Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: Albany Daily News. Posted by Ryan Frost
Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Frost
Public Enemy Hip-Hop Group
Currently Known For:
2006 - 2008
March 16, 1959
Public Enemy Hip-Hop Group
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“Your man Flavor Flav is living!” Flavor Flav is a rapper, comedian, and actor who first gained recognition when he joined the hip hop group known as Public Enemy where he quickly built his reputation as the group’s “hype man” known for yelling “Flavor Flav!” and “Yeahhhhh boyyyyyy!” during performances. Although his career declined in the 1990s, he made a huge comeback in the new millennium and found a younger generation of fans as he jumped on the reality television bandwagon with stints on Strange Love, Flavor of Love and The Surreal Life. So, how did the New York native get his start as a hip hop artist and hype man? Let’s take a look at the man behind the hype!
A New Yorker at heart, William Jonathan Drayton, Jr. was born on March 16, 1959 in Roosevelt, New York and spent his childhood in the neighboring town of Freeport. By five years old, he was considered a musical prodigy after teaching himself to play the piano. He was the lead singer of the church choir as he taught himself to play the guitar and the drums. However, his talent for music and his interests in performing weren’t enough to keep him out of trouble with his first run-in with the law coming when the youngster was playing with a lighter and set a house on fire. By the time he reached high school, he had a lengthy criminal record with numerous arrests for burglary and robbery. He eventually dropped out of high school and, despite never graduating, he attended Adelphi University in Long Island where he met an aspiring rapper named Carlton Ridenhour, who would later take the stage as Chuck D. Carlton. Chuck D. invited Flavor Flav to help him on his college radio show and, before long, the duo started rapping together.
“It comes from the education I got from learning how to play my instruments, which was taught by myself, you know what I’m saying?” Flavor Flav said of his start in the industry. “And then I gradually became a comedian playing the dozens, and I was so much the best that no one could really mess with me. Then I ran across my boy Chuck D and I got into Spectrum City and that’s how I really got started in the music business.”
Taking the name “Flavor Flav” from a graffiti tag, Flavor Flav teamed up with Carlton in 1986 to form their own hip hop group known as Public Enemy. With Carlton as the lead singer, Flavor Flav took his spot as the band’s hype man where he instantly became known for his over-the-top antics and wild style. They released their first single, “Public Enemy #1,” which caught the attention of Rick Rubin from Def Jam Records who thought Carlton was a solo act with Flavor Flav as some unnecessary side act. Regardless, Carlton insisted they were a team as Def Jam Records offered them both a contract, which ignited even bigger opportunity for Flavor Flav.
Public Enemy released their debut album—Yo! Bum Rush the Show—in 1987 featuring politically charged songs where Carlton was billed as the serious musician while Flavor Flav was branded as the comedic relief. The album itself was only mildly successful with the group’s second album—It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back—becoming even more popular as it was certified double platinum in 1988. A year later, they released their political single, “Fight the Power,” which skyrocketed them to stardom as national celebrities and music icons. Cashing in on that success, Flavor Flav developed his character on stage and built his style around a pair of glasses, a huge hat, and a wall clock hanging from his neck, which boosted his popularity even more.
Flavor Flav was a star in his own right by the 1990s and launched his solo career with rap songs like “Life of a Nigerian” and “911 is a Joke.” By then, his Public Enemy bandmates had grown tired of his wild antics and ridiculous wardrobe, arguing that Flavor Flav took away from the seriousness of their songs. To make matters worse, Flavor Flav faced a series of legal troubles including charges of assaulting his girlfriend, attempted murder, domestic violence and various drug charges related to cocaine and marijuana possession. Although he never spent more than 90 days in jail, his criminal record took a drastic toll on his reputation as his banks accounts were drained and he was forced to live with his mother by the new millennium.
Although many assumed Flavor Flav’s career was over after his constant run-ins with the law and thousands of dollars tied up in legal fees and bail money, that wasn’t the case at all thanks to his old friend, Chuck D, who invited him to move to Los Angeles. Within months, Flavor Flav was back on his feet as the creators of a new reality television series called The Surreal Life invited him to join the show. Accepting the offer, Flavor Flav revitalized his career as he met and fell in love with actress Brigitte Nielsen on the series. When The Surreal Life ended in 2004, VH1 gave Flavor Flav and Nielsen their own series called Strange Love, which ended when Nielsen left Flavor Flav to move back in with her fiancé. This ignited another spinoff called Flavor of Love, which documented the rapper’s search for lasting love as he went on to appear in I Love New York and I Love Money, all of which included high profile guests like Snoop Dogg, Jimmy Kimmel, Carrot Top and Patton Oswalt.
In the years since, Flavor Flav has ventured into the restaurant business and opened Flav’s Fried Chicken in Clinton, Iowa. Although the restaurant closed four months later, Flavor Flav refused to give up and opened Flavor Flav’s House of Flavor in Las Vegas in 2012 as well as Flavor Flav’s Chicken & Ribs in Michigan, the latter of which closed in 2013. Beyond that, the 58-year remains grateful for his fame and proves he’s still a hype man at heart saying, “I’m not surprised that I’m one of the most loved figures because when I give you love, you got no choice but to give love back.”