Book Review - The Book of Luke' is full of surprises

Luther Campbell's memoir is a journey in Southern culture and rap history

Luther Campbell is nestled in a corner, near the elevator, in the Marriott Atlanta Buckhead. Dressed casually in shorts and a T-shirt, he looks like he's headed to a barbecue. There is no noticeable bling and no blinding ego either. Instead the pioneering Southern rapper is sneaking in another opportunity to talk about his memoir, The Book of Luke: My Fight For Truth, Justice, and Liberty City, just before donning dressier attire to join readers and fellow authors at a dinner for the National Book Club Conference being held in the same hotel.

Campbell's career and history-making move of owning the first dedicated Southern hip-hop label, Luke Records, he will tell you, came unexpectedly. "There was no way in the world I could get a record deal out of New York," he explains. "There was no such thing as a record company in the South so ... I just basically said, 'OK, I'll do it myself.' That's basically the beginning of Southern hip-hop."

Campbell's group 2 Live Crew, known for raunchy hits such as "Me So Horny" and "Throw That D," introduced bikini-clad women dancing provocatively to rap music. They're also credited with taking Caribbean and Latin rhythms of Miami to help lay the foundation for the Southern bass movement, of which Atlanta fully participated.

Sharing that history and his pivotal role is important now. "You have hip-hop artists who don't know who paved the way for them to be where they at right now," he says. "You got fans who don't know who made sacrifices because we live in this plastic now network world. The average kid, they'll think Drake invented rap and T.I. invented the South." Atlanta rap fans may not know that Campbell signed MC Shy D, the city's first recognized rapper who, as the book shows, also played a role the former's musical downfall.

Those expecting tales of wild sex parties and Ron Jeremy or Mr. Marcus-esque escapades will be very disappointed. Whereas some of that is here, buried deep, there are many layers to Campbell, including fighter and champion of freedom of speech. Artists of all walks owe him a debt of gratitude for winning historic lawsuits in federal court and in front of the Supreme Court.

Campbell, the youngest son of a Jamaican father and Bahamian mother, is most invested in sharing the culture and community that created him, specifically the predominantly Caribbean and black areas of Overtown and Liberty City. And he doesn't shy away from Miami's overt racism and history of police brutality either.

"The same thing that was happening then is happening right now," he says. Though political pundit and youth advocate is not what most people get from the artist, the one-time Miami mayoral candidate is dead serious about his community. Over the last 25 years, the lifelong football junkie has used his Liberty City Warriors, a youth football program, and various high school coaching positions as critical tools in helping young black men overcome poverty and poor education.

"I probably got over 40 NFL players including Atlanta Falcons running back Devonta Freeman," he says. Yet he's proudest of the many kids he's helped go to college who have become doctors, lawyers, and even politicians, especially Miami City Commissioner Keon Hardemon, who he helped elect.

"Most people who read this book will be so overwhelmed with surprises," he promises.

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