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Hip-Hop/R&B

Flav, elected?

Local super-producer comes out of hiding for his own Fantasy

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Published 11/9/2005

This guy Kenny Flav has come a long way from crashing in the fetal position on Juan Atkins’ Metroplex studio floor. For one thing, Flav wants to be the mayor of Detroit. Or something like that.

But if the mayor thing doesn’t happen, Kenneth “Kenny Flav” Dickerson will settle for being Wayne Kounty. After all, the skilled producer is — as is quietly whispered in certain underground corners — ready to lead a new revolution of the “Detroit Sound.” Sound gauche? Maybe. At least he has George Clinton in his corner, and Queen Latifah too. And Amp Fiddler. We could go on. But that would be gauche.

Flav’s no longer sleeping on floors. He’s now armed with a colorful musical persona who could’ve been fashioned from a Donald Goines tale, and a résumé that includes Grammy nods, platinum-selling records, and a platform stressing less bling, less effrontery and, get this, “minimal ego.”

Basically, the dude is doing OK by putting a commercial spin on underground sounds.

Flav, using the nom de plume Wayne Kounty, sees his debut, Fantasy World, drop this week — on Election Day — on the rising Premier Cru label. Aside from the mayoral bit, this is hardly fantasy. The record is funk reborn, melding R&B, hip hop and rock ’n’ roll. It’s eye-popping and stylized, textural, musical and fun. We could prop another whole paragraph up on adjective support about the record and it still wouldn’t do the disc justice.

“We wanted to do an independent record that had a major label sound,” Flav says. “This is a producer’s album.”

It does and it is.

Flav might as well have been hiding in recent years; his name is easily overlooked in credits for Mary J. Blige, Busta Rhymes, Queen Latifah, Gerald LeVert, Silk and Aretha Franklin records. He’s earned two Grammy nominations for his work on Blige’s double-platinum No More Drama. Now he’s top-billed. He’s made a record whose star is its producer.

Like myriad Detroit artists before him, Flav got his musical education from local giants. He picked up drum programming from Anthony “Shake” Shakir, and ghost keyboarded for Juan Atkins, Kevin Saunderson and Eddie “Flashin’” Fowlkes.

But one day, not long ago, Flav got sick of backseat driving and schemed to form a group of his own, one he’d lead as a producer. He wanted a collective of sorts whose sound had to be Detroit, one that blended funk and R&B and attitude. Motown meets the underground. He had one requirement for such a group —100 percent creative freedom.

Enter Premier Cru Recordings, a new label that’s grown in leaps in the world of boutique labels. Started by a savvy Lansing-Detroit ex-pat musician George Katsiris and wife Phoenix Roberts, the New York-based Cru boasts a roster of Detroit-based artists, including Jason “:brownstudy” Hogans, Afra Behn and Erv Green. The young company has already been profiled in Forbes.

Katsiris hooked up with Flav and was convinced that his work ethic, production skills and “underground” sensibilities were the shit. Katsiris signed the producer to do his own records with a goal to lift “underground” sounds to the “mainstream.”

So to make the conceptual World, Flav took over part of Harmonie Park Studios for a year. He recruited funkateers George Clinton and Amp Fiddler to lend hands. (Flav had difficulty finding talent in his hometown and was forced to shuttle between Detroit, New York, Atlanta and Los Angeles to work with his group.)

“In other cities, you can stumble onto success if you’re prepared,” Flav says. “In Detroit, you can’t stumble; there’s only work.”

Premier Cru hired artist-eccentric Overton Lloyd to do the cover art; you might recognize Lloyd from his work on Parliament’s Motor Booty Affair. For this, Lloyd chose an animated cover depicting Flav’s alter ego, Wayne Kounty, as the center of a bizarre town-hall congregation, led by Mayor Flav. Percussionist Lenio Purry is the commissioner. Bassist “Supa Dave” DeBerry is the secret service. Vocalists Will Gardner, Nicole Robitaille and Paul Hill are blue-collar worker, nurse and hustler-pimp, respectively. Guitarist Anthony Donelson is the in-house rock star, while hypeman Joe Grass is the group’s mental patient.

From the leadoff title track, Fantasy World feels like theater or, better, a cabaret set to music that’s a hearty mix of mirthful vibes, live instrumentation and programmed beats. Flav created a sense of newness and possibility born of actual humans playing instruments, thus taking contemporary urban alternative into uncharted areas. Standouts — “Snapshots,” “Do U Really Like It” and “Someone New” (featuring Fiddler) — simply get ass cheeks jiggling. Softer sides include “Xception” (with Clinton), “Superhero” and “Consequences,” all of which take conventional R&B into spacier, dreamier territory. Queen Latifah flexes her ample skills on “Bring It Home.”

Premier Cru is promoting World as what it is, a Detroit album. The label heads have temporarily closed shop in New York and kick-started a “grassroots” campaign in the dirty district. The company is adamant about getting the community that birthed the Wayne Kounty idea behind its mayor and his supporting cast. (One promo kick: mock, election-timely “Kenny Flav for Mayor” placards can be spotted all over town.) World domination is, of course, next. But don’t laugh; the record is that good.

Flav sees his Wayne Kounty concept going from group form into a full-blown music business, one that discovers new talent and restores has-been careers.

Sound lofty? Not to the frank Flav.

“I’m gonna be the David Koresh of this music shit,” Flav says. “Make new artists starts and old artists back-agains.”

David Valk is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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