(Miami Herald | Linda Robertson) – Out on the football field, Luther Campbell wears a whistle around his neck, not a tangle of gaudy gold chains. He has a Miami Central High green visor on his head, not a do-rag. Instead of grabbing his crotch, he grabs the shoulder pad of a teenage linebacker to explain tackling technique.
On a moonlit evening infused with the aroma of sweaty uniforms and damp grass, Campbell doesn’t need a microphone. When he talks, the players are rapt listeners.
â€œUse your brain!â€ he shouts. â€œYou’re seniors.â€
Campbell, known as Luke Skyywalker or Uncle Luke back in the bad, oh-so-naughty old days, is known as Coach Luke at Miami Central, where he coaches linebackers, and in his home neighborhood of Liberty City, where he coaches boys in the Optimist league he founded.
The former rap star, one-time leader of 2 Live Crew, celebrated and loathed for its sexually explicit lyrics, is now a mentor to inner city kids. Campbell’s parade of hits included â€œMe So Hornyâ€ on the record â€œAs Nasty as they Wanna Be.â€ He was seen on album covers and in videos leering with that gap-toothed grin at half-naked women on the beach, in hot tubs, at parties.
Freaky, decadent times, Campbell recalls with a weary look in his eyes. His mustache is flecked with gray. He’s almost 50.
â€œI’m happy and proud of what we accomplished but that part of my life is over,â€ he said. â€œThe entertainer â€“ I left him on stage.â€
Campbell used to be surrounded by gyrating dancers, whom 2 Live Crew referred to as â€œbitchesâ€ and â€œwhores.â€ The thongs are gone. The act, a raunchy parody that too many â€œuptightâ€ people misinterpreted, Campbell says, is history. The porn tapes he sold â€“ a mistake.
Now he gathers his players around him in a huddle to talk football and dispense advice. Seventy percent of his players are being raised by a single mother or grandmother. Each one is the man of the house.
â€œI don’t tolerate cursing or the N word,â€ he said. â€œI tell them, â€˜Don’t ever disrespect a girl because that makes you less than a man.’ And â€˜Pick the girl who is responsible, not the one with Fs on her report card. Easy to get in, hard to get out. I’ve lived that life.’â€
Is it possible to change from Rated X to exemplar? Campbell swears he has reformed.
â€œFootball players got the same rep I got â€“ you think your stuff don’t stink, you’re the arrogant, spoiled star,â€ he said. â€œI tell them, â€˜Be nice to your teachers. Sit in the front row. Keep your grades up.’â€
It’s working. Players greet a sideline visitor with, â€œHello, ma’am,â€ or â€œHow you doing today?â€
Campbell’s linebackers weren’t even born in 1990 when a local judge declared 2 Live Crew’s third album obscene because it appealed â€œto dirty thoughts and loins, not to the intellect and the mind,â€ and Broward Sheriff Nick Navarro arrested the group after they performed at Hollywood’s Club Futura. Tipper Gore and Al Sharpton were repulsed by the songs. Campbell put himself at the center of a national free speech debate. Today, his players learn about his landmark 1992 U.S. Supreme Court victory in civics class.
Campbell’s rap artist persona only comes out for special events, such as June’s VH1 Hip Hop Honors show, when he sang with Pitbull and Trick Daddy and was recognized for developing Southern rap as a record producer.
â€œThe garbage man picks up the trash but he doesn’t bring the maggots home,â€ Campbell said. â€œI don’t bring my music career to football practice. If Hugh Hefner was out here coaching, he wouldn’t bring his Playboy bunnies.â€
Campbell’s group broke up 20 years ago amid lawsuits over royalties. He declared bankruptcy in 1995. Today, he does occasional appearances, hosts shows and runs a website with some adult entertainment links, but most of his energy is devoted to football. Last year, he was drawn to downtrodden Central, the F school threatened with closure, and its Rockets, the team that always choked in the playoffs or lost to archrival Northwestern.
Campbell had to get clearance from Miami-Dade Public Schools to become an assistant (which pays $1,200 â€“ money he spends on food and equipment for the players). There was some reluctance. After all, this is the man who rapped, â€œI don’t need no confrontation/All I need is ejaculation.â€
Could the notorious exploiter of women be entrusted to mold young minds? Could the rapper who compared himself to a dog in heat teach kids how to behave?
Campbell got letters of support from Central’s principal and its parents, community activists, ministers and business owners. They knew him from Charles Hadley Park, where he created the youth league so neighborhood kids would have a place to play. They knew him from his days as a young DJ at birthday parties, the skating rink, the car wash.
Central head coach Telly Lockette was forbidden by his mother from listening to 2 Live Crew when he was a kid, but he’d sneak into his brother’s room to hear the ribald songs.
â€œI thought they were funny. It was part of the times,â€ Lockette said. â€œSex sells. That’s the way of the world. The kids know who Lil Wayne is, but they don’t know who Mark Twain is.
â€œThey relate to Luther very well. We joke with him about his past, but, you know, everybody deserves a chance to grow up. He’s like a father figure to these boys. He understands the streets and how they’re trying to find their way.â€
Campbell used to spend his nights on the party scene. Crazy nights that lasted until the sun came up like a cantaloupe on Ocean Drive. He owned three clubs, including one in South Beach that was shut down due to the violence and a murder outside its doors.
