Mention a 2 Live Crew or Uncle Luke album, and most music fans will immediately break out into “It’s Your Birthday,” “I Wanna Rock (Doo Doo Brown),” “Pretty Woman,” or some of the other more explicit titles. Luther Campbell, the southern hip-hop pioneer who was the front man for the sexually charged group 2 Live Crew, has put the explicit lyrics to bed and become a politically engaged community and youth advocate.
In August, Campbell released his life story, The Book of Luke: My Fight for Truth, Justice, and Liberty City. The book tells a tale of the history of Miami to Campbell’s contributions to hip-hop history, his mayoral campaign, and his love of football. His climb to the top of the charts wasn’t without controversy; Campbell and 2 Live Crew became the target of what some say was a rap take down. The book chronicles Campbell’s fight all the way to the Supreme Court for justice to preserve his and every entertainer’s right to free speech, and the legal precedents that set the landscape for the entertainment industry today.
SoulTrain.com caught up with Luther Campbell to discuss his new book and the sacrifices he made in an industry that now thrives on the ability to be “As Nasty As They Wanna Be.”
SoulTrain.com: Some people probably assume the book is about raunchy tales, but will be pleasantly surprised to find that you aren’t like that at all. Is that what you were going for when you wrote the book?
Luther Campbell: That’s exactly why I wrote the book. Some people will look at someone that plays football or even has dreadlocks and profile them as being a certain type of person and they don’t really know them. Unfortunately, that’s what we are doing in this country. I work and do the same thing every day, so I am always amazed at just how much people just do not know me. People seem more into what I appear to be than what I am. I always laughed at them like these people don’t know me. It’s kind of funny. I’m really just a regular dude. I go to work just like everybody else.
SoulTrain.com: In the book, you talk about how 2 Live Crew’s music was a parody. However, back then did it ever cross your mind that some wouldn’t perceive it that way and automatically just sum it up as being explicit raunchy music?
Luther Campbell: Well, when I originally started doing the music, no, not at all. Now when I think about it, and I talk about this in the book, I’m just seeing people dancing at my parties as a DJ. I wasn’t thinking about this is going to be nasty. So when we started doing the music, we were saying we’re going to do it based off of some comedians like Dolemite, Aunt Esther (LaWanda Page), Redd Foxx, and Skillet & Leroy. For us, sampling the comedians, we were thinking this stuff already exists so we didn’t even think about it being controversial music—especially since it was already produced and in the public.
SoulTrain.com: You mention in the book that you felt the politicians and conservatives came after your music because it was racially motivated. Looking back today, do you still feel that way?
Luther Campbell: Yes, I do think it was racially motivated. At that time, hip-hop music started crossing over into the white neighborhoods. Parents were shocked that their kids weren’t listening to stuff like Guns n Roses; instead they were now listening to Run-DMC, 2 Live Crew, and Public Enemy, basically black music. Our music was really segregated. By that I mean black people had their music and white people had their rock and roll. It never crossed over. Just imagine this mother that grew up on The Who, Led Zeppelin, and the Rolling Stones, and now their child is playing rap music. So it was a shock to those people, an absolute culture shock. Of course rap started before 2 Live Crew, as a way of expression. So then when we came on we became the scapegoat. We became the target, the ones that you should not listen to. We really became the target for all rap music. They really wanted to get at rap music in general [because] they had a problem with little Johnny and Robbie listening to the music. So they were like we’ll use these guys as a scapegoat. I tell people that look at today, everybody is listening to the same music. If you listen to rap music or rock and roll, it’s not a problem. The cultures came together in a large way. I think that white kids understand black kids more today because of rap music.
SoulTrain.com: In the book, you discuss legal proceedings over the years. Talk about the difference between what you went to the Supreme Court for versus your other court case.
Luther Campbell: The difference between the two cases was that one was a parody case. The parody case is why I went to the Supreme Court. That case was about what it is to do parodies, people making fun of other people and imitating them. So, if I had lost that case, that’s the one where people would have been most affected. The comedians especially would have felt the effects of that. So that case was important because everybody was doing parodies at that period of time. The other case was when a federal judge deemed the As Nasty As They Wanna Be album as obscene. Now, I didn’t go to jail or anything like that. I could have just said okay forget about it, and not fight it or make more music. That ended up being what was considered case law and on the books. So at any given time an attorney or regular citizen could have gone and said anything remotely like the 2 Live Crew albums, lyrics, or even the titles, anything like that album they could use that argument to take anything off the shelf because of explicit lyrics because the case law would support the action. It would have given them the right to shut down record stores and take those records off the shelves.
