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This story first appeared in a special Watches issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
While touring with Public Enemy in 1988, group co-founder Flavor Flav was stunned when he got onstage during a performance in New Jersey. “Everyone in the crowd was wearing a clock around their neck. They were doing it because of me,” says the performer, now 55, in a phone interview. He went on to make the look his signature, wearing clocks over the years decorated with everything from a red swirl to the Eiffel Tower to the Knicks logo.
The rapper — a child musical prodigy from Long Island born William Jonathan Drayton Jr. — tells THR that his style was the result of a dare. Wearing a stopwatch around your neck was, he recalls, an urban look in the mid-’80s. “Someone in my crew put a shower clock around my neck and dared me to keep it on during our show. I thought the look of the clock around my neck was dope, so I kept it on,” says Flavor Flav.
This was in 1986, four years after the seminal rap group came together. Public Enemy (which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013) went on to hit it big with such politically charged hits as “Don’t Believe the Hype” and “Fight the Power.” In the mid-2000s, Flavor Flav enjoyed a round in the reality TV spotlight when he starred on VH1’s Strange Love and Flavor of Love. Now a Las Vegas resident, Flavor Flav doesn’t consider himself a watch aficionado. He sometimes wears a gold Breitling, though his favorite watch — the brand name escapes him — was given to him by his good friend, infomercial personality Ron Popeil. But the performer’s love of big clocks, which developed years before the oversized watch trend hit men’s wrists, has led to a sizable collection.
“I’ve lost count. A lot of people have given me clocks over the years. I have over 100 clocks,” says Flavor Flav, who stores his archive at his mother’s house in New York. “My favorite is one that I’ve only worn twice because I wanted to preserve it. It was made for me in Switzerland in 1988 and is a cuckoo clock, but instead of a bird it has a small Flavor Flav that comes out and says, ‘Yeah, boy!’ “
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