Flavor Flav, hip-hop's original court jester, says there's a gap in rap.
As he sees it, the lopsided emphasis on gangster life and material goods has burdened the genre in recent years. But he promises that It's About Time, his debut solo album due this fall, will redress the situation.
"What I'm trying to do is put back into rap music what's missing — which is the good part, the fun part, that party part," said Flavor Flav, who in Public Enemy plays comic counterpoint to politicized MC Chuck D.
"I remember rap music," Flavor Flav continued. "We used to party and dance off of it. Today it's all about a whole different angle. ... Rappers are going against each other, and it's more of a bragging, boasting thing."
The 40-year-old Flavor Flav (born William Drayton) will release It's About Time Sept. 7, a dozen years after Public Enemy began their groundbreaking career with Yo! Bum Rush the Show.
From his home in New York, Flavor Flav took time out from watching several of his half-dozen children last week to talk about the new disc and Public Enemy's recently released There's a Poison Goin' On, as well as his legal run-ins from the early '90s and his relationship with God.
Where other rappers pepper their sentences with the rhetorical "Y'know what I'm sayin'," Flavor Flav punctuates his thoughts with a fervent "Y'all need to know that," as if he were preaching to a congregation. He proudly runs down the names, spellings and ages of all his kids — Shanique, 13; William Jr., 12; Karren, 11; Da'Zyna, 7; Quanah, 5; Kayla, 3.
As one might expect from the MC who gave us such spontaneous phrases as "quick-fast-in-a-hurry," Flavor Flav often breaks into seemingly improvised lyrics, stuffing rhymes into the corners of his conversations.
In Flavor Flav's eyes, his first solo disc is an opportunity from on high, and one that he has no intention of squandering selfishly. Sharing the fruits of labor, he said, yields spiritual rewards.
"I'm gonna take this chance like a football, and I gonna run a touchdown with it," he said (RealAudio excerpt of interview). "Then I'm gonna take my [touchdown] points and spread my points to everybody. ... As I share my points that makes me get more, more, more points. ... God says you can't keep it unless you give some of it away."
In addition to a cover of pop-jazz band Chicago's 1970 hit "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?," It's About Time will include songs about Flavor Flav's kids ("Flav News") and relations between the sexes ("No Loot"), as well as a track he debuted live on last year's Smokin' Grooves tour — "The Hot One."
"I dedicated that to all my people that's locked down," he said. "I know what they're feeling. Why? Because I was locked down one time. And also to all my people that's in the ground — sleep safe and sound."
Despite the album's emphasis on party jams, the rapper won't abandon the social side he first displayed on Public Enemy's 1990 single "911 Is a Joke" (RealAudio excerpt). "He does want to do at least one socially conscious song on the album," Flavor Flav's business manager, Clifton Johnson, said.
While Chuck D has always led Public Enemy's political charge, the Flavor Flav track "41:19" (RealAudio excerpt) is one of the most pointed social criticisms on There's a Poison Goin' On. The cut blasts police search-and-seizure tactics and the use of force in the New York case of Amadou Diallo. Diallo, a West African emigrant, earlier this year was killed by four white police officers who fired 41 shots at him — 19 of which hit him — as he stood in the doorway of his apartment building.
"I'm thinking, the guys that did the shooting, what would they do if they ended up in jail amongst a lot of the people that they locked up," Flavor Flav said (RealAudio excerpt of interview). "It's not like I'm cracking down on the police department, saying the police department is bad. ... You do got some good police in the department that is true and fair to the game. But you got some that are on some power trip, and those are the ones that need to take the dip. Those are the ones that make it bad for the good ones."
During the early 1990s, Flavor Flav dealt with police himself on several occasions. He was arrested for assault and nonpayment of child support and was charged with attempted murder for a domestic dispute that involved gunfire. The charge was dropped after the rapper agreed to get treatment for a drug habit.
"My past charges, past relationships with my children's mothers, drug charges — all of that stuff — that's one thing that I like to put behind me, because it couldn't do me good today," he said. "The only thing that would do me good about it today is when I go and share my experiences with kids."
Since those incidents, Flavor Flav has spoken to several groups of young people in detention centers, group homes and schools, Johnson said. In coming weeks, he will speak to a youth group again in Long Island, N.Y.
"The things that I went through are the things that I don't want them to have to go through," Flavor Flav said (RealAudio excerpt of interview). "I got a way to get through to kids. I try to take that and use that to my advantage. If we work on the kids right now, I'm telling you, they'll be making less mistakes, the jails will be gettin' less full.
"It's all about what we do with the kids."