Mickey Avalon, who describes himself as “the illest motherfucker from here to Vietnam,” performed to a sold-out crowd at Velvet Jones on April 4. Young, up-and-coming rap sensation Shwayze proved that he also belongs on stage, as he held his own co-headlining with the better-known Avalon. The performers’ almost diametrically opposing childhoods create an interesting dynamic between the two rappers – one which I was given the chance to further explore when I spoke with Shwayze backstage before the show.
Shwayze, whose real name is Aaron Smith, said his moniker comes from a childhood nickname. “They call me Shwayze / kind of like Patrick,” Shwayze says in one of his songs. According to Shwayze, he chose the stage name because of his affinity for the famous actor, and particularly the way in which Swayze’s character in “Road House” is always calm and collected.
Growing up in the predominantly white town of Malibu, Shwayze said he never felt out of place, despite being one of the few black people in the area. He said he spent his childhood playing basketball and listening to rock and roll, particularly classic rock. Shwayze said he did not start listening to rap until middle school, and one of his first musical endeavors was a band that combined hard rock with a little bit of rap, kind of like a combination of Rage Against the Machine and Linkin Park.
“I didn’t listen to rap until later, like the 8th grade,” Shwayze said. “I used to listen to hard rock and roll, and I like oldies.”
Shwayze said he had been writing music for a while when he met up with local producer and Whitestarr vocalist Cisco Adler at a party.
“Well, I’ve been making music for a long-ass time, but it started getting serious when I met up with Cisco a year and a half ago and I started making tracks,” Shwayze said.
Having recently been signed with the label Suretone, Shwayze said he is finally starting to do serious things with his music.
“I will actually be doing something with the music, which is dope, because I have been making it for a while,” Shwayze said.
Adler, who produced the single “Jane Fonda” off of Avalon’s self-titled debut album, is currently producing Shwayze’s entire first record, and also occasionally makes appearances onstage with Shwayze as well as on his album. Adler is also responsible for introducing Shwayze to Avalon – another L.A. area native with a very different life story.
Avalon grew up in Hollywood with a drug-dealing mother, who ended up employing her son in her operation. He eventually began using drugs himself, ultimately escalating to heroin. When his mother found out, she fired him from his job as a drug dealer, causing him to prostitute himself for drug money. He eventually found his way into the music industry through a friend that encouraged Avalon to write music. Avalon soon found himself garnering a growing following in the underground rap scene of Hollywood.
Having a large fan-base in Hollywood already, Avalon recently began gaining critical and fan support around the world as well, with crowds coming out to see him play as far away as Australia and as close by as Velvet Jones. Describing Avalon’s performance at the local venue with words could not possibly do him justice, because he is one of those performers who can only truly be appreciated when viewed live.
That said, his ability to connect with audience members is almost Mick Jagger-esque, as he pranced around the stage shirtless with his ass hanging out. There was barely room to move in the sold-out club, and nearly every female in the audience attempted to reach up and grab the bare-assed Avalon during his performance. After his first few songs, he asked the crowd if anyone liked the Beatles. Immediately afterward, a very familiar beat came on, and Avalon began to sing one of his songs to the beat of “Come Together,” the perfect background music for the two girls who danced provocatively alongside Avalon throughout the performance, giving the whole thing a very strip club-like feel.
Avalon was not the only one who was popular with the ladies, as Shwayze also attracted the adoration of many an audience member during his performance. Before the show, Shwayze admitted to being nervous about the entire affair. He said he had never performed in Santa Barbara before, and had only played once at a fraternity in Isla Vista, so he was wary of his own inexperience in the area.
He said his ideal performance would be one that leaves the listener awestruck, so that “people who have never seen me live, or who have no idea who the hell I am, at the end are like ‘damn!'”
Shwayze’s performance at Velvet Jones was exactly that. His interaction with the audience was immediate, as he gained attention from the front of the crowd and had more than one person’s arms reaching for him by the end of his first song. With DJ Blueberry backing him up on the tables and Adler joining him on stage for a couple of songs, Shwayze easily roused the crowd and had the stage packed with women by the end of his set.
Shwayze’s performance was the perfect opener for Avalon and I could not think of a better combination of artists. Despite coming from different backgrounds, the two artists complemented each other well, providing a night to be remembered for all who attended. The overall performance was excellent and anyone that went should feel privileged to have seen something so spectacular.