Not many people who hear the name “Luther Campbell” think of a politically engaged community and youth advocate. Instead, the Southern hip-hop pioneer, whose group 2 Live Crew introduced its audience to bikini-clad women and the sexually charged Caribbean and Latin rhythms of Campbell’s native Miami, is more infamously known for yelling, “Don’t stop, get it, get it” on his X-rated solo classic “I Wanna Rock (Doo Doo Brown).”
In his memoir, The Book of Luke: My Fight for Truth, Justice, and Liberty City, Campbell tells a different tale. It’s one that speaks on the history of the city from which he hails, how he helped create Southern rap, black entrepreneurship, his many court cases defending hip-hop’s right to free speech, running for mayor, coaching high school football and more.
In Part 1 of The Root’s two-part interview, Campbell speaks about those early years nurturing Southern hip-hop and society’s double standard for black artists.
The Root: In some ways the elements that led to the creation of hip-hop in New York were also present in your background.
Luther Campbell: It’s no different. During the same time that Herc and all ’em were starting hip-hop in New York, it was basically the same time that we were down here deejaying. Down here, it was the more speakers you have versus scratching and mixing.
TR: Caribbean culture mixing with this black American culture is really what produces all of that.
LC: Yeah. That’s my background, father being from Jamaica and mama being from the Bahamas. It was also important to let people know that Miami started out as a [largely] Bahamian city, 40 percent African Americans who built the city, and those people are the ones who taught me.
TR: Back then, a lot of rappers didn’t think about owning their own label. What motivated you to have your own?
LC: Well, what motivated me, like I speak about it in the book, was the fact that everybody said no. I was carrying around this one group, 2 Live Crew, and everybody said no. There was no way in the world I could get a record deal out of New York because the only thing they were even considering were groups from New York. So there was no such thing as a record company in the South. So before you know it, I just basically said, “OK, I’ll do it myself.” That’s basically the beginning of Southern hip-hop.
TR: Do you think you don’t get your due?
LC: Oh, no, not at all. That’s why it was important to do the book, and it was important at this time. I mean, timing is everything. You know I don’t get no credit. Most people who read this book, they will be so overwhelmed with surprises. Even right now, everybody is like, “Oh, I didn’t know this,” and “I didn’t know that,” “I didn’t know that.” So when you read it and you say, “I didn’t know this,” that tells you what society has to offer as far as information on what I’ve done. They want to erase it.
I’ve always figured to be blackballed in the industry, so you will never see me get any credit for anything. Then, when you read the book, people will find that “Wow, this dude stood up for hip-hop,” “This dude went to the Supreme Court,” “This dude fought for hip-hop,” “This dude created the Parental Advisory sticker,” “This dude was the first person to have a hip-hop label in the South,” “This rapper fought on so many different levels.”
TR: What gave you the confidence early on to tailor hip-hop to Miami, especially when so many rappers outside New York weren’t doing that?
LC: In Miami I wanted to be different. Everything about me is different. Sometimes people look at me and say, “Hey, I don’t get this, but it’s different.” That’s the key to it all, and that’s why when you look at the album covers or the videos during those periods of time, there was only break dancing in videos. There were no girls.
Hey, look, I’m portraying where we from. This is where I’m from. I’m from Miami. The other guys in the group, they weren’t from Miami. One was from California, the other two were from New York. I was just basically showing, this is where we are from. Naw, we don’t have no eight-tracks. We have beaches and fun and sun, and if there’s a party, you see women in bikinis. So I’m just showing where I’m from.
TR: Is there a double standard for black artists?
LC: Why is it when African Americans do something artistic, it becomes, “They are degrading this and that”? When Arnold Schwarzenegger is shooting up everybody in the movies, that’s art, but when we do anything remotely like that, we’re degrading everybody. When the [Dallas] Cowboys have cheerleaders in daisy dukes, “Oh, that’s great.” But when I put ’em in daisy dukes, “Oh, that’s degrading.”
When I made “Me So Horny,” I got it from the Full Metal Jacket movie of the Asian woman on there, and I lifted her voice saying, “Me so horny, me so horny.” It was a classic movie, won all kind of awards. This woman won all kind of awards. I took the same vocals of her, put it on a record. When it came on my record, it was degrading, but when it was on the movie, it was classic art. … I know what they want to say about me, but what I do is art. I’m an artist.
Editor’s note: In part 2 of The Root’s conversation with Luther Campbell, he gets deeply political and speaks about the lack of black leadership, Black Lives Matter, how he uses his power politically and how other rappers can use their infuence.
Ronda Racha Penrice is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. She is the author of African American History for Dummies.