Now he spends nights at high school football games, trying to help the Rockets continue the renaissance at Central by winning their first state title. They play Northwestern Friday to determine who advances to the next round. He often sends texts to Lockette at 3 a.m. when he’s analyzing an opponent’s film.
â€œHe knows football,â€ Lockette said. â€œWe call him the information man.â€
Football and family, that is the life of Campbell, who used to get down to Doo Doo Brown.
â€œPeople are amazed that I’ve got a house in the â€˜burbs, golf clubs, a 17-month-old son, a wife who is a lawyer,â€ he said. â€œIt’s like the Huxtables.â€
In the den of his Miami Lakes home, Campbell’s gold and platinum records, such as â€œBanned in the USA,â€ share the same walls with photos of the teams he’s coached, including the one that won the 2005 Pop Warner â€œSuper Bowl.â€ He knows how every boy is doing today, including their grade point averages.
On Wednesday, Campbell had just returned from a Thanksgiving party at the preschool of son Blake. He’s got a photo of Blake on his phone, which buzzes constantly. While he talked, he fiddled with Blake’s plastic fireman toy.
Campbell is the son of a beautician and a school custodian. When he was a boy, there was no Liberty City football league, so he played in Miami Beach, where he was bused to junior high. His idol was Dick Butkus. But he quit football in the 11th grade at Miami Beach High when he realized he’d never make it to the NFL and he needed to graduate.
He regrets that he didn’t go to college. His four brothers made careers as psychologist, executive chef, Navy pilot and comptroller. He got jobs cooking at Mt. Sinai hospital and logging school bus arrivals and departures at the depot (he was fired for falling asleep) to supplement his blossoming DJ career.
He met 2 Live Crew when they came to Miami from California. Their sound was catchy. He liked their music, offered to help promote and produce it and became the ringleader, the â€œhype guy, the chant guy,â€ he said. â€œI was never much of a rapper.â€
They wanted to distinguish their style from that of Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy and NWA. They wanted to be provocative. They were influenced by raw stand-up comics such as Redd Foxx, LaWanda Page and Andrew Dice Clay.
â€œWe were sampling James Brown and Hall and Oates but also these comedians,â€ Campbell said. â€œWe said, â€˜We’re going to be fun and funny. We’re going to be Miami uptempo with a reggae bass. Adult comedy to rap music.
â€œThen people said we were misogynist pigs and degraders of women. Whoa! They took it too seriously.â€
Campbell recalled a lawyer reciting their lyrics during a court hearing.
â€œEveryone on the jury was turning red in the face, even the black people were turning red,â€ Campbell said. â€œThe jury said, â€˜Judge, can we be excused? We need to go in the break room and laugh.’â€
He calls new Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan his â€œhomegirlâ€ because she wrote a brief 20 years ago saying the album â€œdoes not physically excite anyone who hears it, much less arouse a shameful and morbid sexual response.â€
At the height of his popularity, Campbell was often seen on the sideline of the University of Miami football team. He enjoyed the game, and was rumored to pay players for hard hits. The Hurricanes reveled in the image he conveyed — the outlaws from wild Miami. He made UM jackets and caps cool — and some rappers wear them to this day.
Looking back at all the controversy, Campbell said 2 Live Crew was used as a â€œpawnâ€ by politicians and conservatives, even after he cut â€œclean versionsâ€ of the songs and put parental advisory stickers on the albums.
â€œThey went after us because we were the only group that blacks and whites liked,â€ he said. â€œI used to say, â€˜If this keeps going, 15-20 years from now the races will understand each other better and we’ll elect a black president.
â€œIntegration happened through hip hop music.â€
He’s also proud that he and attorney Bruce Rogow reinforced the First Amendment for the rappers and comedians who came after him.
Campbell cringes and shakes his head at some of the â€œvulgar stuffâ€ in his songs and the way things â€œgot out of controlâ€ at some of his concerts. People taking their clothes off, having sex, filming graphic videos. The message wasn’t funny anymore. It was ugly. Toward the end of his heyday, he wanted out.
He wanted to return to his roots. The one-time danger to society wanted to cure society’s ills.
â€œI always said when the music career died I would work with kids,â€ he said. â€œGrownups are already set in their ways. I want to help kids be more compassionate, respectful, responsible. I tell them stories of what I did and what I should not have done.â€
One of his regrets is a strained relationship with Lacresha, his teenage daughter from a previous relationship. She criticized him on a hip hop website. He hopes to repair the rift.
Campbell doesn’t like to discuss his other four children but he considers Central High players part of his family. C.J. Gaines, an 18-year-old wide receiver for the Rockets, has played for Coach Luke since he was 10. He’s had ups and downs, got in trouble on a gun charge, almost blew his chance for a scholarship. Campbell straightened him out. He stressed football as a means to a college education.
The braggadocio about one part of his anatomy came from a character, from a long time ago, Campbell said. Today, it is clear he has a big, soft heart.
â€œHe opens his house up whenever we need a break from the streets for a night or two, and he’ll feed us, help us with homework,â€ Gaines said. â€œHe says, â€˜Make your mother proud. Think about your future.’â€
Gaines has heard Campbell’s music but isn’t much of a fan. That was back in the day.
â€œI don’t see him as a rapper,â€ Gaines said. â€œI see him as a father.â€
Source: Miami Herald