As you’ve probably heard, Flavor Flav has officially been booted from Public Enemy.
Flav claims it was because he refused to perform at a Bernie Sanders rally in California. Chuck D and the rest of PE insist that he’s been a no-show at gigs for years and this was just the final straw.
For a while now, Flav’s extracurricular antics—his reality show career, his run-ins with the law, his commitment to wearing the same oufits for 35 years—have threatened to overshadow his contributions to Public Enemy. But while he’s never been a classically brilliant rapper, he was never merely a comic foil or a hypeman—he’s been a necessary balance to Chuck’s stentorian cadence and puritanical fervor, and a distinctive rhymer in his own right. With that in mind, this is a good opportunity to celebrate Flav’s long PE tenure with some of his greatest moments.
Once more, all together now: “Yeaaaaaah, boyyyyyyyy.”
“Cold Lampin’ With Flavor” (from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, 1988)
As a rapper and as a personality, Flav never topped this unpredictable dive into lyrical delirium. He grabs the mic with the enthusiasm of a guy who’s been waiting his whole life to speak his mind. And what’s he needed to get off his chest? “Supercalafragahestikalagoothki/You could put that in your don't know what you said book/Took-look-yuk-duk-wuk.”
“911 Is a Joke” (from Fear of a Black Planet, 1990)
Flav’s greatest hit, and the moment where he distinctively stepped out of Chuck’s shadow. Finally he got to claim for his own one of those indelible bumper-sticker phrases of a song title that made PE not just a great rap group but an inescapable cultural presence. Flav’s dismissal of police indifference is sometimes funny but it ain’t no joke. Also it inspired the greatest Washington Post correction of all time.
“Hot 1” (from Hollywood, 2006)
This is actually a Flav solo joint. I’d never heard it till my pal and colleague Charles Hughes shared it on Twitter last night, but it jumped immediately up toward the top of my Flav faves. Undiluted flavor, undiluted Flavor.
"Can't Do Nuttin' for Ya Man” (from Fear of a Black Planet, 1990)
Flav shrugs off a needy loser’s demands for a few verses, then upstages himself with a brutal comic coda (“You on welfare/Your mother got gold nipples/You got a rip in your couch/Wash your butt”) that dissolves into his best Muttley snicker.
“I Don’t Wanna Be Called Yo Niga” (from Apocalypse 91... The Enemy Strikes Black, 1991)
By the start of the ’90s, hip-hop had made America’s most vicious racial epithet a household word. Rappers insisted that by reclaiming the slur, they were disarming its power to wound. Flavor Flav dissents here—while letting the term fly repeatedly.
“What What” (from There’s a Poison Goin’ On, 1999)
Just a perfect little bit of exuberant Flav goofing, over a “Funky Drummer” sample that sounded quaint at the time and 20 years later sounds timeless.
“Godd Complexx” (from Muse Sick-n-Hour Mess Age, 1994)
A spare yet claustrophobic track that takes on not just racism, but the white supremacist mind, highlighted by one especially surreal passage that imagines life in an urban black community as an absurdist crap shoot.
“Megablast" (from Yo! Bum Rush the Show, 1987)
Still finding their sound, PE experimented with some styles and techniques on their debut that they’d never follow up on. Here Flav and Chuck often rap in unison, bending a Schoolly D flow in the service of a no-nonsense anti-drug message.
“Shake Your Booty” (from He Got Game, 1998)
After flirting for years, rap and R&B got busy with each other in the late ’90s, and not even Public Enemy was immune. When he first heard those sexy backup ladies instruct Flav to perform the titular action, I bet it made Chuck visibly wince (which is part of the fun).
“They Call Me Flavor” (from Rebirth of a Nation, 2006)
A font of Flavoristic wisdom. "I'm in your mouth when you wake in the mornin’/I'm the stink on your breath when you're yawnin’/I'm in the milk in the cows of the corn, an’." “After dark/Centennial Park/Go to Jones Beach, get on the back of a shark.” And last, but not least, “I don’t know what the fuck I’m sayin’.”
“Bridge of Pain” (from How You Sell Soul to a Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul???, 2007)
Flav gets uncharacteristically personal with this look into his time locked up at Rikers. This is the most recent song on this list only because my PE knowledge gets spotty after this. (As, I suspect, does yours.) Have there been Flavor Flav gems scattered across PE joints from the past 13 years? We've got the rest of our lives to find out.