|Flavor Flav is one of hip hop’s quintessential characters. As Public Enemy’s eccentric, clock-wearing jester, he was the light-hearted Ying to Chuck D’s heavy-hearted Yang. In this impromptu 1999 interview in Sydney, Flavor Flav talks about Def Jam not supporting his album, voting for Nixon, being a drug counselor and African drum and dance teacher, and a bunch of other off-the-wall stuff.||
Writer’s note: I’m really fond of this interview. I can’t believe I did it ten years ago – almost to the day. Flavor Flav was on tour in Sydney and a friend bumped into him at a shop in the city and told him about my radio show. I ended up spending 3 very surreal hours with him. We hung out in his room and walked the Cross with his massive bodyguard, Casper. He was definitely a crazy character but there’s something very deep and empathic about him as well. He reminds me of a jester from a Shakespearean play: sometimes Shakespeare’s jesters are the only characters with any clarity. I haven’t really edited the below: there are inane and strange parts but, hopefully, you enjoy the fly-on-the-wall read.
Hows the tour going?
Flavor Flav: So far so good. I ain’t mad at this shit.
Tell us about what you’ve been doing out here?
Flavor Flav: I’ve been going out a bit. Just doing my thing right now. Just trying to enjoy this shit.
Where were you before Australia?
Flavor Flav: Well, we did Japan.
How was that?
Flavor Flav: Slamming, awesome, G. But guess what? I didn’t get to go because I didn’t get my passport ready.
So is this just a job for you?
Flavor Flav: Yeah it is but I have fun doing this.
Is there anything else you’d rather do?
Flavor Flav: Just make music man. Just survive for me and my kids.
How’s the He Got Game album [Public Enemy] going?
Flavor Flav: Honestly between me and you I don’t think it’s going that well.
I think it’s a bit of a switch up. Did the label push it in a certain direction?
Flavor Flav: Well, I’m a tell you like this. This He Got Game album is not really P.E. style. It’s just something we did to let everybody know, ‘Hey man, we are still here.’ And just let everybody know Flav ain’t locked up. I don’t know what the fuck y’all been hearing but everybody’s been hearing stuff about me but nobody came to see… I’m right here doing my thing with you people.
Do they push it?
Flavor Flav: No, Def Jam does not support it at all. So, what I’m trying to do is get off their label. Why should I be on a label that doesn’t want to support me and yet I’m making them money? Hell, if you can’t wash my hands doesn’t mean I’m not trying to wash yours. But just ’cause I wash your hands doesn’t mean you have to wash mine. Anything I did is because I wanted to do it. It was from the heart. It wasn’t for something. Coming out here to do shows I gotta do this for money. I have to ‘cause I have kids. It’s all about survival, B. But honestly if I could I would perform for people for free….you see, everybody else isn’t like me. And that’s what makes me one of a kind. Innovative, B. And that’s what makes me a legend man [laughs]. Do you think I’m a legend?
Yeah, well you’ll get there. I think when you are 70 and have released some more albums you might just get there.
Flavor Flav: Ok. So I still got a bit more to go? I ain’t mad at that. But, you know, people have already started legendising me.
How does that make you feel?
Flavor Flav: Good, man. It makes me feel good. It makes me feel appreciated, it makes me feel wanted, it makes me feel that I am doing my job and that I am fulfilling people’s needs.
Do you ever feel detached as a superstar?
Flavor Flav: I love people, man. I love people too much to get into that. Besides, all superstars are people. A lot of people consider me a superstar but I’m just living… Just going for what I know right now and taking care of my kids.
If you got off the label what would you do?
Flavor Flav: My own label.
Have you got it all in the works?
Flavor Flav: Sure. And, um, you know, my label- I’m basing it out of Houston, Texas. I’m from New York but I’m moving to Houston.
Why is that?
Flavor Flav: I love it there. I can fuckin’ relax…I just want to take my kids down there and let them grow up there ‘cause it’s a lot different to New York. New York life is very fast. And everywhere else to me is a little slower than New York.
What about Sydney?
Flavor Flav: Sydney, when it comes down to drugs, one of the main drugs around here is cocaine. And wherever you have cocaine you gonna have muthafuckers moving fast. That’s what coke is. It’s a speed drug. And, right now, around the area where we’re staying [Kings Cross], oh man there’s some mad coke heads right now. And everywhere I go, ‘Hey Flav! Come on in, man. Let’s bump a line?’ You wanna bump a line? Man, you better call me on the line, muthafuckers. I’m not sniffing no fuckin’ cocaine today. Not me, G. I been there done that. Gone. Out of my life. I’m not trying to get that back in my life.
What made you wake up?
Flavor Flav: What really made me wake up? God. You see, every moment we live God controls it, you know. And the moment that he woke me up was the moment he was controlling. And he was like, ‘Look man, you got mad talent. You’ve got a lot of friends. You’ve got a lot of people that love you. You’ve got kids. I’m giving you access.’ This is God talking to me now: ‘I’m giving you access to the whole world so stop what you’re doing.’ And he found a way to stop me. And I’m glad that it happened. I’m glad I’m not on that shit no more. That shit was horrifying man. It was a fucked up experience going through that shit for so many years.
Do you regret it?
Flavor Flav: No. Glad because I got to learn something… so now I can let my kids know what it is like to be fucked up and I can try to encourage them to never ever go that route. And if their friends is doing it then those friends is not their friends. Anybody that gets somebody else strung out on drugs is not a friend.
You still have your clock on? Is that still gimmick or does it mean more now?
Flavor Flav: At first it was a gimmick but then it really started meaning something to me.
[He then looked at me in the eyes and said, "Right now, what you doing a lot of people wish they could do." I think he was talking about me interviewing him. His phone rang, he answered it, did his thing... then:]
Flavor Flav: Why do Flavor Flav wear a motherfuckin’ clock? What does the fuckin’ clock mean? Yo, I’m going to break this shit down. The reason I wear this clock is because time is the most important element we have in our life. We can’t afford to waste it. Each minute that we live we gotta use each second to our best value. Time waits for no value. Time brought us in and time is gonna takes us out. I’m always saying, ‘I’m clocking, I’m clocking,’ so that means you can’t get fast on me, G, ’cause I already know what time it is. Phat, right? Phat, right?
Do you still feel as strong about the politics?
Flavor Flav: OK. Let me answer that truthfully: a guy like me, I don’t give a fuck about politics. I hate politics. Never did nothing for me. So I don’t get into it. All this political shit that’s been going on, you better check Chuck D. He’s the one that write the records. ‘Cause a guy like me, I don’t fuck with poltics. Politics never done nothing for me.
What do you mean?
Flavor Flav: There was a time when I was young, when I used to vote…the last time I voted was maybe 19. [Thinks] Last time was honestly around 19 motherfuckin’ ’76, ’77… and when I voted Clinton, I mean Nixon or one of those motherfuckers running for state… so what happened was Nixon and these motherfuckers had us voting for them and I was working for a summer program and when we were voting we were promised they would make things better and the whole nine. So I vote for this fucking creep Nixon, right? Let me tell you what I got out of it? Nothing. I got my job taken from me, the government cut back funding for programs and what they did was cut back one of the programs and I lost my job.
At the summer camp?
Flavor Flav: Yeh, you see I was a drug counsellor, a day care counsellor. ‘Cause we had day camps for kids that didn’t have nothing to do during the summer so we set up camps for them during the day… I was a day care counsellor.
I never knew all that. How did you get into that?
Flavor Flav: Well a guy like me… I got a lot of mileage. Well, my mum also worked for the neighbourhood too and they had programs and it was just something for me to keep out of trouble. I played African drums. I know how to play congas and shit. So I was a teacher. I was an African drum and dance teacher. Yup, a lot of people don’t know that shit. Can you picture Flavor Flav doing that shit?
What else is there for you to do? Do you feel like you’ve accomplished what you want to?
Flavor Flav: Nope. Right now I got a job, man, for people… to fulfil people’s needs.
Flavor Flav: Uh-huh.
[He then got distracted for a few minutes lighting a cigar]
Flavor Flav: OK. Guess what? Now I’m gonna give you my undivided attention. What do u want me to give to your listeners? I went to Africa and got reigned chief. You know what? I think we should start from the top, you know, but you might have some stuff you wanna keep.
Friend, Jade [also in the room]: I want to find out about your influences.
Flavor Flav: Older recording artists. You know, like Jimmy Smit, Shirley Scot. I grew up on jazz. My father was always listening to jazz. Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis. And then my R&B influentials: Aretha Franklin, The Supremes… I also like a lot of the doo-wops. Like The Drifters… also Led Zeppelin was a big influence. You see, I’m a versatile musician. I like music of all kinds. I play over 14 different instruments. Nobody taught me how to play. Honestly that was God teaching me.
What do you play?
Flavor Flav: Bass guitar, lead guitar, xylophone, saxophone, trumbones, French horns, tuba. I can play the drum set.
[Room service knocked at the door. Having dealt with them, he returns:]
Keep it going, keep it going, don’t stop… plus, besides music is a universal language and it’s a language that was put on the fuckin’ universe for a reason so I wanna follow that reason out. I want to follow that purpose out. But I want it to be a good purpose and a good reason. That’s why I’m always going to do positive music
Are you going to put out a solo?
