This was never going to be a dull election cycle, but who would have thought that the 2020 presidential race would be result in the breakup of a legendary classic rap group? On Sunday night, Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Public Enemy announced that Flavor Flav—the only member besides the group's leader, Chuck D, to have remained in the band since its 1985 inception—was being fired. Chuck D is one of the architects of politically conscious rap, so it makes sense that a political fight could tear Public Enemy asunder. Here's how an argument over a Bernie Sanders rally split the iconic rap group.
What's the deal with the rally?
On Thursday, it was announced that Public Enemy Radio would—like Jack White, Vampire Weekend, and the Strokes before them—play a concert at a Bernie Sanders rally. The fact that the group performing was Public Enemy Radio, an offshoot of the band that includes Chuck D, DJ Lord, who joined the group in the late '90s, Jahi, and the S1Ws, was the first hint that hypeman Flavor Flav was not totally onboard. But the announcement was followed by a cease and desist letter from Flav's lawyer accusing Sanders' campaign of using Flav's "unauthorized likeness, image and trademarked clock" despite not having secured the famously clock-wearing rapper's endorsement.
"While Chuck is certainly free to express his political view as he sees fit — his voice alone does not speak for Public Enemy," read the letter. "The planned performance will only be Chuck D of Public Enemy, it will not be a performance by Public Enemy. Those who truly know what Public Enemy stands for know what time it is, there is no Public Enemy without Flavor Flav."
A lawyer for Chuck D responded, arguing that their client "could perform as Public Enemy if he ever wanted to; he is the sole owner of the Public Enemy trademark."
"He originally drew the logo himself in the mid-80s," said the lawyer in a statement to Rolling Stone, "is also the creative visionary and the group’s primary songwriter, having written Flavor’s most memorable lines."
Despite the letter, the rally went ahead as planned Sunday. That day, Public Enemy radio and Public Enemy announced that they "will be moving forward without Flavor Flav," and thanked the Flavor of Love star for "his years of service."
What are Chuck D and Flavor Flav saying about the feud?
Flav is keeping pretty mum, but Chuck D has gone public with his side of things in a series of tweets. According to Chuck, it's Flav's opposition to the show had little to do with the particulars of Sanders' politics and instead stemmed from a general aversion to playing free concerts. "It’s not about BERNIE with Flav... he don’t know the difference between BarrySanders or BernieSanders he don’t know either," Chuck D tweeted. "If there was a $bag, Flav would’ve been there front & center. He will NOT do free benefit shows."
I heard I’m trending, like I care . I built @EnemyRadioRS so it does benefits & fundraisers ... He said he never gonna do them. So his refusal to do @HarryBelafonte #ManyRiversFestival in Atlanta 2016 was my last time. I built Enemy Radio to get far away from that ridiculousness.— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) March 2, 2020
Spoke @BernieSanders rally with @EnemyRadio. If there was a $bag, Flav would’ve been there front & center. He will NOT do free benefit shows. Sued me in court the 1st time I let him back in. His ambulance lawyer sued me again on Friday & so now he stays home & better find REHAB— Chuck D (@MrChuckD) March 2, 2020
Chuck D, always outspoken about his politics, explained his support for Sanders on Twitter. "My Dad passing in 2016 and Granddaughter being born automatically put healthcare and childcare at the top of my brain. There ain’t a candidate running that can answer to 3 Black struggling generations living in the same crib, same time," he tweeted. "I dig aspects of Bern. Hate the party Bulsht. But can relate to half the issues & get forward."
A 2016 SXSW performance revealed a potential political split within the group. Onstage, Chuck yelled, "Fuck Donald Trump!" But in a backstage interview with billboard, Flav sounded a different note. "There’s a lot of people talking a lot of shit about Trump, but guess what? He’s winning. The man is winning," he said. "I ain’t gonna lie, but listen, the United States has been ran a certain way for decades and decades and decades. You never know: Maybe Trump could possibly do something. Maybe he might step in office and do something. I’m not going to doubt him."
It's not the first dispute between Chuck and Flav. In 2017, Flav sued his bandmate over allegedly unpaid profits—which might be the lawsuit Chuck referenced in his tweets.
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