I think it’s time for me to formally introduce myself to the world. My name is John Crews. I’m an American of African descent, a Capricorn who loves to take long walks… oops, wrong blog. My purpose is to inform the S&R audience on subjects that are near and dear to me. Some things I write may offend you, like the thought of Flavor Flav having sex. Some subjects may prompt serious questions, like why would any woman be caught on TV saying they “love Flavor Flav?” And at the end of the John Crews Experience, I hope to have you pondering, “Gold or silver fronts in my mouth for me?”
So I’m talking a lot about America’s celebrated new shuffle-and-jiving, give-that-nigga-a-piece-of- chicken, gold-teeth-smiling coon. Yes, Flavor Flav, born William Drayton, Jr.; a classicly trained pianist who was in love with D-list celeb Brigitte Nielson (20 years past her prime, too). Oh, and in case you didn’t know him beyond his reality shows, Flavor Flav is a key member of the most influential hip hop group ever, Public Enemy. The same group that a nation of millions couldn’t hold back, the same group that trumpeted Louis Farrakhan and cursed Hollywood, the same group that told us to fear a black planet. These legends of rap are now overshadowed by the “Flavor of Love.”
Time may have pushed aside PE, but Flavor Flav’s newfound image and fame make Public Enemy’s messages downright hypocritical. If you are age 30+ and you were a big hip hop fan in the late 80’s, you know what I’m talking about. PE helped young people take on the establishment, giving us an insight on government corruption and media complacency and preaching about race relations, all the while snapping our necks back and forth. They reached out and joined forces with the heavy metal side of music, touring with Anthrax and sampling Slayer in a memorable music crossover. PE’s disillusionment and anger was liberating, too. Who can forget Mike Tyson in his prime, the epitome of unbridled young rage, coming out to the ring with no robe, no socks, just black trunks and shoes and glistening with sweat, ready to kick ass as PE thundered in the background?
But now, Flavor Flav’s image goes against eveything Public Enemy stood for. Don’t get me wrong, Flavor Flav went against the grain in the late 80’s, but when you had the booming, authoritative voice of Chuck D, it kind was kind of cool getting small doses of the puckish Flavor. I will go as far as saying if there was no Flavor Flav in PE , they would have been a 2-albums-and-out group because people would have been too put off by these militant black Americans wearing black hats, black clothes and having black, black faces.
I think that the powers that be now enjoy seeing Flav on TV, because he’s become a caricature they’re comfortable with. They like to see the pro-black stance that Public Enemy and other groups of that era successfully promoted being destroyed now by Flavor hosting an exploitative show that portrays him as some kind of freakish sex symbol, with girls of questionable motives fighting and spitting over him. When Chuck D wrote “Night of the Living Baseheads,” was he foreseeing the fate of Flav? On top of all that, it really bothers me that people mention Flavor Flav and do not mention Public Enemy. It’s like giving directions on how to make a root beer float without mentioning the ice cream.
What is Flav’s motivation in all this? Is it just quick money and the rush of fame, no matter how ill-gotten or prurient? Is this all a big joke that we’re not in on yet, or is the joke on us? When asked about it recently, all he had to say was, “I’m a real big celebrity. I’m this megastar.”
Chuck D wasâ€”and despite PE’s recent obscurity, still isâ€”an example of power and pride; what Flavor is doing now is reinvigorating symbology that has held down my people in all parts of life. Sambo images are nothing new to this society. But it concerns me when the images come from a person that is part of a group that once encouraged black youth to empower themselves and rise above.
All I can say now is, “Do Believe the Hype.”
Categories: Media/Entertainment, Music/Popular Culture
Great post, John. As a former rock musician who prays everyday that none of my musical heroes turns up on an MTV “celeb-reality”: series, I empathize and sympathize with your gloomy assessment. I was never a metal guy, but watching Ozzie go from “lord of the underworld” to “unintelligible idiot sitcom dad” has pained me.
Public Enemy has always been, for me, a “heroic” group like The Clash or The MC5 or even the pre-arena Who – these are groups who not only made great music, they carried a message to their listeners that both informed them about the world about them but offered those listeners critiques of that world. I think of Chuck D as part of the same line of artists that goes back to Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie and continues through Pete Seeger, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Richie Havens, Pete Townshend, Joe Strummer, Bob Marley, and others.
I love your use of the word “puckish” for Flav’s role in PE. There he was a playful figure who balanced the toughness of Chuck and the troops – who clearly, consciously evoked images of The Panthers – with a sense of humor meant, it would seem, to balance what Blake called “the tigers of wrath” with what Blake called “the horses of instruction.”
Now, whenever I pass by MTV and Flav’s on, I sigh and think of Jerry Garcia’s quote: “We couldn’t change the world – we couldn’t even change the government – but what we could do is make a lot of money.”
Or, perhaps, the real terror to confront may be that Flav’s change calls into question whether Public Enemy was simply an entertainment industry construct. Like Eminem. To provoke and scare, and sell albums. Perhaps PE never was threatening. Perhaps it was the original joke. And Flav just confirmed it.
Hell, I don’t know. I don’t know the band or the era. But?
GREAT first post. Awesome way to kick things off.
I think the problem isn’t necessarily that Flavor’s reduced himself to the modern-day Stepin Fetchit. The problem is the hip-hop game itself. It’s been especially cruel to the likes of PE, and Flavor, while memorable, wasn’t the key to PE’s success.
Hip-Hop as a whole has dumbed down, sold out, and shuck-and-jived it up because record execs knew they could sell crass materialism, wannabe gangster chic, and minstrel-show prancing to suburban white kids much better than complex topics like Black nationalism, poverty, and the fear of a black planet. Everyone involved wants to make money, and these days, making a fool of yourself on television is a quick way to do it–and Flavor’s never been shy about looking foolish.
So while you’re right to castigate Flavor Flav, he’s not the only one playing the role of court jester–he’s just the most obvious and open about it.
“Back, back, back, back … home run!”
Welcome aboard, John.