While Public Enemy, the wizened gangsta grandpa of the hip-hop world, puts their icon status to the test with a new tour, its most extravagant member, Flavor Flav, pauses a moment from his hyper reality to lay down some truths.
"Our crowds still mix it up," says the legendary "hype man." "Honestly, from parents to kids, we see everyone at our shows. We got a lot of die-hard fans, and those fans have taught a lot of new fans, you know? And we get a lot of people who didn't know us but caught me on TV."
Although some "die-hard fans" may wince at Flav's hilarious but somewhat bizarre appearances on VH1 shows like "The Surreal Life," "Strange Love" and "Flavor of Love," it certainly shouldn't stop them from catching him and P.E.'s more cerebral frontman Chuck D on the group's 20th anniversary tour.
No matter if the fans are old or new, there's raw power in hearing "Fight the Power," "Bring the Noise" and "Don't Believe the Hype" live in concert. As Flav says, ever-so-modestly, "We're the best show in hip-hop." Even if he can't really back up that statement (and a few others) quite yet
This is your first Public Enemy tour in a while. How's it going?
I'll be honestI gotta get myself into breath. It's been a minute since we did a couple of shows in a row. [Laughs] I've been real short-winded. Last night, for instance, was a sucky show, but from now on I'm gonna rip it up.
This tour marks Public Enemy's 20th year. What was your most memorable moment?
The beginning of the 20, man. We were out with the Beastie Boys, and that's an everlasting memory, the fire still burns from that. Actually, it was uphill from there, man. We put out an album that sold four million copies in one week. And we did that twice. Not too many people can say that. [Editor's note: While not exactly in a "week," the P.E. albums "Fear of a Black Planet" and "Apocolypse '91: The Enemy Strikes Back" did in fact sell over four million copies each].
Do you listen to modern hip-hop?
I listen to everything. But I think the direction that hip-hop is going is the direction we're taking it into. Right now you've got straight up gangsta violent, you've got some party music
but there needs to be more records like we did, with education. We need hip-hop to attack more of the problems of the neighborhoods, like guns. We were the hip-hop group that got gangstas to being gangstas. And we need to bring back the fun, too. We toured with Jazzy Jeff, NWA, Run-DMC, the Beastie Boys, Slick Rick, Naughty By Nature
they were all real fun and we all put on a show. Today, you got all these guys on stage, not moving around, pointing fingers, just trying to get you to understand 'em. When Public Enemy gets off the stage, it's hard to follow us.
What do you see as your personal contributions to hip-hop?
I've always been a creator and innovator. I made up certain slang words that people still use, the style of dressinglike the hat and glasses I always wear, my hairstyle. In fact, I'm actually going back to wearing a high-top. Everyone else is going forward, Flav goes backwards! Actually, when we first started doing our shows, I used to wear all white. I'm going back to that, 'cause when you have a real bright object on stage, you focus all your energy on it.
And you've got that clock
I got the clock! At one point we had the whole world wearing one. Chuck took his off, I kept it on, even when guys were like "that's played out, man." Hey, I'm true to this. I still wear this. It's American Express: I don't leave home without it.
Does that thing really tell time?
If I put a battery in it! [Laughs] If I don't, at least it's right twice a day.
Do you think people copied your act?
My energy they copied. Bushwick Bill, Busta Rhymes, ODB
rest in peace
there's a lot of Flavs running around. All Flavs.
Do young rappers give you the respect you deserve?
That and even more. Praises! A lot of people, today, they're like, "Flav, your music changed my life. I got where I am today listening to you."
On tour, are you playing any songs from your recently released solo album?
Yeah, we do, just so fans know it's circulating out there. Actually, I had to put a hold on itthere were some sampling issues. But it'll be back in your face soon enough.
I heard it took seven years to put that out. That must be frustrating.
Honestly, it took almost 17! [Laughs] One thing led to another, and to another
but God has blessed me, and I put it out on my own label. My own label.
So, let's say you're on tour, bored, and a rerun of one of your reality shows like "Flavor of Love" or "The Surreal Life" comes on. Do you watch it?
Honestly, after I tape my shows and do everything with that, I never get to watch myself. I'm running around too doggone much.