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Public Enemy Radio – Minus Flavor Flav – Rallies Bernie Sanders Supporters at Benefit Show

The group fired their longtime member hours before taking the stage at presidential candidate’s rally in Los Angeles

Carlos Gonzalez/The1point8 for Rolling Stone

Since the presidential race started, Bernie Sanders has amassed a throng of endorsements from musicians prominent enough for a potential festival lineup to rival Coachella. Chuck D’s Public Enemy Radio, the latest addition to that group, performed for Sanders’ Los Angeles Convention Center rally Sunday night before Super Tuesday, delivering a charged, fists-up performance for the estimated 15,000 supporters in the audience. 

The show was not without controversy. Public Enemy Radio, the group’s offshoot consisting of Chuck D, DJ Lord, Jahi and the S1Ws, noticeably does not include Public Enemy’s longtime member Flavor Flav. The affable hypeman sent Sanders a cease-and-desist letter last Friday, claiming that Sanders’ campaign painted a false narrative in which the entire group supported him. “The continued publicizing of this grossly misleading narrative is, at a minimum, careless and irresponsible if not intentionally misleading,” the rapper’s lawyer, Matthew Friedman, wrote in the letter. On Sunday night, shortly before Public Enemy Radio hit the stage, Public Enemy announced that it had fired Flavor Flav after more than 35 years.

“It is my distinct honor to welcome to the stage one of the original hip-hop groups,” Sanders said. “A group which has spoken truth to power for decades.” Chuck D was in a talkative mood for the band’s 30-minute set, taking extensive time between songs to encourage the audience to be active and vote. “Voting is [as] important as washing your ass in the morning,” he said after 1991’s “Can’t Truss It.” “You ain’t gotta wash. You have the right to run around funky. You just don’t have the right to run around funky and tell somebody that ‘it stinks down here.’ You have to get your ass up and vote for something. You’re a human being, use your mind, don’t be a robot. Listen to somebody, be grown, make yourself important in your locale. It’s a simple thing to do.”

Later in the set, the politically minded rapper further implored the audience to vote, whether it was for Sanders or not. “Even if this man here tonight ain’t the dude, use your common sense,” he said. “This is 2020, the decade of supposedly clear vision and hindsight, there’s going to be a lot of cataracts in this fucking decade. I know damn well there ain’t gonna be no messiah Jesus in the White House of the United States of America. But you know what? I certainly can recognize a motherfucking Hitler.”

The comments recalled a 2016 interview Chuck D gave to Rolling Stone before the presidential election. When asked what he thought a Trump presidency would look like, he responded, “Uppercase letters:  M-E-I-N T-R-U-M-P. There’s fear around the planet because he’s just uncivil … Would it be a far toss to say that if he had a real bad day or 48 hours that he would be the first president to say, “Fuck you, we’re gonna come over there, bust your ass and bomb you the fuck out, how about that?”

The group also performed “Bring the Noise,” “Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos” and “Shut ‘Em Down” before finishing with their signature hit “Fight the Power.” While some audience members had begun to pile out by the time Sanders brought Public Enemy Radio to the stage, several thousand stuck around for the set.

While Flav’s absence took a backseat to the rally, it wasn’t unnoticed by fans. Some were talking about his firing before the rally started, and one attendee came decked out with a makeshift Flavor Flav clock fashioned out of a cheap wall clock and a gold mardi gras bead necklace. 

Public Enemy Radio Set (Starts at 1:57:00)

Chuck D seemingly alluded to the news about Flav in the set without ever mentioning his erstwhile partner by name. “We are Public Enemy Radio,” he said. “If you don’t know and ain’t heard by now, check your phones.” 

Hours after the show ended, however, he tweeted directly about Flav’s absence. “If there was a $bag, Flav would’ve been there front & center. He will NOT do free benefit shows,” D wrote. “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.” (A rep for Flavor Flav did not immediately reply to a request for comment.)

Public Enemy Radio weren’t the only musical performers for the rally. Chilean hip-hop artist Ana Tijoux gave a blazing, all-Spanish set, advocating for free education and opposing fascism. All the rally speakers touched on Sanders’ major platform points – socializing healthcare, legalizing marijuana in all states, ending ICE raids and pushing for more immigration reform, getting corporations furthering gun legislation and pushing for free education. California indie rock group Joyce Manor and Jack Johnson played at Sanders’ San Jose event a few hours earlier, while Neil Young, Cardi B, Ariana Grande, Bon Iver, Brandi Carlile, Jack White, the Strokes and Killer Mike have all previously endorsed Sanders. 

Sarah Silverman and Dick Van Dyke spoke as well, with the former calling out Trump as a “lunatic wannabe dictator” and defending Sanders’ democratic-socialist views. Van Dyke hearkened back to the 1950s in which he voted for Dwight Eisenhower, who he said warned about the country’s impending military industrial complex. He also quipped about Bernie’s age and how he has 15 years on the presidential candidate. 

“Personally, I’m going to say, Bernie is my kind of Jew,” Silverman joked. “A messy, east coast Jew that fights for equality not just for his people, but for all people. A social justice warrior who lives his values, who cares more about his standing or the press of his suit, or his, let’s face it, hair.” 

Sanders’ rally came two days before Super Tuesday, a pivotal point in which 14 states will hold primaries and caucauses. Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race on Sunday, further narrowing down the competition as more will likely drop pending Super Tuesday results.