Uncle Luke Was The Original Hip-Hop Pioneer Who Fought For Free Speech And Won (Video)
Luther Campbell, better known under his monikers Uncle Luke or Luke Skyywalker, is often revered as one of the pioneers of Hip-Hop music south of the Mason-Dixon line. On the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards stage, receiving the night’s honorary “I Am Hip Hop Award,” Luke asserted his history from the podium. “I’ma say sh*t right at the end of the day: I started Hip-Hop in the South,” said the palpably emotional 2 Live Crew member.
He was presented the award by an ensemble that included 2000s Miami Rap stars DJ Khaled and Rick Ross, as well as an NFL mentee, Atlanta Falcons star running back Davonta Freeman. Upon accepting the honors, Luke told the BET audience who gave him a standing ovation in the auditorium, “This is something else here. [DJ] Khaled almost got me ’bout to cry,” the crowd called out with additional cheers and applause. “Thank you. Thirty-five years in this business, ain’t nobody ever honored me for sh*t,” Luke continued, as the clapping crowd rose again. “We got kicked off stage, ’cause they said [2 Live Crew] did ‘Booty Music,’ saying we weren’t Hip-Hop. With the conventions, they told us the South would not be [popular in Rap music], and I told them, ‘F*ck y’all.’ So there’s a reason why I was not ever nominated for anything…because I stood there and I said, ‘I’ma start Hip-Hop in the South and then sh*t gon’ be the hottest sh*t in the world.’ It wasn’t easy. We would have [tiny stages and small sets allowed to us], ’cause ‘Y’all ain’t Hip-Hop, y’all from the South and sh*t.’ Then, after that, I gotta go fight the law for free speech. I gotta take all my money and I gotta put my money into doing what, goin’ to the Supreme Court, fighting for Hip-Hop, [and] still ain’t get no f*ckin’ credit, still ain’t get no call for nothin’.”
From there, Luke touched on understated parts of his character and acumen. “I took my first check, 35 years ago, and bought my mama a house. My second check, I started my youth program for kids like Devonta Freeman [who] can play in the program and then go play in the f*ckin’ Super Bowl. That’s real sh*t,” referring to his Liberty City Optimists organization. “You would think they would call and say, ‘Hey Luke, you’re doin’ this philanthropical sh*t.’ They ain’t call, because they wanted me to be [small]. I’ma say sh*t right at the end of the day: I started Hip-Hop in the South.”
As Hip-Hop groups in southern cities like Atlanta and Houston in the mid-1980s, Luke’s 2 Live Crew serviced videos such as 1986’s “Get It Girl” to networks, including BET. Luke specifically cites that feat. “I want to say this to every kid: you don’t have to wait for the phone call. Just know who you are, because you gotta be real about this; this [is] all business. I’ma say to all you young folks out there, you’re doing a hell of a job keeping Hip-Hop alive. Because everything you do is about these kids. Go back to your home. Do something in your community. Be somebody. It ain’t difficult to inspire others. You can do whatever you want to do…f*ck the dumb sh*t; I wanted to inspire people to do business. The crowd gave another standing ovation, as the 56-year-old Luke thanked his family, including his wife, lawyer and Freeman’s sports agent Kristin Thompson. He did not mention his famed group or the July death of Fresh Kid Ice.
As a concert promoter and public radio student, Luke would relocate California collective 2 Live Crew to a market where their early Bass and Electro-tinged Hip-Hop was well-embraced. Luke would join the group consisting of Mr. Mixx, and the recently-deceased Fresh Kid Ice, an Asian-American MC pioneer born Christopher Wong. With Luke and Brother Marquis added to the lineup, 2.L.C. would release four gold albums and one platinum LP (1989’s As Nasty As They Wanna B), all on Luke’s eponymous independent label. The most successful album is the one Luke refers to in his speech. Even with its groundbreaking parental advisory sticker, Broward County Sheriff Nick Navarro received a ruling from County Circuit Court judge Mel Grossman that probable cause for obscenity violations existed, and thus allegedly urged local retailers that selling the album could be criminal. U.S. District Court Judge Jose Gonzalez would subsequently rule the album as obscene and illegal for sale. Arrests followed of at least one local retailer and 2.L.C. members during a concert. Current Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and porn publisher Al Goldstein were among those who publicly defended 2 Live Crew’s free speech rights. Three years removed from album release, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit overturned the obscenity ruling from Judge Gonzalez, and the Supreme Court of the United States refused to hear Broward County’s appeal. “What this does is let Black folks know that the First Amendment really does apply to us,” Luke told The Los Angeles Times upon the May ruling. “It says we can speak our minds the same way that white people do. This isn’t just a victory for 2 Live Crew. The entire music industry won big on this one.”
Luke has released eight solo albums, most recently 2006’s memoir and album, My Life & Freaky Times. As a manager and record exec, Luke backed artists such as JT Money and Poison Clan, H-Town, Public Enemy’s Professor Griff (and his Last Asiatic Disciples), and early 2000s Pitbull.
Since music, Luke unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Dade County in 2011. An avid Hurricanes fan and onetime high school football coordinator, he has hosted a sports talk radio show on local 790 The Ticket, and produced adult film and television.
The 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards allowed Luke to tell a mainstream audience about his history. Luke’s importance and story is a focal point of Ben Westhoff’s 2011 book, Dirty South. In the last three years, “I Am Hip Hop” honorees include former Luke foe Snoop Dogg, fellow ’80s Southern MC Scarface, and Doug E. Fresh.