Flavor Flav Sheds Light on New Book, MC Hammer’s Advice
Even as Public Enemy delved into weighty issues like racism, police brutality and the media’s portrayal of African-American culture, hype man Flavor Flav offered comic relief. With his clock necklace (“I have hundreds of them”), crazy eye-popping stares and “Yeah boyeeee” catchphrase, he was the ideal counterpart to Chuck D‘s grave personality and sobering lyrics.
And while his drug use — and scrapes with the law — frustrated the other members of Public Enemy, which also included Professor Griff and Terminator X, the group knew, too, that Flavor Flav, born William Drayton Jr., was the face of the group.
Now the 52-year-old native New Yorker is touting a new book, ‘Flavor Flav: The Icon The Memoir,’ while planning more Public Enemy shows and more reality TV. Flav speaks to the BoomBox about his new 244-page read, sheds light on getting his jaw fractured by Professor Griff and gives details on how Def Jam tried to give him the boot from Public Enemy.
I had to resist doing the “Flavor Flaaaaav.” How many times do people greet you with that?
Ah, man, a lot. Everywhere I go. Every place, every step I take, I get it. If you read the book, it was really Chuck D that started calling me Flavor Flav. But the name just came from, you know, me wanting to be original.
In the book, you mention Public Enemy a lot, but you don’t really talk about the songs or the videos or the shows. How come?
Sometimes when your book is a little too thick, a person will lose interest, and then the whole book doesn’t get read. So what I really wanted to do was to tell everybody how my life was as a child until now, but break it down to where it’s not real long. So that’s why I didn’t write a lot of things. But I want to do a Book 2. And the Book 2 that I put out will be a lot of the stuff that I left out of Book 1.
You play 15 instruments. How did you use the musical knowledge of those instruments in Public Enemy? Like, did you ever play oboe in a Public Enemy song?
Back in the day, when we were making stuff as Bomb Squad, we were using drum machines and also we were sampling records. I would play the bass guitar on some records and the drums on some records. You know, stuff like that. But I never really played any real live wind instruments on any of our records.
When you talk about developing the Flavor Flav persona — with the clock and the “Yeah, boyeee” phrase — did you want people to think you were a little off?
I was just thinking of being myself. And, you know, when you be yourself, that’s unique. By you being yourself — not caring what everybody else says about you, not caring what everybody else has to think about you — just being yourself makes you unique.
Chuck D seems like such a serious guy. Did he even question your approach?
Nah, nah. The thing that made Public Enemy was our separate entities. And my own entity was just being myself. Chuck D is his own entity, which is his self. One thing I can tell you about Chuck is that all of the records that we’ve written and all of the records that he’s written, before he wrote, he did research on it first to make sure it was right before he put it out. That’s why nobody ever proved him wrong in any of the records that we’ve ever written or put out there. So when you’re always right, you’re going to stand up for what’s right. And that’s why I stand behind my partner Chuck. I’m not saying he knows everything, but one thing about him: before he writes a record, he does his research first.
You mention in the book how Def Jam originally didn’t want you to be a part of the group, yet Chuck D insisted that you be a member. Do you feel always indebted to him because of that?
Yeah, man. Come on, man, I’m indebted definitely to my partner, Chuck D. Because he did not want to do ‘Public Enemy #1′ without me. He made them promise. And it’s a good thing he did that because that’s what really helped us to become the No. 1 rap group of all time. It also helped us get the No. 1 rap single of all time.
What was your reaction the first time you heard ‘Fight the Power’ in the movie ‘Do the Right Thing?’
Hey, man, I was [feeling like], “Wow.” I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe my voice was in a movie. My record was in a movie. And not only that but it was one of the records that got played through the whole movie.
In the book, you talk about going on the tour bus with the Beastie Boys, which that didn’t go over well with the Public Enemy guys. Were you sort of the most racially tolerant of the group?
A guy like me, man, you know, I was always the type of person that wanted to get in where I could fit in. And if I felt like there was a place for me with the Beastie Boys, that’s where you were gonna find Flav. And that’s what I did. I mean, hey, listen, I was everybody on the road’s favorite person. I always was on everybody’s bus while we were out on tour. I was like the guy that held the tour together.
You mention some of the clashes you had with Professor Griff. He fractured your jaw, shin bone and ribs in separate incidents. Why was he so upset with you?
To this day, it’s a question I can’t answer. I don’t really know what struck him. Still to this day [he has never apologized for it]. But, I mean, we’re OK. We’re good. We perform together, we tour together and we’re good. Me and Professor Griff, to this day we’re definitely brothers.
Even after Public Enemy had a bunch of success, you were still selling drugs to make money. Were people shocked? Were they like, “Hey, I’m buying drugs from Flavor Flav?”
No, that was just a neighborhood thing that I was on back in the day. But it wasn’t nothing where people were shocked. I mean, that’s something we did around our neighborhood, you know what I’m saying. And that’s something that follows you. But then I ended up getting out of it.
When you went to L.A. and went to the VH1 offices, was that a random thing or were you invited there?
I was invited there. For the first time I felt, “Okay, I think I’m getting ready to be on TV.” I wasn’t going to do it at first, but they had me talk to MC Hammer, because he had done ‘The Surreal Life.’ And I asked him, I said, “Yo, do you think I should do this show?” And Hammer said, “You know what, I really think you should. And if you go, a lot of good things will come out of it for you, just like it did for me.” And, you know, I took Hammer’s advice, and I did the show. Next thing you know, for five years, I stayed No. 1 on VH1.
Have you made more money from TV or Public Enemy?
I’d say it’s like even-steven. I did my thing — I made my share, you know what I’m saying. And I’m about to make a lot more. The buck doesn’t stop here. It keeps going and going and going and going and going and going, baby!
Watch Public Enemy’s ‘What Kind of Power We Got?’