Dollars and Sex

Can Luther Campbell still cash in on 2 Live Crew?

Less than 60 seconds into Don of All Dons,his comeback album and alleged swan song coming out next week and 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-'80s 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 that currency is easily worth what it was 20 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."

Maybe that's 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.

"I always had opportunities to leave, go out to California, New York, do bigger and better things. But my home is Miami. South Florida," he says. "That's where I'm from. I have a lot of things I have to do. I have to do my own community work. As a community person, as a parent, and as somebody that people look up to. I have a responsibility, I feel."

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 and 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."

That ample legacy is one he's proud of. But did the controversies and the censorship battles over his lyrics actually help hip-hop as an art form?

"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 (which were drained away in subsequent years thanks to an endless stream of lawsuits, child support claims, creditors, and expenses).

"You ask 'em and they be like, 'That'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."

In other words, Campbell, author of such singular anthems as "Me So Horny" and "The Fuck Shop," sees himself as a freedom fighter. And a bruised one at that.

"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 Simmonses or Jay-Z's 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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