Jeff Campbell (1970–) is a Denver rapper, playwright, performance artist, and activist. Born in Alabama and raised along the Front Range, Campbell worked for a hip-hop label in California before returning to the Mile High City in the early 1990s and joining hip-hop group Kut-N-Kru. The group was a local hit, and Campbell soon established himself as a solo artist. He later shifted to writing plays. In 2018, he formed the Emancipation Theater Company, which debuted with Honorable Disorder, Campbell’s play about the struggles of a Black veteran returning home to Five Points. Campbell’s music and entrepreneurship helped solidify Denver’s early hip-hop scene. His writing and other endeavors have made him an outsized and inspirational figure in the city’s Black arts community.
Jeff Campbell was born in Alabama in 1970. When he was four years old, his family moved to Longmont, where they were one of only a few Black families. Campbell described himself as “a class clown” with a flair for the dramatic. When he was fourteen years old, he competed and placed third in one of the nation’s first breakdancing competitions on Sixteenth Street Mall in Denver. After high school, he was accepted to an arts college in Pasadena, California. Although he could not afford to attend, Campbell decided to move to California anyway, arriving in Sacramento in 1989. There he worked for gangster rap label Black Market Records. But Campbell did not identify with the gangster rap culture and returned to Colorado after just a few years.
Living in Globeville in the early 1990s, Campbell teamed up with local rapper Gary Scratch Martinez of the Kut N Kru. Campbell applied some of what he learned in California to promote the group, getting them into “keg parties and warehouses,” as he told Voyage Denver in 2020. In 1997, Campbell formed his own hip-hop venture, Colorado Hip Hop Coalition, which began offering after-school music programs for students in the Denver Public School system.
Around the same time, Campbell joined the electronic dub group Heavyweight Dub Champion, formed in 1997 by artists Resurrector and Patch in Gold Hill. With Campbell as lead vocalist under the stage name APOSTLE, the group toured the United States and Canada for a decade until it split up. After the Hip Hop Coalition shuttered in 2006, Campbell decided to shift his focus from music to acting and playwriting.
In 2013 Campbell wrote and acted in his first play, Who Killed Jigaboo Jones?, a one-man show that lampooned hip-hop culture and racism in America. The play ran in Denver and received relatively favorable reviews, but it was controversial for its over-the-top depictions of racial stereotypes. Frustrated by the play’s reception, Campbell moved to Georgia in 2016 to work with Genesis Prevention Coalition, a nonprofit serving veterans. But Georgia’s conservative environment and Campbell’s need to scratch his theater itch eventually drove him back to Colorado. Combining his experience with veterans and his passion for theater, Campbell wrote Honorable Disorder in 2018 and returned to Five Points to found the Emancipation Theater Company. Campbell hoped to establish a robust Black theater in a rapidly gentrifying community that had not had one before.
Always alert to the happenings in his community, in 2021, Campbell revived his rap persona APOSTLE and teamed up with other local hip-hop artists for a collaborative track that called out Mayor Michael Hancock and city leadership for mistreating Denver’s homeless population. Campbell is also seeking support to buy a building at 2900 Welton Street—the historic Five Points Media Center, which provided space for Black journalists and radio stations in the early 1990s. Campbell hopes to convert the building—today home to PBS12—into a Black media and cultural hub that would support Black-owned businesses and media in a neighborhood that is rapidly becoming whiter and more expensive.