Drayton grew up in Freeport, New York. Flav began playing the piano at age five; and is self-taught. A musical prodigy, he sang in the youth choir at his church and mastered the piano, drums, and guitar at an early age. He eventually became proficient in 15 instruments.
He set a house on fire as a small child while playing with a lighter; by the time he dropped out of school in the 11th grade, he had been in and out of jail for robbery and burglary. Flav graduated from culinary school in 1978, and has cooked in several restaurants.
He attended Adelphi University on Long Island where he met Carlton Ridenhour, who would become known as Chuck D. Flavor Flav took his stage name after his graffiti tag. They first collaborated on Chuck D's hip-hop college radio show, then began rapping together. The two worked for Chuck D's father's delivery service.