Odd Couple: Uncle Luke Has Badu's Back
It’s been a whirlwind week for Erykah Badu. The bold singer-songwriter’s critically-acclaimed album New Amerykah, Part Two: Return of the Ankh made its debut on the Billboard Pop chart at no. 4 selling 110,000 copies. The buzz-heavy follow up to 2008’s New Amerykah: Part One (4th World War) was propelled by the controversial music video for “Window Seat,” in which Badu stripped down to her bare essentials through Dallas’ Dealey Plaza, the same site where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. The statement-making clip then went on to show Badu getting shot, falling to the ground with blood streaming from her head spelling the word “groupthink.” Badu defended the video as pure artistic expression, stating that it was a commentary on society’s lack of individuality. Some critics charged that the video was disrespectful to the memory of JFK and lewd. Dallas authorities agreed on the latter, charging her with disorderly conduct—which carries a $500 fine.
But one unlikely individual is vocally offering his support to the self-proclaimed Analog Girl. Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell, the influential Godfather of Miami rap and bass/booty shake music, tells VIBE that he more than identifies with Badu’s struggle. “I know what she’s going through…people have a tendency of separating what’s art and what’s not,” he says. “I hope she doesn’t lay down. I want her to fight for her rights, for her artistic value. Because when you have an individual like [Badu] and she feels a certain way, what makes it art is the value of the work. Her song “Window Seat” was making a statement and she decided to shoot a video. Whether she was nude or not, it’s still art.”
Indeed, the man knows what he’s talking about. As the leader of the infamous group 2 Live Crew, Uncle Luke found himself at the center of an historical battle over free speech in 1990 after members of the controversial rap act were arrested on charges of public obscenity after performing material onstage from their classic album As Nasty As They Wanna Be. Soon record retailers who sold 2 Live Crew albums were being locked up as District Court Judge Jose Gonzalez ruled that As Nasty…violated local "community standards" of decency without possessing any “mitigating artistic merit.” The game-changing ruling was overturned in 1992 at the 11 Circuit Court of Appeals—the Supreme Court declined to reconsider it. Luke still sees his landmark win as a victory for all future artists.
“You have nude art galleries that go around the country and famous nude sculptures like David by Michelangelo,” Luke says of the double standard that Badu faces. “Those are very high-end art pieces that are sitting up in places where individuals are nude, where all their genitals are out. So I can’t say what she did was wrong. If Badu just walked around the street naked and had no artistic value and was just doing it for shock value, then that’s one thing. But she was walking down the street where Kennedy was assassinated and making a statement about how people character assassinate. She may not of expressed herself in a way that some people can relate. It’s a debatable topic. But it’s still art.”
These days Luke has been known more for his role as a dedicated family man than his raunchy stage shows and records. The legendary entertainment mogul, who enjoyed a 2008 hit reality show Luke’s Parental Advisory on VH1, is now working on an album project and an upcoming television show. “It’s going to be a talk-show,” says the outspoken hellraiser. “We did the reality show thing already. This time we want to switch it up.”—Keith Murphy