Thursday, 16 January 2014

Flavor Flav Jamz!

I was listening to PUBLIC ENEMY recently and realised that Flavor Flav now has enough 'solo tracks' from the group's albums to create a CD (or double LP) all on his own. But what kind of record would this be? And would it be a good listen?

The answers will depend on your tolerance for Flav's unique clownery and lyrical delivery (musically, his tracks are generally fairly straightforward club music of various styles, with lots of female choirs and occassional gospel touches). PUBLIC ENEMY has always kept to the adage that, Flavor-wise, less is more, and this theoretical compilation challenges that philosophy directly.

The early Flav material was strictly dynamite: PUBLIC ENEMY's 1987 debut "Yo! Bum Rush The Show" gave us "Too Much Posse", and its 1988 follow-up "It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back" of course featured "Cold Lampin' With Flavor", perhaps the early pinnacle of Flav's style and skills.

PUBLIC ENEMY's third album "Fear Of A Black Planet" (1990) had two Flavor Flav songs, "911 Is A Joke" (the band's second #1 in the U.S.) and "Can't Do Nuttin' For Ya Man". Worth noting that some of the later techno sounds Flavor would use so prominently also show up here. Then it's back to one track on "Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black" (1991), this time "I Don't Wanna Be Called Yo Niga". "Gett Off My Back" from "Greatest Misses" (1992) continues the trend of addressing serious topics, this time drug addiction.

"Muse Sick-N-Hour Mess Age" (1994) arguably has three Flav tracks. "I Ain't Mad At All" is a bit of a throwback to "911 Is A Joke" musically, while "Godd Complex" is so stripped down, it reminds me of nothing so much as "Yo! Bum Rush The Show". "What Kind Of Power We Got?" meanwhile inverts the standard PE juxtaposition and has Chuck D positioned as hype man to Flavor.

For the soundtrack to Spike Lee's "He Got Game" (1998), Flav drops "Shake Your Booty", a party anthem with a female chorus that signaled a bit of a change towards more vacuous subject matter. This slippage was temporarily interrupted by "There's A Poison Goin' On" (1999)'s "41:19", a strong-hitting number referencing the NYPD shooting of Amadou Diallo, and one of Flavor's strongest tracks, period. This album unfortunately also includes perhaps the nadir of Flavor songs: "What What", a fairly pointless, endless techno jam, this time with a male chorus.

After "What What", Flav actually dropped off doing solo tracks at all on PE's albums for a spell. When he did return, it was with a series of titles referencing himself: "The Flavor Flav Show" ("Beats And Places", 2006), "They Call Me Flavor" ("Rebirth Of A Nation", 2006), and finally "Flavor Man", the first of three Flav songs from "How Do You Sell Soul To A Soulless People Who Sold Their Soul?"* (2007).

"Flavor Man" is something of a comeback tune, with Flav directly challenging the idea he's fallen off. While I enjoy "Flavor Man", the album's other two Flav tracks are pretty dire: "Col-Leepin'" is a rerun of "Cold Lampin'" and doesn't improve on it in any way; "Bridge Of Pain" is a maudlin, sentimental tale of Flav's time in Riker's Island jail. Flav sings. At least it's short.

At the time of writing, the most recent Flav tune is "31 Flavors" from 2012's "The Evil Empire of Everything". I'm happy to say that this is a good one; Flav sounds excited again, and the vocal delivery pushes this into the realm of his better efforts.

So, all in all, it's good stuff which got marred at some point and then largely got better again. It'd make a better LP than a double LP, in my humble opinion. Let me close by paying respect to the "Flavor Man", and offering him condolences on his mother's recent passing.

Hear these tracks here:
Flavor Flav Jamz

*these three tracks also appeared on Flav's only solo album to date, 2006's eponymous record, also known as "Hollywood".

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