Public Enemy's Flavor Flav

Veteran rap combo Public Enemy have a knack for grabbing headlines. The band's

latest news is that its next album, There's a Poison Goin' On, will soon be made

available free on Public Enemy's official website.

Public Enemy have also announced plans to start their own Internet-based record label.

As in the past, Public Enemy are going where no rap group has gone before.

One of Public Enemy's founding rappers, Flavor Flav was born William Drayton 40 years

ago today in Long Island, N.Y. Flav came together with the other members of Public

Enemy in 1982 -- Chuck D (Carlton Ridenhour) studied graphic design at Long Island's

Adelphi University and became friendly with fellow student Hank Shocklee, who

recorded a track, "Public Enemy No. 1," on which Chuck D appeared.

Another school friend, Bill Stephney, had a radio show on which Chuck D started

rapping. Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin heard Chuck D's act and signed him.

Chuck D began Public Enemy with Shocklee as producer, Stephney as marketer, and

DJ Norman Rogers, later known as Terminator X. Chuck D added his friend Flavor Flav,

who would become the "Costello" to Chuck D's "Abbott" in Public Enemy's vocal team,

and his Nation of Islam pal Richard Griffin became the coordinator of the combo's

dancers.

Yo! Bum Rush the Show was Public Enemy's 1987 debut. The LP generated little

interest beyond a few critics, but its follow-up, 1988's It Takes a Nation of Millions to

Hold Us Back, was a pop smash and changed the face of rap.

The album showcased Chuck D's political rhyming and the group's innovative sound

(the noisy, siren-laden, sample-heavy, turntable scratching that would soon be copied by

many other groups). It was produced by the Shocklee-led team known as the Bomb

Squad.

The single "Bring the Noise" was Public Enemy's first stab at controversy, featuring

Chuck D calling Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan a prophet. The album also

included "Don't Believe the Hype," which criticized the allegedly white-controlled media.

Many non-rap fans first heard Public Enemy when their song "Fight the Power" was used

as the theme to Spike Lee's groundbreaking 1989 film "Do the Right Thing." Around this

time, Griffin was fired after ranting against Jews in a Washington, D.C., newspaper and

then criticizing his bandmates.

Public Enemy's first top-10 LP on the Billboard 200 albums chart was Fear of a

Black Planet (1990), which dealt with white racism on cuts such as "911 Is a Joke," a

top-20 R&B hit. The group called for black unity on tracks like "Brothers Gonna Work It

Out." The following year's Apocalypse 911 went top-5 on the pop charts.

Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age (1994) was released as Public Enemy were taking a

backseat to the newer rap acts which had begun to explode on the pop scene. In the

meantime, Flavor Flav served jail time for assaulting a girlfriend and was charged with

attempted murder in 1993 for allegedly shooting a neighbor. Flav underwent drug

rehabilitation and the charges were dropped.

Last year, Public Enemy again teamed with director Lee for the music to the film, "He Got

Game." The soundtrack album was the first record in a decade to feature Public Enemy's

original lineup: Chuck D, Flav, DJ Terminator X and Griffin.

"We resurrected ourselves to do this project. It was something that was important

enough," Chuck D said.

Also in '98, Public Enemy participated in the rap-based Smokin' Grooves tour, during

which Flav sang "A Hot One," a track off his still-unreleased solo LP.

A few months ago, Public Enemy's ongoing battle with Def Jam over music ownership

rights received more visibility when the group blasted the record industry on a new song

made available on the band's website (www.public-enemy.com).

The song,

"Swindler's Lust" (RealAudio

excerpt), echoed Chuck D's recent criticism of Def Jam for earlier removing other

unreleased tracks from the band's website.

"Do You Wanna Go Our Way" is scheduled to be the first single from Public Enemy's next

LP.

Other birthdays: Michael Bruce (Alice Cooper), 51, and Nancy Wilson (Heart), 45.