That case was more important to hip-hop than the case that I went to the Supreme Court for. When it comes to hip hop music, we went and got the case overturned in Appeals court and that allowed every one of these artists to be able to say what they want to say on a hip-hop record. A lot of people don’t know that and it pisses me off when the industry doesn’t take notice to that, because nobody talks about that. They always want to talk to me about 2 Live Crew this and that, but they don’t want to talk about the court cases. That’s also what motivated me to write this book: People need to have a clearer understanding of the cases that went before them. Right now people act like I haven’t made any contributions or sacrifices to hip-hop music, when in fact I made more sacrifices than anybody in hip-hop.
SoulTrain.com: Since the book came out, has anything changed as far as the support from other artists, and recognition in the industry towards you?
Luther Campbell: Since the book came out, more people are aware of the sacrifices. They are more aware of the history of Miami and things that I’ve been doing now. But time will tell as far as that’s concerned about how the industry will recognize me and my contributions.
SoulTrain.com: Aside from learning about your contributions to the industry and your journey, what else do you hope people take away from reading your book?
Luther Campbell: I hope they take away the fact that, as a black man in this country when you operate and own your own business, you come under attack and you better be prepared to deal with it. You aren’t supposed to own anything in this country. When you do own something they are going to come after you, whether it’s their lawyers like when they took Famous Amos’ company, or all these different patents. Black people create these things and they can be taken away. I want people to understand that. I also want them to understand that you can be whatever you want to be, just do it. I want people to understand Miami and know the history of it when they come here to visit. Everyone thinks it is all glitz and glamour, and I want people to know what South Beach was like before.
I also want them to understand that there was no southern hip-hop until I started it. People don’t know that. So when you are talking about Kool Herc started hip-hop, that’s cool; but in that same conversation when you are talking about who started it in the south, I did. When people read this book I want them to realize this, because they don’t have a large part of the history. Debra Lee from BET and all these people in charge of black media aren’t trying to tell that part of our history. Those same people had a problem with me when I was making the videos that look like the stuff that’s on television right now. They pulled my videos off of television. It’s very difficult for them to say anything now because look at all these artists on television now and the music with all of the sexuality. These are the same people who turned their backs on me. They aren’t going to say we need to pay this guy his respect and at the same time, we’re a part of the problem. Hopefully they will read this book and get to know me. You cannot forget a major part of the history by sweeping it under the rug like it never existed.
SoulTrain.com: Following the success of the film Straight Outta Compton, many started looking in your direction inquiring about a biopic. Can we expect a 2 Live Crew or Uncle Luke biopic?
Luther Campbell: It’s coming. Straight Outta Compton is a great movie, and to this day the greatest hip-hop movie ever done. I swear I love it so much because it fits what hip-hop is. There’s a whole other side of hip-hop that you never heard about. It’s always been about the groups in New York or the New York perspective, and I respect those dudes. So with that movie, you are hearing about another perspective and struggle. So you have this book out about southern hip-hop and the movie about west coast hip-hop, and the correlation between the two was the fight for hip-hop. Me, 2 Live Crew, and N.W.A., we went through some sh**. So when I look at Lil’ Wayne on ESPN, he made a powerful statement when he said he watched that movie and realized he hadn’t done anything in hip-hop. You are right! It’s not that he didn’t do anything, it’s just he hasn’t had to go through anything. He needs to read what the southern rappers went through. People have been calling and saying there needs to be a 2 Live Crew movie, but I tell them read the book, then call me. After they read the book and call me, their whole tune changes and they say, “This is bigger than 2 Live Crew.” Yes, it is. So it’s definitely coming. With Straight Outta Compton, you have the appetizer, but when this one comes out, you are going to get the full course meal!
Shameika Rene’ is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and writing for various websites such as Charlotte Five, Creative Loafing, Carolina Style Magazine, Uptown Magazine, Sheen Magazine, WEtv.com, or her own websites, www.themofochronicles.com and www.conversationswithmeik.blogspot.com. Follow her on Twitter & Instagram @mofochronicles.