Politics do not just get everyday people unfriended on social media. Sometimes, they get performers kicked out of longstanding groups. That is what happened with Public Enemy lately when it was reported that Chuck D fired co-founder and longtime bandmate, Flavor Flav.
Earlier this week, various media outlets from NBC.com, RollingStone.com, TMZ.com and elsewhere all reported on longtime member of Public Enemy, Flavor Flav having been “fired” from the rap group.
RollingStone.com reports that Flav’s response to the so-called firing is to claim that he is not “an employee” so he can’t be fired. The ejection of Flav from the group is reportedly a culmination of other problematic events. Missives and online messages between Chuck D and Flav grew acrimonious and personal. Audiences who have read the correspondence have probably found it uncomfortable to read as the sad saga plays out. What does Flav win, and how can he win if he simply decides not to act as if he has been fired? The imagined result is awkward.
Public Enemy: Chuck D and Flavor Flav, a history of partnership
Casual fans probably had no idea of any issues between Chuck D and Flav. The two have been the face of Public Enemy since the late 1980s, when the placement of “Fight the Power,” in Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” catapulted them into the public consciousness and made music and cultural history. The song has been voted “the most provocative song” by BBC.com. And as a writer for the UK site explains, “Fight the Power” often serves as a call-to-action anthem for people who feel the need to rally against socio-political forces larger than themselves.
Not since “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash (1982) had a rap song been as obviously political and popular as “Fight the Power.” Watching Chuck D and Flav perform the song and seeing their obvious camaraderie gave audiences a feeling that, well, at the risk of being too sentimental, that they would fight the power together. And, there was some, dare it be said, hope in that.
Public Enemy formed in 1986 in Long Island. The group’s work is propulsive and their beats percussive. It is the perfect soundscape for an anthem drilled out in the tone of Chuck D’s deep voice. In “Fight the Power,” the group manages to lambast American icons such as Elvis and John Wayne, saying things that had been stated in black communities for decades, but never exported outside of those communities. Thus, Public Enemy became a voice for not taking any oppressive crap. Millions of audiences were supportive of the group and the fans represented a spectrum of demographics.
Bernie Sanders, Public Enemy and a public fallout
According to a variety of news sources, things came to a head when Flav’s attorney sent a cease and desist letter to Bernie Sanders’ (D-VT) campaign to make them stop using “Fight the Power.” Reportedly, Flav did not want to perform at Sanders’ rally, either. Chuck D responded by noting that Flav did not represent Public Enemy in the matter. Then, he fired Flav. The missive is available online. Flav’s response? “I’m not your employee…I’m your partner…you can’t fire me.”
While Flav seems to insist the firing is over politics, the rest of Public Enemy and Public Enemy Radio (an offshoot of the band) claim that there have been issues for years. They further maintain that Flav has “…been on suspension since 2016.”
Flav’s attorney claims there is no Public Enemy with Flav, but some fans, and Public Enemy do not seem so sure. If this is how Public Enemy ends, it will be the saddest chapter of the band’s storied career. Audiences will no doubt want to know if and when the issues between Chuck D and Flav have been resolved.