Flavor Flav: Yeah man… but right now my record company, as bullshit as they are – Def Jam – they’re not supporting my group with this He Got Game shit and they’re trying to hold me by the balls with my solo project. So, right now, I should’ve had my CDs out here but through business reasons I don’t. BUT the name of my CD is Flavor Flav Solo. After that, my album follows. On the EP we got 4 cuts, 5 instrumentals and acapellas… so basically for the DJs too. If you hear a record, who the fuck are you hearing it from? The DJ. So you gotta make records for them too. So that’s why I put these instrumentals and acapellas on so I give them some shit to play with. Take my instrumental and put DMX on it. Or take my acapellas and wack it on a puff daddy remix.
What do you think of Puff Daddy?
Flavor Flav: That’s my man. I love Puff Daddy.
What about his production integrity?
Flavor Flav: I love everything about Puffy. He’s a brother doing his thing and he did it positively. I never known him stepping on people’s feet… I love it and it’s very creative. We were the first to do what the fuck Puffy is doing, which is sampling. That’s what made Public Enemy Public Enemy. That’s what made us so innovative. We were the ones who changed the style of rap music within the rap industry. Now since we did that everybody is coming up with better technology. Now they got better sampling equipment.
Where do you see Public Enemy in 20 years time?
Flavor Flav: Let me tell you somehting. The future can be planned but you can’t predict it ’cause life ain’t promised to us – the only promise that we have in life is death. So my only answer to that is… I don’t really see us 20 years ahead ’cause I never really tried to take us that far into the future. We have our own individual lives. And I’m not gonna say this is gonna last forever. I don’t think it’s gonna last another 20 years because we already been together 15! [laughs] C’mon man! I mean, I love these guys but I ain’t trying to marry them. I can’t get married to Chuck, Terminator and the S1W’s and, yeah, we got Griff back… I’m trying to marry me and my kids. Only god can really determine where we gonna be. 20 years from now I see me without Public Enemy, richer than a motherfucker – I mean, financially rich. ‘Cause even if I don’t get financially rich I’m still rich anyway ’cause I got a good heart, I love people, I got good people in my life like you motherfuckers. Y’all need to know that shit. I thank God for it. I’m rich. I don’t need money to be rich. You don’t either. All you gotta do is just stay positive and love people. Whatever you give off is going to come back to you. Whatever you give away is going to come back to you ten times. So if you give it away with intentions of trying to swindle somebody in the long run you may get it but it ain’t gonna last you a long time. But if you give it from your heart ’cause you know this is what must be done: ‘I know this person needs this. I’m more than glad to do this for them. I don’t need them to do nothing back. I’m not looking for nothing back.’ That’s when shit can happen. When you think like that. You gotta think like that. Just ’cause I wash your hands doesn’t mean I have to wash yours. Just ’cause I wash your hands doesn’t mean you gotta wash mine.
Yeh, you said that before, man.
Flavor Flav: Yeah, because I mean that shit. If I do something for you I’m not looking for you to do nothing back. Otherwise then what the fuck am I doing it for? To do shit for me? C’mon, man. Then that means I didn’t have good intentions in the first place. I did it ’cause I felt sorry for you or I want something back? C’mon man that’s the sucka shit. That’s the way I get down man. That’s the way Flavor Flav gets down. I can’t speak for the rest of my crew. They ain’t here and I’m not them. I don’t live inside of them. I only live inside of me. I can only live inside of me. I can only answer for myself. So this is Flav speaking. I’m a product of God, G. I’m an angel. I work for God. That’s why I be by myself a lot but Chuck D and the S1’s and everybody be together. I just be by myself in a whole total different zone. Why? because it was meant for me to be in my own zone. If it wasn’t meant for me to be in my own zone then I’d be down at soundcheck with the rest of them.
[The interview meanderer a bit here - yes, even more - and he proceded to rap somthing off an upcoming track. Then:]
Flavor Flav: I’m glad that I made Mark come down here and do an interview with me. It’s been an honour and a pleasure to sit and chat with you. You need to know that. Any more information you need that I can give you as long as I ain’t tired then we can do this shit all day. It’s been real, man.
[Into the mic] Hey, yo, Australia, hold it down! This is Flavor Flav from Public Enemy. I wanna say thanks for all the years of love and support that you’ve been giving Public Enemy and I’ll be back all the time that I can to keep giving you some dope shows, some slamming shows. And I promise y’all that I’ll always be keeping it real. I’ll never be faking no jacks. That’s why I wear my clock on six o’clock because six o’clock means I’m straight up and down but when I wear my clock on twelve o’clock, that means I’m straight up ’cause 12 o’clock is pointing straight up. And I’m straight up with you right now. And that’s what time it is.
- This Flavor Flav interview was conducted in 1999. Some of it was published in Vice Magazine, Canada, at the time. Some was published in the first issue of Stealth Magazine.
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