Chuck D and Flavor Flav's real names are Carlton Douglas Ridenhour and William Jonathan Drayton, Jr., respectively. Chuck's first stage name was "Chuckie D.," and the band name came from a song he rapped on (created by their producer, Hank Shocklee), called "Public Enemy No. 1."
Public Enemy leader, Chuck D, attended Adelphi University in Long Island, and served as a DJ at the campus' now-defunct radio station, WBAU.
Flavor Flav is the comic relief in the group, portraying a character that he seems to morph into in real life. Far from an untalented clown, he has genuine musical ability and writes with his own form of social commentary - an early influence was the singer/poet Gil Scott-Heron.
"I can understand the politics of everything, but I'm not really into digging up old books and blowing the dust off the covers," he explained in 1990. "If you can't understand what Chuck is saying 'cause his words are too high science for you, then I'll come and break it down on the street level. Flavor Flav portrays a street character."
A then-unknown Vernon Reid supplies guitar work on the early PE classic, "Sophisticated Bitch." The alt-rock group fIREHOSE would later cover the tune on their 1992 EP, Live Totem Pole.
When Anthrax first approached Chuck D about remaking "Bring the Noise
," the thrash metal band was met with a less-than-enthusiastic response from PE's founder. But after he was played the music to the remade version, D quickly changed his mind - resulting in a track that many credit as the birth of "rap metal."
After retiring from the music business, former PE DJ, Terminator X, began raising African black ostriches on a 15-acre farm.
Flavor Flav has appeared in a total of three reality series on VH1: The Surreal Life, Strange Love, and Flavor of Love.
Although PE's socially conscious/thought-provoking song lyrics were considered groundbreaking in the world of hip-hop, sometimes their members landed the group in hot water. In a May 1989 interview with The Washington Times, Professor Griff was quoted as making anti-Semitic comments, which led to his eventual exit from the group (although Griff would return to PE years later). In a May 1992 interview with the same newspaper, Sister Souljah was quoted as making controversial comments surrounding race and the 1992 Los Angels riots - resulting in criticism from then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton.
Public Enemy is a member of both the Long Island Music Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
The group had a team of producers known as "The Bomb Squad" making their beats. Led by Hank Shocklee, these guys served as the group's producers, which let Chuck D and Flavor Flav focus on lyrics and vocals. It also meant that the group could go on tour while new songs were being crafted by The Bomb Squad.
Flavor Flav is a classically trained pianist. When the group was on tour, he would often play the pianos in the hotel lobbies - folks who took a look would be shocked to see him playing it. (Chopmaster J., who toured with Public Enemy as a member of Digital Underground, relates this story in his Songfacts interview
Flavor Flav started of working in restaurants after graduating from culinary school in 1978. In 2001, he opened Flav's Fried Chicken with Iowa restauranteur Nick Cimino. However the pair fell out and the business collapsed in under four months.
Chuck D told Q Magazine about his songwriting process: "I like to write the title of every song down first, on paper, then go from there. The title gives me a direction for what roads to take. There's no pressure on coming up with titles. I've never had writers block, but I have many titles I haven't found songs for yet. The title is a door to your song, so you want it all glossed up so people want to walk in."
Flavor Flav was thrown out of Public Enemy on March 1, 2020, after falling out over the group's decision to endorse Bernie Sanders and perform at the Democratic candidate's Los Angeles rally. In a statement, the group claimed the sacking was not because of Flav's political views, but because he often missed shows, recording sessions and promotional appearances. "He always chose to party over work," it read.
On April 1, the group issued another statement saying the whole thing was a hoax and Flavor was never kicked out of the group.