Li’l Bit of Old School
Flavor Flav, Public Enemy’s mad genius, promises mad beats at Planet Gemini.
Thursday, March 17, 2005
It took a lot of hard work to get to the point in my life where I am talking on the telephone to Flavor Flav. I put up with bullies in grade school, read lots of literature in Olde English in college and worked as an intern delivering coffee products to other employees at this newspaper before my big break.
I put aside hours of the last few days to speak with Flavor, but each time, his personal manager and cousin, the soft-spoken Clifton “Greg” Johnson, said I should call back when Flavor was not so busy. If it had been a lesser figure in the rap music world—a P. Diddy or a Sisqo—I would have given up. But, this is Flavor Flav, the mad, big-clock-medallion-wearing genius that made a string of the best rap albums of all time as a member of Public Enemy with fellow MC Chuck D and DJ Terminator X. Now, the charismatic pint-sized rap artist is becoming a prominent popular culture figure again due to a VH-1 reality show titled Strange Love, where Flavor Flav works out his real-life relationship with the tall, blonde, Danish actress Brigitte Nielsen, of Red Sonja and Rocky IV fame.
As Johnson makes sure I am still on the phone, all of my hard work pays off with the sound of the legendary rap artist announcing his presence by yelling “Flavor Flav!” into the phone. He informs me that he is in a hotel room in Pittsburgh visiting relatives and hosting a club party.
Then, slowly but surely, gaining speed like a freight train, Flavor Flav starts to freestyle about why the club has hired him for the gig. “You know the deal,” he raps. “They want the host/ That bring the toast/ To the most/ ’Cause he eat pot roast/ Don’t let the people play him too close.”
After this spontaneous combustion of genius, Flavor Flav starts laughing, sounding not unlike a quacking duck. When he gains his composure, the man behind Public Enemy tunes like “Cold Lampin’ with Flavor” and “911 is a Joke” tells me the story behind the oversized clock that dangled around his neck during every Public Enemy show.
He says that back in the day he used to wear a stopwatch around his neck. One day, while playing a game called “dozens” with friends (in which competitors try to creatively insult one another’s mothers), a lady comes by the housing project selling shower clocks.
One of his buddies takes off his stopwatch and hangs the shower clock in its place. Then, his pal dares Flav to wear the clock at an upcoming New Jersey show with the Beastie Boys. The rest is hip-hop history.
After a period of time in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, where Public Enemy was the most important band in the world, Flavor Flav got into some trouble with drugs and the law that culminated with a one year stay on Riker’s Island, a New York City-based penitentiary. (Flavor Flav says the jail time was due to driving without a license.)
Now Flavor Flav is excited to be wholeheartedly pursuing another career in the entertainment industry.
“I came off Riker’s Island, and now Flavor Flav today is smilin’,” he raps. “And I’m whylin’. I’m whylin’.”
Whatever “whylin’” means, Flavor Flav is definitely doing it. After his romance with Nielsen became the most popular part of the VH-1 show The Surreal Life—a show that crammed a handful of disparate, former pop culture figures under one roof—Flavor Flav and Nielsen got their own show, Strange Love. Flavor Flav says that it looks like there will be another season of the show and that he might get his own talk show in the near future. “I’m getting ready to turn VH-1 into Flav H-1,” he says. “Print that in your books, buddy.”
In addition, Flavor Flav is getting ready to release his first solo album, initially titled It’s About Time. Now titled Rise Fall Rise, Flavor Flav is remastering the album.
“It sounds versatile,” he says. “It sounds like no other album that’s out there on the shelves right now.”
Also of interest to Public Enemy fans, Flavor Flav says that he and Chuck D are laying down vocal parts for a new Public Enemy album due out this June. “Y’all will get a record, and it will be a damn good record,” he says.
As for fans of Strange Love, Flavor Flav admits that though he loves Nielsen—don’t expect wedding bells in the near future for the odd couple. “As y’all see on the TV man, y’all know that Brigitte likes to wear the pants in the family,” he says. “I’m not marrying no woman that likes to wear the pants. I wear the pants. If she wears the pants, I gotta put on a dress.”
I ask Flavor Flav to do a little rhyme for the people of Monterey. After the only pause of the interview, Flavor Flav responds by rapping: “This is Flavor Flav/ By the records I play/ Jumpin’ on the plane/ Comin’ out to Monterey/ Don’t you know everybody/ I go toe to toe/ Everybody come on down to my show/ And watch how I flow.”
He laughs and adds an epilogue to the rhyme. “I don’t know what I said/ But I would rather be caught live than dead,” he raps.
Then he is serious for a second. “I know this interview was good, right?”
Hell yeah, I think. It was worth it all.