Did Public Enemy Break Up Over Bernie Sanders, Just Like Your Friendships? It's Complicated!
On Sunday night, the seminal hip-hop group Public Enemy officially fired hype man Flavor Flav after 35 years, following a disagreement about support for Bernie Sanders's campaign. "Just like many of my real life friendships!" you may have thought, regardless of where you stand on that particular subject. Heck, I've got at least two people I know who basically will not speak to me anymore just because I don't hate him and think he is the devil incarnate.
But that's not really all of what's going on. So let's explain!
Chuck D has endorsed Bernie Sanders and played at a Los Angeles rally on Sunday as Public Enemy Radio (a Public Enemy offshoot that features DJ Lord, who has been with Public Enemy since 1999, along with Jahi, and the S1Ws) not as Public Enemy. However! Flavor Flav, who very much does not get into political endorsements or adding his name to causes, felt that Chuck D was using the Public Enemy name and image without him and was not happy about it. On Friday, lawyers representing Flav sent a cease and desist letter to the Bernie Sanders campaign:
We have been retained to represent the interests of William Drayton p.k.a. [professionally known as] Flavor Flav concerning recent false reporting of Public Enemy's endorsement of the Bernie Sanders campaign as well as the unauthorized use of his likeness, image and trademarked clock in promotional materials circulated by the campaign and its network of online operatives in support of Bernie's upcoming rally.
We have become aware that Flavor's bandmate and Public Enemy co-creator Chuck D has endorsed Bernie Sanders' candidacy for President and plans to perform at an upcoming Sanders Rally. While Chuck is certainly free to express his political view as he sees fit — his voice alone does not speak for Public Enemy. The planned performance will only be Chuck D of Public Enemy, it will not be a performance by Public Enemy. Those who truly know what Public Enemy stands for know what time it is. There is no Public Enemy without Flavor Flav.
Honestly, that seems fine! But getting involved with political movements has been a point of contention in the group for a while now, and there have been other legal issues as well. In 2017, Flavor Flav sued Chuck D and the band's management company claiming that Chuck D had been minimizing his role in Public Enemy and that their management company had not been paying him his full share of the group's profits. That lawsuit was dismissed in 2019, but Flav has appealed.
According to Chuck D, this is not about Flavor Flav liking or disliking Bernie Sanders, but rather that endorsements are just something he doesn't do, noting that he also refused to support Harry Belafonte's Sankofa — a social justice organization that connects artists with grassroots causes. Chuck D himself said in a tweet that he isn't even that big into any politician and doesn't like the "party bullshit" but can "relate to half the issues & get forward," noting that everyone should be prepared to fight whoever is in office. In another tweet, he explained that since his father passed and he has a new grand daughter, health care and child care are at the top of his concerns. Fair!
(Side note, it was also Harry Belafonte's 93rd birthday on Sunday! Happy birthday Harry Belafonte!)
Chuck D also criticized those criticizing Flav for the letter and those assuming things about his political beliefs because of the letter.
And he and his lawyers sent the following statements to Rolling Stone prior to firing Flavor Flav:
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Chuck D said of his bandmate, "Flavor chooses to dance for his money and not do benevolent work like this. He has a year to get his act together and get himself straight or he's out."
A lawyer for Chuck D added, "From a legal standpoint, Chuck could perform as Public Enemy if he ever wanted to; he is the sole owner of the Public Enemy trademark. He originally drew the logo himself in the mid-80's, is also the creative visionary and the group's primary songwriter, having written Flavor's most memorable lines."
Then, they sent out a statement announcing that the group would be parting ways.
"Public Enemy and Public Enemy Radio will be moving forward without Flavor Flav. We thank him for his years of service and wish him well."
And, well... it got a little more contentious, with Chuck D saying that the big issue was that Flav didn't do any benefit shows and didn't do anything unless it paid:
Clearly, this isn't so much an issue of political differences about Bernie Sanders in particular, but more about some differences they have now in general. Doing political activism like this is obviously very important to Chuck D, and Flavor Flav has his issues with it. Rather than not be able to do that work, Chuck D and DJ Lord thought it was better to just part ways with Flav and call it a day. It's sad, but Flavor Flav obviously has done a lot of work without Chuck D — a certain classic VH1 reality show, for one — and nothing stays forever.
On the bright side, Public Enemy Radio's performance at the Sanders rally on Sunday night was pretty awesome, and I have cued it up for you here! Enjoy!
And for nostalgia's sake, here are Chuck D and Flavor Flav in better times, in the video for Fight The Power:
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. In addition to her work at Wonkette, she also has a biweekly column at Dame. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse