The black BMW 325i convertible-with two car phones, thanks—is gliding through a swanky Miami Lakes neighborhood when its driver turns a corner and slows. Outside a mansion, police cars and an ambulance signal that all is not calm within. “Probably an old person, we have a lot of them down here,” says the man driving the Beemer. Then he chuckles. “Must have found out I moved into the neighborhood and had a heart attack.”
Chances are, Luther “Luke” Campbell has never induced cardiac arrest, but the gap-toothed leader of rap music’s infamous 2 Live Crew has been arrested for an allegedly obscene performance, and the lyrics of the group’s raunchy album As Nasty as They Wanna Be have sparked legal action in five states. Campbell, 29, beat his obscenity rap on Oct. 20, when a jury acquitted him of all charges stemming from 2 Live Crew’s show before an adults-only audience in Hollywood. Fla., last June. The panel included a 76-year-old woman—who said the cuss words weren’t anything new to her—and another jurist so moved by Campbell’s poetic licentiousness that she suggested delivering the verdict in rap.
Campbell, “relieved” after this latest trial, maintains that he is a victim of racism as well as politics in his native Florida, where a conservative governor and sheriff have helped spearhead a campaign against him. “The issue has confused a lot of people,” he says. “We’re not talking about something that’s never been done before; we’re talking about sex. Many people—mainly white people—don’t understand black slang and misinterpret our music, put it in a violent context.”
He is quick to admit, however, that controversy has its rewards. “Nasty was a dead record until all this came up, then it sold another million copies,” he notes. In fairly short order, Campbell has not only become a figurehead for millions of anticensorship partisans but has also managed to sell a quick 500,000 copies or so of his latest LP, Banned in the U.S.A.
“I bought this place five months ago, when everything started coming at me at once and it got too intense,” Campbell says of his sprawling, seven-bedroom, Mediterranean-style home, nestled along the lush mat green of a golf course. The serene fairways offer the first suggestion that Campbell’s life is a surprising dichotomy. More evidence appears in the contrasting images presented by his two dogs: a Rottweiler named Rambo and a toy poodle named Roxanne. “The Luther Campbell who gets up onstage with 2 Live Crew and talks about sex is one guy,” he says. “When I get offstage, I’m another Luther Campbell all over again.”
And how. Campbell lives in G-rated suburban Miami splendor with his girlfriend of two years, Tina Barnett, 20, who is expecting his child in December. (He also has an 8-year-old daughter by another woman.) Out front, the circular drive holds the BMW and a Jaguar Vanden Plas Majestic, but there is a family friendly Land Rover in the garage. Upstairs, the nursery that the couple has outfitted for the baby’s arrival is awash in the stuffed animals Campbell compulsively brings home from the road. “Whenever he goes out of town, a teddy bear comes back,” says Tina, who plans to marry Luke as soon as he decides whether or not he wants to elope. On display in the couple’s bedroom, next door to the nursery, is an autographed picture of Phil Donahue (“To Luther, you are bad, really bad—Phil”).
If all this weren’t enough to convict the guy of being hopelessly unhip, every day at 6 P.M. there is golf. Campbell took up the sport three months ago to unwind; now he’s got the plaid shorts, the shoes with the fringe, even his own golf cart. Although he says don’t even ask about a handicap yet, he is taking lessons regularly and has, amazingly, a good rep at the Golf Club of Miami. “Luke’s so quiet we hardly know he’s around,” says Dade County Administrator and fellow club member Herb Smith. “He just goes out to the tee and works on his game.”
Other than golf, Campbell lists his favorite pastime as “making money.” To that end he can be found most days in a predominantly green office-lair at Luke Records, the two-story Miami headquarters of a music empire that includes four record labels, 16 acts, a warehouse, a construction company and three local nightclubs. His game plan? “Diversify,” says Campbell. “My mother told me not to have a one-track mind.” So Campbell reads FORTUNE and spreads himself around, evidently to good effect, considering reports that say he brought in $11 million last year. “I have to have a return on my investment,” he says circumspectly. “I spend my money wisely, very wisely.”
For a long time it looked like he was just a wiseacre. The fifth son of a janitor and a hairdresser, Luke—who grew up in Miami’s riot-torn Liberty City ghetto—calls himself “the worst one out of all of them, the one everybody probably expected to end up in jail.” The only child not to go to college, he was a cocky, strong safety on the high school football team who “got kicked off because I thought I was the best.” Off the field, he says, “I stayed in trouble. I fought all the time; I was a real John Wayne type.” But there was a song—in rap meter—in his heart. During high school Campbell formed a deejay group, the Ghetto Style D.J.’s, to play area parties.
After graduation he worked for a while as a cook (“I still make a good chicken Florentine”) before deciding music “was where the money was at.” He hooked up with 2 Live Crew, a California group formed by rapper Chris Wong Won and deejay David Hobbs, and sold their first single, “Throw the D,” out of the trunk of his car. In 1985 he formed Luke Records and vowed to be his own boss. The 2 Live Crew Is What We Are came out in 1986, followed by Move Somethin’ a year later and Nasty in 1989.
Campbell has stayed in the news pretty much ever since and estimates he’ll be there a while longer. “Rap music today is what rock and roll was in the ’60s with the Stones,” he says. “It’s considered the most rebellious music ever.” He figures the controversy will sputter out with time. “Fifteen years from now,” Campbell predicts, “2 Live Crew will get together for their reunion tour, and the stadium will be filled with black and white doctors, lawyers and politicians.”
—Lisa Russell in Miami