As much fun as it can be to watch Flavor Flav in action, it’s hard not to wonder sometimes why exactly he’s famous. Sure, he was a member of Public Enemy, one of the most seminal and ground-breaking acts in hip-hop. But his main contribution to that group involved repeating his own name a bunch of times and shouting, “Yeeeah, boyeee!” Other than that, what else is there? Is he famous because he’s starred in a string of VH1 reality shows, where he’s had affairs with women with names like Hoopz, Deelishis and Brigitte Nielsen? Is he famous for wearing an oversized clock around his neck even long after people stopped paying attention, or for having a ridiculous number of children (seven and counting), or for opening an eponymous fried chicken joint in Iowa that closed after just three months? To paraphrase Aristotle (who must’e known a Flavor Flav in his day), the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts, especially if one of those parts is getting roasted on Comedy Central by Snoop Dogg and Carrot Top. In his literary debut, The Icon The Memoir (available from Farrah Gray Books next Wednesday, June 1st), he doesn’t make a convincing case for why the world should still remember his name. But he manages to be infectiously charming nonetheless, particularly when he slips in daffy lines like “I always wanted to know what it would be like if I had a baby with a Spanish girl” and “When I was in my mother’s womb, God knew that you’d be reading this book.” I called Flav to talk about his memoir, and by the end of our conversation, I would’ve invited him to crash on my couch for as long as he needed. That’s how goddamn likable he is.
Eric Spitznagel: I don’t know if you realize this, but today is Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday.
Flavor Flav: Really? Wooooow. That’s hot. Happy birthday to my man Bob Dylan.
Are you a fan? What’s your favorite Dylan song?
I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but I like Bob Dylan alright.
As the uncontested best hype man in music, could you hype a Bob Dylan song?
You mean like if we recorded something together? Yeah, I could probably do that.
Let’s try it. Dylan kicks it off with a fat rhyme like “You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat / Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat.” How do you hype him?
Well honestly, it would take a little concentration to make the right hype for Dylan. I want to make sure it’s right, and it’s trendy. It’s not something I wanna do just off the top of my head.
For our readers who aren’t familiar with the term, what exactly is a hype man?
A hype man’s job is to hype up the crowd during a concert. When you’re part of a group and your group is performing, you want the crowd to get hyped. You know what I’m saying? You want the crowd to put their hands in the air and wave ‘em like they just don’t care. You want ‘em up on their feet and hyped. You’re also hyping the other guys in the group on stage with you. You’re pushing ‘em and getting ‘em excited about the show.
So you’re like a life coach, but for rappers? You’re Tony Robbins for the hip-hop set?
Yeah, definitely. I think I’m a life coach for real. The lessons I give are lessons you can take to the bank.
Like what, for instance?
Always remember that nothing in life is promised to us. The only thing in life that’s promised is death. So try and get the most outta life that you can, because when we die, we are nothing but memories.
Jesus, Flav. That’s depressing.
I’m just telling it like it is.
I was hoping for something a little less dark and heady, like “Rock that shit, homey!”
It’s the same thing, man. We should be the most influential that we can while we still got life. Rock that shit, homey!
How do you become a hype man? When Public Enemy was getting started, was it just a distribution of duties? “Well, Chuck is the leader, Professor Griff is the crazy anti-Semite. We only got one more slot, Flav. You gotta be the hype man.”
[Laughs.] Hahaha! That’s nice. I like that train of thought. But naw, it doesn’t go like that. Back in the day, when the DJ would be playing a record, I would be on the mic trying to hype up the crowd. So once Public Enemy became a rap group, I decided that that’s the role that I wanted to take on. I wanted to be the one that was hyping, because I’ve always been good at it. I can hype up any crowd.
Is there any situation that’s unhypeable? Something that even you, the king of hype, can’t hype?
Nothing, man! Name anything, I can hype it.
[Pause.] Okay, anything but that. [Laughs.] I don’t think that’s too hype to me.
I just want to make sure I’m talking to the real Flav. What time is it?
Why you asking me?
You can’t just look down at your chest and tell me the time?
Okay, okay, I’ll tell you what time it is. It’s time for you to stop asking me crazy questions! Ha ha!
You’re avoiding the question. Do you or do you not have a ridiculously large clock on your chest at this very moment?
I do, man. I always do. Since 1987, when I got my first one, I’ve been wearing a clock around my neck 24/7. You feel me? 24/7.
How many clock necklaces do you own?
I have a bunch of them. I have over a hundred clocks. I’ve got fancy clocks and clocks that people made for me from all over the world. And I have my most favorite one, which is the one I’m wearing now. It’s the original.
Daylight savings time must be a rough day at your house. You’ve got to dig through your closet and change clock after clock after clock after clock…
What? Naw, man, naw. I take the batteries out of all of them on purpose. It’s not about the time, it’s about the Flavor, you know what I mean? The clock on the cover of my book, it’s set to 4:30 and the reason why is because of my boy Criss Angel. You know that guy? The magician? I was on an episode of his show Mindfreak, and he did a trick with me where he made me turn my clock to 4:30. So I keep it set like that. Don’t wanna take any chances.
