For over two decades, Luther Campbell has been having a conversation with America. Unfortunately, most of it can’t be repeated here. As the leader of the sexually explicit, obscenity-spewing rap group 2 Live Crew in the early nineties, he was targeted by everyone from Florida prosecutors to Tipper Gore for his lyrical content. Campbell, an accidental First Amendment hero (he’s fond of quoting his constitutional lawyer, and Bruce Spring-steen lent him “Born in the U.S.A.” so he could remake it as “Banned in the U.S.A.”), prevailed in his anti-obscenity case in the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Likewise, he prevailed in a copyright case in the Supreme Court, where 2 Live Crew’s parody of Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” (Two timin’ woman that takes a load off my mind / Two timin’ woman now I know that baby ain’t mine) was ruled fair use. The High Court did not weigh in on the deleterious effects of self-parody.
As one of the first acts to earn a parental advisory sticker with 2 Live Crew’s double platinum-selling “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” album, and as the architect of the still-enduring Miami bass sound (or “booty music” as it’s called in the trade, with all the bumping, pumping, heaving-glutei-as-jiggling-Jell-O-mold videos it inspires), Campbell has done his part to make the F-word, the B-word, the P-word, and pretty much any other word you can imagine commonplace in our national discourse, such as it is.
Since his success with 2 Live Crew (now disbanded), Uncle Luke, as he is known, has been busy: making and losing millions, filing for bankruptcy in 1995, discovering new bestselling acts like H-Town and Pitbull, starring in a VH1 reality show (Luke’s Parental Advisory), and peddling his “urban adult entertainment” Freak Show videos on the Internet, in which Campbell, aspiring to be the “black Hugh Hefner,” narrates hair-raising groupie exploits.
But Campbell is now 50 years old. In hip-hop years, that makes him something akin to Methuselah. He has a new wife (his first) and a new baby (nowhere near his first). A half a century on, the hip-hop artist once responsible for our unofficial national anthem (“Me So Horny”) is looking to better himself, and in turn, to better the city in which he lives. As he told his hometown paper in a flare-up of civic consciousness, “I’m not degrading women any more, I’m leaving that up to the other guys.”
Sure, you can still buy the Freak Show DVDs on his website, along with his CDs and music downloads—a man has to eat and pay child support. But having recently disassociated from Uncle Luke’s VIP Gentleman’s Club—a strip club he licensed his name to in West Palm Beach—Campbell is going legit. That is, if you consider entering politics more noble work than twirling naked around a pole for strangers. For Uncle Luke has a plan: to become the next mayor of Miami-Dade County, the eighth-most populous county in the United States.
He is not alone. As of this writing, 10 other candidates have the same plan for a May 24 special election after two-term mayor Carlos Alvarez was driven from office in a March recall election by a whopping 88-12 percent margin—the most lopsided recall of a local politician in U.S. history. Alvarez blames his ouster on everything from a bad roll of the recession dice (unemployment in the area is now 12 percent) to the efforts of the hard-charging billionaire agitator Norman Braman, the former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, a renowned art collector, and a car dealership magnate.
After Alvarez addressed budget shortfalls by hiking property taxes on 40 percent of local homeowners, Braman, who has ranked as high as 281 on the Forbes 400, went to the mattresses, spending $1 million to engineer Alvarez’s demise. In the process, he has become the unofficial spokesperson for irate Miami-Dade residents, which these days seems to encompass pretty much everyone.
Braman has laid out a long list of grievances. For starters: Miami-Dade Transit got half its budget stripped by the feds for shoddy accounting; the city built an extravagant baseball park for the Florida Marlins, which will cost the average family of four $4,000 apiece when many can’t even afford tickets to a game; Alvarez hiked real estate taxes by $178 million, then gave $132 million in pay increases to county staffers, many of whom were already making six figures. And then there was the aneurysm-inducing matter of Alvarez tooling around in a taxpayer-funded BMW 500i Gran Turismo when he already had access to two chauffeured SUVs.