Odd Couple: Uncle Luke Has Erykah Badu's Back
It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Erykah Badu. The singer-songwriter’s latest album, New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh, debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Pop chart, selling 110,000 copies. But people are still clammering about her statement-making "Window Seat" video, in which she strips down to her bare essentials.
Badu has defended the video as pure artistic expression about society’s lack of individuality. Some critics charged that it was disrespectful to the memory of JFK. And Dallas authorities agreed on the latter, charging her with disorderly conduct—which carries a $500 fine.
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,” says Luke. “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.”
As the leader of the infamous group, 2 Live Crew, Luke found himself at the center of a battle over free speech in 1990 after members of the controversial rap act were arrested on charges of public obscenity for performing material onstage from their classic album, As Nasty As They Wanna Be.
Soon after, record retailers who sold 2 Live Crew albums were being locked up as District Court Judge Jose Gonzalez ruled that 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,” he 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 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,” he says. “We did the reality show thing already. This time we want to switch it up.”—Keith Murphy