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Oh, man, please don't compare us to Jack Johnson," Shwayze, one half of the group that bears his name, implores from his London hotel room. "People hear acoustic guitar, and for some reason the only person in the world they think of is Jack Johnson. He's not the only fool who plays acoustic guitar. What about Bob Dylan or Bob Marley? No offense to Jack Johnson — he's a cool-ass dude, I'm sure he is. I've never met him. I guess the guitar on the beach got people into it. But we are nothing like Jack Johnson."
Clearly, this association is an issue for the unlikely Malibu, California, tag team of Cisco Adler, the tall, long-haired son of venerated record producer Lou Adler, and Shwayze, a rhymesayer with summer-breezin' delivery. Maybe the ever-present beach vibe and songs about sun, surf and bikini-clad babes bring the comparison. But that's as far as it goes. Whereas Johnson is laid-back, sandy campfire sing-a-longs, Shwayze is beautiful beach people getting high through endless days and nights of partying for a mostly landlocked world.
With over four million party-ready spins on MySpace and another four million video views on YouTube of tracks like "Buzzin'," "Corona and Lime" and "High Together," as well as the recent airing of MTV's Buzzin' reality show, a summer slot on the Vans Warped Tour, last month's release of the pair's eponymous debut and the album's subsequent landing at number one on iTunes, the party's just starting. Add it up, and Shwayze wants to be summer's lingering cool breeze.
"That's what we're all about," he says. "All you have to do is pop in the Shwayze record, and it'll be summertime. Close your eyes and imagine yourself on the beach with a hot-ass girl in a bathing suit while you're drinking Corona and lime. That's Shwayze's gift to you."
Even with such a blithe attitude, Shwayze says there's a serious side to the music that's often lost in the party vibe. Listen past the funky groove of "James Brown Is Dead" to hear Shwayze lament how the soul of music has gone awry as label heads try too hard to manufacture a hit. "There's no soul in that," he says. "Label dudes didn't come and put the black dude and white dude together and say, 'Let's create a summertime hit.' We just met and did it ourselves."
Or delve into "Corona and Lime." The twist isn't a lime in a bottle, but a love song that's no different than thousands of songs using popular cultural pairings to link lovers together. In this case, Corona with lime just happens to be a trendy beach drink.
"I like to have fun, but that's not what all the music's about," Shwayze explains. "Everyone thinks we're all about smoking weed and getting girls. Some of that's true, but they're not really listening deep enough. The song "Corona and Lime" isn't actually about a beer or lime. It's like a perfect combination, like everything that goes together well."
Right now, Shwayze and Adler — with DJ Skeet Skeet in the mix — seem to be the combination du jour. Yet before there was Shwayze living the good life, there was Aaron Smith, living with his grandparents in the Point Dume trailer park — not unlike James Garner, who, as Jim Rockford, lived in a Malibu beach trailer in The Rockford Files. Shwayze's current neighbors, albeit not in trailers, include Jennifer Aniston, Matthew McConaughey and Julia Roberts. It's all the same zip code.
"A lot of people go, 'You grew up in the hood of Malibu? On the streets of Malibu? Wow, how was it?' But it wasn't like that," Shwayze says. "There are mobile homes in there that go for a million dollars. Ours just wasn't that crazy."
California's Highway 1 runs through the center of Malibu, with big houses on the bluffs overlooking the ocean and Pepperdine University up on the hillside. It's just small enough that everyone has a finger in each other's affairs. Shwayze did time slinging coffee at Starbucks and helping his handyman grandfather screw in lightbulbs for old ladies. And while he eventually left to "make an attempt" at college in San Diego, his real motivation was music. When he couldn't find like minds in San Diego, he ventured back up north. He had already known Adler as the singer/guitarist of Whitestarr, but soon he made an important discovery.
"One of my girlfriends told me he produced hip-hop," Shwayze recalls. "I was like, 'Really?' I only knew him as a rock-and-roll guy with hot chicks. I didn't know he did hip-hop as well."
But the story of Shwayze, the person and the group, is one of persistence. The name was the easy part: Smith's sister coined it one day and then refused to call him anything else. The moniker stuck. But getting a chance to be heard, let alone record, with Adler took a lot more doing. "I started hounding him," Shwayze remembers. "Then I started going to his parties. I'd go, 'Yo, dog, what's up? Let's make some music. I'm a rapper,' all drunk and stuff. Finally, he said, 'If you're serious about making music, don't come all drunk to my parties. I make music every day. Just come on over.'"
Adler kept a studio in his house and produced tracks for artists such as Mickey Avalon and Tila Tequila. Shwayze took Adler at his word and practically moved in, planting himself on the couch, often sleeping there, while waiting for Adler to give him an opportunity. Shwayze figured Adler would be producing his rap record, but from the first track, they realized they went together, like, well, Corona and lime.
"We didn't know what we were doing right off," Shwayze says with a laugh. "We just went into the studio and made music. But from the first track that we made, we just felt there was a cool vibe."
It took some tweaking, but the pair eventually stumbled onto the realization that laid-back acoustic beach vibes meshed incredibly well with hip-hop. After cutting "Buzzin'," they knew they had a winning song, one that would cross over from hip-hop to rock, score big on college radio and eventually become an in-demand party staple.
"Cisco actually sang the hook on that song. It was an entirely different song before that," Shwayze notes. "He just mixed it up, and I did my rap. We looked at each other after that, and it was, 'Yo, this is kind of dope.'"
The real test, as they sing in "Corona and Lime," was taking it to the streets, where Shwayze began "giving it away to all the girls in town. Everyone loved it right away; it was kind of one of those songs." That tune ended up becoming the prototype for the rest of the album.
"There was no plan," Shwayze adds. "It wasn't like, let's just make a summertime-sound record. There was no preconceived thing; it just happened."
Likewise, it just "happened" that Adler placed "Buzzin'" on a demo disc he handed to a label executive during a meeting. The intention was to showcase the other music, but it was "Buzzin'" that got noticed — and landed the pair a contract. Two years later, millions of fans are kicking it Shwayze style.
It this all sounds like a too-good-to-be-true story — from the endless beach parties with hot chicks, plenty of kind bud and chillin' to the happenstance of musical success — Shwayze swears it's all exactly as it appears.
"It's true, it's true — it's all true, dude," he exclaims. "Hopefully, that's why kids like it. You're not going to hear me rapping about money, or cars with big rims. That's not the life I live. I'm writing about real stuff, the parties and all. I'll look back at this twenty years from now and know what I was doing, and it's all going to be true, dude, true, true, true."
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