There were some strange asides in your book. At one point, before you’re about to share a story, you write “Wait, first I need a sip of Coca-Cola.” Did Coke pay you for the product placement?
Naw. It’s just when I was writing the book, I was explaining what I was doing at that exact moment. You know how it is. All that writing and talking, you get thirsty. I wanted to be upfront and completely honest with my fans.
So if the Coca-Cola company, in a show of appreciation, sent you a convoy of trucks filled with soda, you’d turn them away?
No way, man! You crazy. I’d keep all that Coca-Cola. Not only that, but it’d be nice if they gave me a nice endorsement and a fat check. I love flavored sodas. In fact, I like any food that’s a bright color.
You mention that in the book. You apparently got the name Flavor Flav because of your sweet tooth.
That’s it, man. I like all candies, especially colorful candies. I like reds and bright greens and the bright oranges and the grapes. I’ve always been a freak for flavors.
You also claim in the book that you lost your virginity at six years old. I’m probably not the first person to say this, but no you didn’t.
Yes I did!
No, sorry, that didn’t happen. I do not believe you.
Listen, as a baby, when you sleep, your penis gets hard. You know what I’m saying? Every single baby boy’s penis pops a boner.
Are we seriously about to have an argument about baby boners?
I felt it. I felt it go in. It didn’t go all the way in. Just the tip, but that’s enough to say you lost it. I don’t care what nobody says.
One of the recurring motifs in your memoir is people hitting you. You’ve been smacked around by your wives, Professor Griff, inmates from Riker’s Island. Why does everybody like to beat on Flav?
Well it’s not like that. It’s just one of the things that society likes to do.
It wasn’t society giving you a roundhouse kick for no reason, it was Griff.
Well listen, you’ve got your good and you’ve got your bad. Whatever comes your way, you have no choice but to handle it. You either make the best of it, or it makes the best of you.
We already knew that Griff was kind of an anti-Semitic douche, but you made him seem even more douchey. Why was he always coming at you with the karate chops?
Honestly, that’s a question that to this day I still can’t answer. It really, really puzzles me. I thought we were a lot better than that. I don’t know.
Maybe it was all that paranoia about the Jews and the gays. He needed to protect himself. It’s a well-known fact that only a roundhouse kick will stop the Jew-run media.
All I know is that he’s a martial artist and he trains. So I’m sure he’s used those moves on someone besides me.
You haven’t had your own reality show since 2008. Any plans to get back on TV and start oversharing again?
Oh yeah! I’m getting ready to do a reality show about my restaurant, FFC, Flav’s Fried Chicken. It’s gonna be the next Happy Days. It’ll be about what happens when I open my restaurant in the Riviera Hotel and Casino on the Sunset Strip in Las Vegas. Hopefully within the next two to three days we’ll close on that deal and then we can start shooting it.
Is this the same chicken restaurant that went out of business in Iowa a few months ago?
Yeah, we closed it down. Here’s the thing with the food business; the only way to win is with consistency. And if you don’t have consistency, you won’t win the game. Things didn’t stay consistent, so I had to shut it down and restructure it.
Can you share your secret chicken recipe?
Well let me ask you this. What makes Kentucky Fried Chicken taste so good?
I don’t know. Lots of sodium acid pyrophosphate?
Let me ask you this. What makes Church’s Chicken so special?
Uuh… a dump truck full of canola oil?
Let me ask you this. What makes Popeye’s Chicken so special?
The tears of their minimum wage employees?
That’s the same thing that makes my chicken so special.
Seriously? Your chicken is made with tears?
Naw, naw. I mean that my chicken is secret, just like theirs. But the truth is, my chicken tastes better because of the way I season it and the way I cook it. Everybody else, their secret is in the breading. But my secret is within the chicken itself, and then after I season it, I put it in a fryer to season the breading.
If I can paraphrase, you’re telling us that the secret to your fried chicken recipe is “It’s the Flavor! It’s the Flavor! It’s the Flavor!”
Hahaha! I love you! You are the man. You are the man!
You mention in your book that you’d also like to do a reality show about going back to high school. Is that actually going to happen?
I hope so. I don’t have my high school diploma because I dropped out in the tenth grade. It’s a goal that I want to achieve, because I think it would make my mother happy to see me with a diploma. I want to do that for her while she’s still alive. And also, I want to influence kids in a positive way. I want kids that are in school right now to learn from my mistakes. I’m saying to them, “Get your diploma while you have the chance. Don’t wait till you’re old like me to do it.”
I have this wonderful mental image of you in a high school history class. Every time the teacher brings up another historical figure, you’re in the back shouting “Motherfuck him and John Wayne!”
Hahahaha! No doubt that’s gonna happen.
“Okay, class. Today we’re going to learn about the presidency of Ronald Reagan.”
Motherfuck him and John Wayne! [Laughs.] Yeeeah, boyeee!
(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)