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Banned in the USA: Luther Campbell Unbound

Luther Campbell’s autobiography, The Book of Luke: My Fight for Truth, Justice and Liberty City (Amistad, $24.99), is such a remarkable book that it’s tempting to just list the reasons why.

In addition to the not as well-known as you think it is story of his and 2 Live Crew’s battles with the censorship police and real cops, too, Luther traces accurately, honestly and heatedly the history of Miami, especially black Miami; the role of cops; the why of everything that happened to him in regard to censorship; football, especially high school and college football; and the status and condition of black people in America, not only in relation to white people but also to other poor groups. (Miami has more-or-less separate ghettos for blacks, Cubans of the Marielita class, and Haitians). He is devastating on economic exploitation; he is clear and lucid about how he lost most of his money in a bankruptcy and why most rappers of the first generation never made any. He is at least very honest about what the sexual activity on the 2 Live Crew stage was. Whether he will rile feminists is … a moot subject since no feminist of the stripe that hates him would touch this book with somebody else’s ten foot pole. He is also a rock fan, and his stuff about “Banned in the USA” is better than what I’ve written about it.

Luther was an instrumental figure in hip-hop live performance in the Miami area and, eventually, throughout the South. In fact, the most important thing in the book is that he claims credit, which in my opinion he is due, for the records he released and occasionally performed on as the foundation of the Southern hip-hop scene including Atlanta and New bookoflukeOrleans and right on to Pitbull today. That is, if you go back and listen to what 2 Live Crew sounded like, rather than just their outrageous sexualized comedy skits, the connections between Miami Bass, which every fucking body outside the South hated or at least didn’t understand while it was happening, and crunk and bounce and all the rest are quite clear (which means, among many other things,  that Luther as rock fan is progenitor of Outkast, arguably one of the ten greatest rock bands of the 21st century).

I interviewed him in August for my Sirius/XM show, Kick Out the Jams. We hadn’t seen each other in twenty-five years, and did most of what talking we did on the phone or through his lawyer. But he instantly said “I met you before,” and lit up when I reminded him I’d written the introduction to the 2 Live Crew comic book.

Then he sat down and answered my first question: Why this kind of book now? Because he knows he is never going to get credit for his achievements, he told me, and part of the reason is what had not been written about. He said this matter of factly, but it made me sad.

Luther’s account of censorship is both straightforward (he acknowledges that heavy metal was the first target) and hilarious, especially about the people who didn’t get the joke. Nevertheless he understands that no matter who the first target was, the only person who went to jail was a black entrepreneur.  (Yeah, it was only for one night. Volunteers for that “no big deal” step forward. The rest of yez hush up ‘til we finish cooking that sauce for the gander.)

Luther Campbell was not a hero, nor did he intend to be. But he was a lot more than a drooling sexist clown. This has always been obvious and it was obvious during the witch-hunt. Now it is indisputable. I don’t know if this is the best music book of 2015. But it is the most important one, especially because censorship is happening again. And just as it was the last time, when the main people behind the Parents Music Resource Center turned out to be the wives of Democratic Senators, it’s Democrats in the forefront of the attack. Now we have Chicago’s Clintonista mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, forbidding Chitown rapper Chief Kleef to appear live by hologram. And doing so not only in Chicago, where Emmanuel, nastier and proud of it than Luther Campbell ever wanted to be, believes himself monarch. Hammond, Indiana, which is nearby, also banned the concert and it was made very clear that this was at Emmanuel’s insistence.

Early censorship attacks are always greeted as no big deal, and they are always harbingers of worse to come. Read The Book of Luke, if for no other reason than to protect yourself.

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Dave Marsh edits Rock & Rap Confidential, one of CounterPunch’s favorite newsletters, now available for free by emailing: rockrap@aol.com. Dave blogs at http://davemarsh.us/

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