Straight outta Malibu, rapper Shwayze gets his shot
By By August Brown
|Los Angeles Times Staff Writer|
Jul 23, 2008 | 12:00 AM
In the first five minutes of MTV's new reality show "Buzzin'," which stars rising Malibu rapper Shwayze and his ne'er-do-well producer Cisco Adler, Shwayze's faced with an only-in-L.A. Sophie's Choice that could break his fledgling career.
On one hand, he's booked to play a potentially lucrative Super Bowl party gig in Phoenix where sponsors from Pontiac want to talk song placements in an ad. On the other, he's due in Malibu at 8 a.m. the next day for a court date involving an old fake ID he bought on Alvarado Street.
Missing the former will infuriate his new taskmaster, label boss Jordan Schur of Geffen affiliate Suretone Records. Missing the latter could land him in jail.
Fortunately, a white knight arrives in the form of a rented Hummer that whisks the 22-year-old back to L.A. from the party in time to be sentenced for a misdemeanor and 30 days of trash-pickup duty on the beach (he also landed the ad campaign).
It's the kind of deus ex machina that seems to exist only in the rarefied world of MTV-reality. But for Shwayze it's a perk of being a new kind of aspiring pop idol -- one whose legal foibles, girlfriend drama and everyday goofiness are all potentially star-making fodder.
"We were nervous about 'Buzzin'," Shwayze said in the Pomona Fairplex parking lot after his Warped Tour set last month. "It's reality TV, and we'd seen all those shows."
But Adler, a tabloid and reality-TV veteran himself, is quick to remind Shwayze of how little he really has to worry about, "Fool, you live in Malibu, and the fridge is full."
The rapper, born Aaron Smith, has had a charmed rise to his complicated kind of prospective fame. The show, which is set to debut tonight, is built around Shwayze's tongue-in-cheek biography of growing up as "the only black kid in Malibu" in the most picturesque trailer park in America. As the show reveals, his childhood home has a knockout ocean view.
After he hassled Adler -- son of music impresario Lou Adler, front man of the band Whitestarr and the producer behind Mickey Avalon -- at the Malibu Inn nearly three years ago, the two partnered up and began demo-ing tracks in Adler's home studio. They hit on a mélange of 1970s California folk-rock with laid-back beats and easygoing rhymes about drinking beer and chasing girls.
"I love A Tribe Called Quest, I wanted to be Snoop growing up," Shwayze said. "But I could never rap over hard-core beats."
At one of Adler's regular meetings with family friend Schur, the producer played a demo of their single "Buzzin' " -- featured on a new self-titled album due out Aug. 19 -- and Schur offered to sign them on the spot. The album and show were a redemption of sorts for Adler, who until the Shwayze project had been most famous for dating Mischa Barton and Paris Hilton and starring on an awkward VH1 reality show, " The Rock Life."
"We made a very clear decision to have Cisco produce the record," said Schur, who had previously launched Ashlee Simpson's career with a reality show. "He is a tabloid fixture, and I sat him down and said, 'You've got to stop this other stuff. Paris and Mischa, that's not who you are. Your girl is Shwayze.' "
Adler was happy for the opportunity to be taken seriously as a producer again. "For me, it's a second chance," Adler said. "I'd already made one show, and I vowed not to go down that road again. But that show was a band's last chance, and this is a band's first chance."
Shwayze's music is one of many arms promoting the idea of "Shwayze-ness:" a pan-ethnic, happy-go-lucky and media-saturated California fantasy.
"Buzzin' " is a bit like MTV's other "Making it in the City of Angels" series "The Hills," if you replace frenemy cattiness with beach-party bonhomie. The show has a satellite cast of characters who keep the stars on task -- dead-panning tour manager Warren Gumpel, the perpetually unamused Suretone new media manager Cat Lake -- but the focal point is the buddy-comedy rapport between Adler and Shwayze.
"The key to the show, for me, is that Cisco has an acute business sense, and Shwayze doesn't," said Liz Gateley, the MTV executive behind "Buzzin' " and “The Hills.” "When Shwayze gets in legal trouble and Cisco tells him that he has lawyers, he's absolutely dumbfounded. It's so cute how Cisco looks at Shwayze like a little brother."
Behind it all is a mythology of Southern California entertainment aspirations. Whereas "The Hills" drenches Los Angeles in magic-hour light, "Buzzin' " is relatively candid and frequently uses footage shot by the cast with hand-held cameras. If "The Hills" makes the tedium of the L.A. entertainment industry seem like a Jane Austen novel, "Buzzin' " makes a fantastically privileged life as hotly tipped musicians seem recognizable to anyone.
But a reality show about the rise to stardom poses significant risks for a producer. If Shwayze's album tanks, his on-screen life grows much less interesting. If he succeeds, then the show might hit a plateau. Gateley admits that the album's commercial possibilities make the show an uncertain venture.
"Opportunities are always coming along to threaten their innocence," Gateley said. "But you can't predict what will happen with a music career. We'll have to wait and see."
In a way, any forthcoming stardom is only an affirmation that the lives Shwayze and Adler already lead are, irrefutably, an awful lot of fun.
"We live in a place with palm trees, blue skies and chicks coming over," Adler said. "It's a lifestyle we're selling, and it's my lifestyle. Let's live together."