The 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards may have somewhat lacked in high wattage star power (Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Nicki Minaj, J. Cole and Future missed this year’s show?) but it didn’t suffer for a dearth memorable moments. The backdrop shifted to Miami after over a decade in Atlanta, and the show wasn’t lacking for it. Eminem‘s verbal assault on 45 during his solo cypher; Florida rap vets opening the show with “I’m So Hood;” Keyshia Ka’oir‘s outfit–there was more than enough to chatter about on social during the show. Current events weighed heavily; with several references to Colin Kaepernick and protests in the NFL as well as the Las Vegas shooting that killed more than 50 people.
But one the night’s most compelling moments wasn’t about a current hot-button issue —it was about a legacy. Luther “Uncle Luke” Campbell was honored with the “I Am Hip Hop” lifetime achievement award, and when the Miami bass legend took the stage to accept, he also took the opportunity to educate the hometown crowd and viewers watching at home about some southern hip-hop history.
With the high cultural visibility and commercial dominance southern hip-hop over the past 15 years has come a degree industry clout that rappers from below the Mason Dixon line didn’t enjoy in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Luke, in accepting his award, reminded everyone that he took the long way to get here.
“We got kicked f stage, because they said we did ‘booty music,’ saying we weren’t hip-hop,” Luke shared about his early days with his seminal rap group 2 Live Crew. “With the conventions, they told us the South would not be what it is today—and I told them, ‘Fuck y’all.’ So there’s a reason why I was not ever nominated for anything…because I stood there and I said, ‘I’ma start hip-hop in the South and this shit gonna be the hottest shit in the world.’ It wasn’t easy. We would have this much stage motions to indicate a small space], because ‘y’all ain’t hip-hop, y’all niggas from the South ain’t shit.’”
He also alluded to his and 2 Live Crew’s famous Supreme Court battle. In 1990, after a Broward County federal judge ruled their 1989 album As Nasty As They Wanna Be obscene, Luke and fellow Crew member Fresh Kid Ice (who died back in July) were arrested for performing at a nightclub. They also wound up going to the Supreme Court over a fair use case involving an explicit parody Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman.”
“Then, after that, I gotta go fight the law for free speech,” Luke said, recalling the cases that became landmarks for the fight against censorship. “I gotta take all my money and I gotta put my money into doing what? Goin’ to the Supreme Court, fighting for hip-hop—and] still ain’t get no fuckin’ credit, still ain’t get no call for nothin.’”
Declaring “I started hip-hop in the South,” Luke explained that he was the first southern rap artist to send his videos to BET.
“I want to say this to every kid: you don’t have to wait for the phone call. Just know who you are, because you gotta be real about this; this is] all business. I’ma say to all you young folks out there, you’re doing a hell a job keeping hip-hop alive. Because everything you do is about these kids. Go back to your home. Do something in your community. Be somebody. It ain’t difficult to inspire others. You can do whatever you want to do.”
And Luke gave a special shout-out to a certain Bronx firecracker who still has the No. 1 song in the country.
“That’s why when they asked me, ‘who do you wanna see?’ I wanted to see Cardi B!” Luke said. “When you hear this young lady’s story, it’s just amazing. Because she set her mind to do something and be something.” Here was a guy who’s image was so tied to misogyny and T&A, saluting a former stripper who fought her way to the top the charts. With the still-rampant misogyny in the culture, that kind “hustler’s spirit” praise has rarely been extended to sexualized women as enthusiastically as it has been to criminalized men. This was Luke saying game recognize game, and it was an especially sincere moment. Cardi’s reaction made it all the sweeter.
Campbell praised his wife, sports agent/attorney Kristin Campbell, for fighting through the sexism being a female power player in the sports industry, lauding the fact that she negotiated running back Devonta Freeman’s five-year, $41.25 million contract extension with the Atlanta Falcons. As a youngster, Freeman was mentored in Luke’s youth sports program in Miami.
After his speech, Luke course reminded everyone that he’s still the king Miami bass; with Trina, Trick Daddy and Rick Ross (along with some appropriately poppin’ backup dancers) helping the godfather get the crowd moving to bootyshakin’ club classics “Scarred,” “It’s Your Birthday” and “I Wanna Rock” and 2 Live Crew’s hit “Me So Horny” with an assist from Miami native Flo Rida. It briefly turned The Jackie Gleason Theater at the Fillmore into Freaknik 1995.
The 57-year old who took on censorship, put southern rap on the national map, mentored youth, and ran for mayor succinctly summed up his legacy. In his speech, Luke recalled when DJ Khaled was “selling brick phones” and when Rick Ross only had mixtapes. The Miami legend celebrated the up-from-nothing ethos that America supposedly holds so dear but routinely disavows (how many times have we heard about “spoiled” Black athletes in recent weeks?) in accomplished Black entertainers. More than anything, he hoped his success would show people—those who were from where he is from—how to build.
“That’s what I wanted to inspire,” Luke said. “Fuck the dumb shit; I wanted to inspire people to do business.”
Watch Master P, Ice Cube, Pitbull and More Discuss Luke’s Impact at the 2017 BET Hip Hop Awards