“Bruise your love, beat your lover, spank your lover, bruise your lover.”
Out of context some of the things Uncle Luke says look incredibly fucked up, but even in their proper context they’re not always that palatable. For those who are new to Luther Campbell though here’s some of that context — he rose to fame as the frontman/hype man for 2 Live Crew, profited hugely off the notoriety of their albums being “banned” throughout the United States, and continued to parlay that infamy as a solo artist almost singularly focused on sexual exploits. If you take a look beneath the surface he’s barely a rapper at all. He does “call and response” songs where he repeats one phrase or a variation of it over and over. Even when he’s called upon to record a diss track he brings in friends and labelmates to carry the weight. A typical Luke song is more like “Come On.”
Why do such simplistic tracks work? Luke has three things going for him — a high level of energy and charisma befitting a hype man, a reputation for raunchiness that attracts attention, and up tempo Miami Bass production that incorporates everything from old school rap to EDM. If you analyzed Mr. Campbell on the basis of his “raps” alone he’d be the drizzling shits, but songs like “It’s Your Birthday” ear worm their way into pop culture and become part of the mainstream. Would 50 Cent have opened “In Da Club” with the line “go shorty, it’s your birthday” without Uncle Luke’s influence? You can argue it.
The fact we even call him “Uncle Luke” defines the curious place he has in rap music. He really is like that crazy uncle who shows up at the family reunion, has a little too much to drink, then wants to get on the dance floor and show everybody his moves. It’s a little embarrassing right? But actually, he’s GOOD. He’s got the moves. So he had too much to drink and thought he was the star of the show, but you love him anyway, and the kids are all clapping for him and saying “go uncle, go uncle” and imitating his running man and cabbage patch styles. We all love him even if he makes us cringe a little bit.
The same thing that makes Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control” is the same thing that makes Luke’s “Where Them Ho’s At” work — a choice sample of Cybotron’s “Clear” and hard hitting beats to make people run to the dance floor. It might be strange to say you almost have to ignore the lyrics (if you can even call the shoutouts and grunts on it that) but there’s no substance to it or frankly most of Luke’s songs. He relies almost entirely on his reputation as a pervert, a freak, and a sex addict to lure you in. The album’s cover isn’t trying to hide that — it’s capitalizing on it. That’s the whole point. When a song like “Represent” has actual content it’s not because of Luke — it’s because of JT Money, Fresh Kid Ice and Home Team.
Like most Luke solo albums “Freak For Life” wears out its welcome by being too long, but it’s ten minutes shorter than “In the Nude” which is a huge mark in its favor. That doesn’t excuse bad taste parodies like “We Are the Weave” or interlude “songs” like “Beat Your Lover” though. Sometimes Unk just goes too far and doesn’t know when to stop. That inability to reign in his excesses is reflected by the fact this was the last album on Luke Records before his label folded. It’s no more of a necessary album than his last one was, but if you wear blinders to the misogyny, it has a few fun moments.