As leader of salacious rap band 2 Live Crew, Luther Campbell became one
of pop music's most controversial figures in 1989, the year the group's
As Nasty as They Wanna Be became the first record ever declared
obscene by a U.S. court.
Luther Campbell was born Dec. 22, 1960, in Miami. He was raised Catholic
and loved the "blue-humored" comedy records by artists such as Redd Foxx
and Richard Pryor. Campbell also was influenced by the risqué music
of seminal rap artist Blowfly.
In 1984 Campbell, under the name Luke Skyywalker, helped inaugurate the
bass-heavy Miami rap sound with his first indie single "Throw the D." He
then formed 2 Live Crew and his record label Skyywalker, which he had to
change to Luke Records after "Star Wars" creator George Lucas sued him.
2 Live Crew debuted with the little-noticed The 2 Live Crew Is What
We Are (1986). The following year came Move Somethin' (featuring
"Drop the Bomb"), which went to #68 on the Billboard 200 albums
chart and raised the group's profile.
But the catalyst for the frenzied media attention the band received was
the hit single "Me So Horny" (RealAudio
excerpt) from As Nasty as They Wanna Be. Angered by the risqué lyrics, Jack Thompson, an evangelical Christian attorney from Coral Gables, Fla., began a legal campaign against the band.
In 1990 a Broward County, Fla., circuit court judge found probable cause that the LP was obscene under state law. A Ft. Lauderdale retailer was soon arrested for selling the album. His conviction was later overturned; a Huntsville, Alabama retailer, also prosecuted for selling the LP, was acquitted.
Luke Skyywalker Records sued the Broward County sheriff over First Amendment issues. The state federal court ruled that there was a prior restraint of free speech, but that the album was obscene. The following week, Campbell and 2 Live Crew's other rappers, Christopher Wong-Won and Mark Ross (the group also included DJ Mr. Mixx) were arrested at a Florida nightclub for performing the album's songs. They were later acquitted. As Nasty as They Wanna Be, in both explicit and edited versions, eventually sold more than 2 million copies.
That same year came Banned in the U.S.A., with a title track spoofing
Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the U.S.A." The LP was credited to "Skyywalker,
featuring the 2 Live Crew."
In 1992 the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Georgia reversed the Florida obscenity ruling against As Nasty as They Wanna Be, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal. But the original lineup of 2 Live Crew had fallen apart after the 1991 release of Sports Weekend (As Nasty as They Wanna Be Part II).
Campbell faced another legal battle over changes he made to some of Roy Orbison's lyrics on 2 Live Crew's 1989 take on "Oh, Pretty Woman." The Nashville publishing company Acuff-Rose had denied Campbell's request for a license to the song and sued him, claiming damage to the value of the composition. Campbell defended his fair-use right to parody. A Nashville court's 1991 ruling against Acuff-Rose was overturned on appeal in 1992. Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Campbell and his parody defense.
Luke Records had a great 1993 thanks to the group H-Town, who had a top-five hit with "Knockin' da Boots." That year also saw the release of Campbell's solo In the Nude. The following year, he issued Freak for Life 6996. 2 Live Crew resurfaced in 1994 as the New 2 Live Crew with Back at Your Ass for the Nine 4, featuring "A Typical Sex Thing." Though it sold moderately well, the group's lewdness had become overshadowed by explicit gangsta rap. Campbell's last record with the band was Shake a Little Somethin' (1996). 2 Live Crew continued without him, issuing The Real One last year.
This year, Campbell was charged with hitting a Miami club-goer over the head with a whiskey bottle; the charges were later dropped. Campbell still faces a misdemeanor assault charge related to a domestic dispute in Miami in May.
For 2 Live Crew's Greatest Hits Volume 2 (1999), the rappers remixed "Me So Horny" as "Bill So Horny: The Presidential Remix," to tell the tale of President Clinton and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Other birthdays Wednesday: Barry Jenkins (Animals), 55; Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), 53; and Maurice and Robin Gibb (Bee Gees), 50.