night and was hanging out with Puff Daddy, and he was like, 'So you didn't want to hang out with us Friday night? You went home to your woman? What kind of shit is that?' I was like, 'Ohh-kaay.'"
As Campbell talks, his personal barber J.C. arrives and sets up shop in the office. "J.C., you late." Campbell mocks disappointment. "You gonna mess me up." J.C. laughs, apologizes, and plugs in his razor. A little later Khaled enters with some friends. Then Donyale, a willowy, serious woman, walks in and mentions that she studies Spanish and biochemistry. (She won't divulge her university or her last name.) Although she likes to go out, she is just as happy staying in when she visits Campbell. What does she think of his reputation as a world-famous bad boy? His bark, she says, is "ten times worse than his bite. Maybe 100 times." Then the comely couple departs for dinner at China Grill.
After all these years, it appears that Luther Campbell has changed from a rottweiler to a pussy ... cat.