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Rock 'n' Roll Is Here To Play
Michael Silver
May 24, 1999
Everyone's a player: Rappers and rockers want to be jocks, and pro jocks are dying to score in the music business
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May 24, 1999

Rock 'n' Roll Is Here To Play

Everyone's a player: Rappers and rockers want to be jocks, and pro jocks are dying to score in the music business

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The walls came tumbling down in the '90s. Even Rolling Stone caved: Last July the magazine released a sports issue.

On a warm Sunday evening last June, the All-Star Cafe in Miami's South Beach was packed with scantily clad revelers, most of them trying to catch a glimpse of the roped-off second level, where a private party hosted by former Miami Dolphins safety Louis Oliver was raging. The gathering, a weekly happening, included most of the Miami Heat's starting five, troubled former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips and several other pro and college athletes, along with a Playboy Mansionesque swarm of babes. Yet the man who commanded the most attention was former 2 Live Crew rapper Luther (Luke) Campbell, a 38-year-old survivor of the Liberty City ghetto who got kicked off his high school football team for mouthing off to the coach.

Bizarre as it might sound, Campbell, who in the early '90s beat obscenity charges in Florida brought over the sexually explicit lyrics in songs such as Me So Horny, had gone country club. He now lives on a golf course in Miami Lakes, and on the cover of his latest solo album, Changin' the Game, he's pictured holding a golf club while clad in garish golf attire. Pointing across the All-Star Cafe party at NFL veteran running back Terry Kirby, Campbell boasted, "I take his money on the golf course all the time. I could make a living off him, [New York Jets linebacker] Bryan Cox and Hootie [singer Darius Rucker]."

But no amount of image softening will change Campbell's legacy as college football's ghetto candy man. Soon after Miami became a national power in the mid-'80s, forging a reputation for showboating and intimidation, Campbell was the Hurricanes' éminence grease, paying the players off and egging them on. He befriended many of them, luring recruits into his sex-soaked social scene and posting bounties for big hits on opposing stars such as Notre Dame's Tim Brown. The handouts endeared Campbell to legions of Hurricanes. The handouts were also against NCAA rules. Campbell received an unexpected home visit from NCAA investigators in 1995; that same year Miami officials told him he was persona non grata. "I'm not even allowed to buy season tickets," Campbell said. "But the players still find me, and we hang out secretly. It's like they're cheating on their wives, and I'm the other woman."

A muscular young man in a shiny red tank top approached the table and gave Campbell a hug. Former Hurricanes quarterback Ryan Collins was once at the center of a Campbell-generated scandal. In the spring of '95, Campbell threatened to blow the whistle on the Miami program if Collins were not named the starter that fall. While refusing to go into details, Collins admitted that Campbell's generosity went well beyond high fives. "He was too good to us—that was the problem," Collins says. "But Luke changed the way college football was played."

Campbell boasted that he added habanero salsa to a Velveeta sport. "Until I got brothers wearing bandannas and s—-, college football was boring, every team was trying to be like Michigan and Notre Dame," he said. "I changed the whole energy at Miami, got kids dancing in the end zone, posing, the whole bit. Everyone who lived in the inner city wanted to be part of that. When I went out on tour I'd see hundreds of kids wearing UM shirts. It was just like the Raiders back in the day—kids in the hood could relate to that toughness, that physical play." Campbell said he made one other contribution to football: "I was the first musician on the sidelines. After that, Hammer showed up at Falcons games when Deion was playing in Atlanta, and then all sorts of dudes were out there pumping their teams. Then again, every athlete these days thinks he can rap."

On March 6, 1997, two of the largest men ever to pick up microphones had an unexpected rendezvous at Tattoomania on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. Shaquille O'Neal and rap star Christopher Wallace—to their fans, Shaq and the Notorious B.I.G., or Biggie Smalls—greeted each other with a bear hug. The previous summer the two entertainment giants had spent several days together at O'Neal's home near Orlando, where Biggie recorded vocals for a track on Shaq's CD You Can't Stop the Reign. After exchanging what-up-yo's with Smalls, O'Neal expressed concern for his friend's safety. Rap's East Coast-West Coast feud had escalated dangerously, and many people believed it had led to the shooting death of one of rap's biggest stars, Tupac Shakur, the previous fall. Now the Brooklyn-based B.I.G., with whom Shakur had carried on a very public beef, was on enemy turf. "Be careful," O'Neal told him.

"It's cool," Smalls replied. "I'm straight."

Three days later there was a big party in L.A.'s Miracle Mile district. O'Neal had planned to attend, but that evening he fell asleep on his couch. Early the next morning he was awakened by a telephone call from his mother, Lucille. "Did you go?" she asked. "They shot Biggie right outside. He's gone."

Taking up the entire length of a couch in an office on the A&M Records lot in Hollywood, O'Neal, clad in a black suit with red pinstripes, shudders at the memory. "I don't have time for beefs or jealousy," he says. "I'm not on this earth to outdo anybody. When it comes down to it, we've all got the Benzes and the phat houses and these f——— suits. Why should I try to bogart anyone?"

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