March 21st, 2009

Depending on when and where you catch him, Flavor Flav can be any number of things; a comic, rubber-faced foil to Chuck D's serious-as-cancer scowls, a multi-vehicle pile-up in the car-crash world of reality TV, and let's not forget that under all that daftness lies a wildly talented musician. But if this 50th birthday bash proves anything new, it's that Flavor can throw a damn good party too. Over the course of two-and-a-half thoroughly entertaining - and frequently ridiculous - hours at B. B. King's, the world's greatest hype man marks his half century by helping Public Enemy play a fearsome, no-filler show, hosting a roll call of hip hop legends, busting out some killer breaks from behind the drum kit, and repeatedly sticking his tongue into his heavily pregnant wife's mouth for all to see. Anything less just wouldn't be Flavor, would it?

It's a surreal start, with Flavor arriving on stage disguised in a full-length skeleton suit before proceeding to stalk up and down for a couple of minutes in complete silence. Thankfully, this bizarre pantomime doesn't last as he finally takes off his mask to reveal a mini afro and a shirt that looks like it was created by Jackson Pollock during his Spirograph phase. After he and Chuck tear into Bring The Noise, they unexpectedly announce that the rest of the set will consist of It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back from start to finish. It's a first for the NYC PE faithful but unlike the European fans who were treated to the same set last year, the crowd at B. B. King's are given all kinds of one-off party favours.

Fresh from his name check in the opening song, Eric B strolls out to soak up the applause and is followed a few tracks later by the humbling sight of Kool Herc, who touchingly salutes Flavor with the affection and pride of a father addressing his son. Just for a moment, the birthday boy happily gives up the limelight for a true giant in every sense. As if that wasn't enough, a superfly-looking Melle Mel also graces the stage and spits out the first verse of The Message as though it was 1982 all over again. Flavor gamely joins in and unsurprisingly begins to look like a teenage boy living out all of his fantasies in one night.

The mid-set interlude for hugs, kisses and birthday cakes is predictably hokey but the star turns continue almost immediately. This time, it's Ice-T who appears to add some LA gangster clout to Night of the Living Baseheads and then spins some freestyle rhymes of his own over Flavor's funky drumming. It's a collaboration that appears to bring out Flavor's confessional streak: "Hey, yo Ice man, thank you for not beating me the fuck up when I crashed your Ferrari," he laughs. Judging by the love that the OG shows him tonight, it's safe to say that all is forgiven.

With the album dispatched, there is still time for a quick round of greatest hits, a lightning fast scratching demonstration from DJ Lord and a cameo from Bad Boy mainstay Easy Mo Bee. By now, Flavor's birthday party begins to feel like the hip hop version of This Is Your Life; but for all of tonight's references to the past, there's no doubt that the Flavor bandwagon is going to roll on and on for some time to come. Not only has he enlisted the legendary Emmanuel Steward to train him up for a one-off boxing match, he also takes a moment during his final, epic goodbye speech to plug his upcoming late night talk show. Say what you will about the continually growing Flavor Flav media circus but even with all those distractions and absurdities, he still manages to carry out his Public Enemy duties out with as much conviction and as much character as he ever did. Happy birthday Flavor. And many, many more.