For some entries in our series on vanity projects, it was perhaps unfair to refer to them as such. Christopher Lee and Milla Jovovich’s albums were legitimate art products made by people who also happened to be actors, while Lindsay Lohan and Ian McShane were simply extending their careers in logical, and successful, pop directions. This is not the case with Brian Austin Green, who played David Silver on the original “Beverly Hills, 90210.” His 1996 album One Stop Carnival is a vanity project par negligence. (He went by just “Brian Green” for the album, which is at least less ridiculous than Allen Iverson renaming himself “Jewelz” for his.) What’s unusual, though, is that he nabbed an eminently respectable producer for the project: Slimkid 3, of the legendary rap group the Pharcyde. Was his participation enough to allow David Silver to safely navigate past the landmines faced by a famous white person attempting a rap career in the mid 90s? Let’s see!
THE SONGS: Just as the actors on “90210” were able to do minimally convincing imitations of human teenagers, so does Green do a minimally convincing imitation of a rapper. If you didn’t understand English, this would be hard to differentiate from any other Native Tongues-derived album of the era, with its jazzy loops and vaguely self-satisfied air. Green’s flow is not entirely dissimilar to someone like Common, which is a laudable enough technical feat, and there aren’t any obvious white-dude-rapping winces to be heard. Even ego trip didn’t have any specific criticisms of the album. Other than the fact that Brian Austin Green made a rap album, there isn’t anything particularly horrible about Brian Austin Green’s rap album.
THE PACKAGING: Your first question, after “Why does the cover look like it should be on a Trapper Keeper?”, will likely be “What’s up with the carnival thing?” Who knows! Presumably whatever cultural currents inspired the Insane Clown Posse (who released their first major-label album a year before) got to Green as well, or maybe carnies are the only way for white people to seem hard. The whole thing is like the mid-90s’ own scrapbook: the font from the New Radicals album, a sad clown juggling torches, UFOs, and a thumbnail reproduction of a poster, rendered in the style of Joe Cool’s iconic “Doggystyle” cover art, in which Green appears as a magician and an astronaut plants an American flag on the moon. Fans are invited to write the Brian Austin Green fan club for a 20″ by 30″ copy of the poster, which brings up the haunting image of a long-forgotten warehouse full of Brian Austin Green posters being out there somewhere.
DID IT SELL? No figures exist, but it didn’t make it onto the charts, so “no” seems a reasonable response.
CURRENT AVAILABILITY: It’s out of print, but Amazon has MP3 downloads for sale, and there are plenty of used copies. None of this explains why all the new copies on Amazon cost forty dollars or more.
SKETCHINESS OF LABEL: Yab Yum Records was a subsidiary of the major label MCA, but their sole major release seems to have been Green. Run by Tracey Edmonds, then-wife of Babyface, Yab Yum released a few other R&B projects, but seems to have left no solid mark.
WHO HELPED HIM MAKE IT: Slimkid3 (or Slim Kid-3 as his name appears on the liner notes here), born Tre Hardson, was a founding member of the California rap group the Pharcyde. Hardson and two other founding members of the group met their manager while appearing as backup dancers on “In Living Color.” If you do not already know them you may be familiar with the backward-running video Spike Jonze made for their song “Drop” (above; see also Jonze’s video for founding member Fatlip’s 2000 debut single “What’s Up Fatlip”). Though the group slowly disintegrated over the course of the decade, Hardson seems to have been willing to dedicate time to the less reputable areas of rap; in addition to his work with Brian Austin Green, he not only contributed vocals to a Korn song (“Cameltosis,” an actual track from a five-time platinum album) but also appeared in the very “I Wanna Go“-ish video for “Got the Life” as a squeegee dude who steals Korn’s car, which then explodes. He also co-wrote a song with 311 and toured with Ozomatli. What does our mockery matter to Slimkid3? Very little, one suspects.
WHEN HE MADE IT: Green got his first major role at 13 on “Knot’s Landing,” the “Dallas” spin-off that became the third-longest running primetime drama in the US. (Just behind “Law and Order,” RIP.) When he started playing David Silver on “90210,” he was 17; show creator Aaron Spelling liked that he was a normal teenager and wanted to build the character around Green’s own interests, which sounds a little ridiculous until you remember that the show actually was about teenagers in Beverly Hills. A side character in early seasons, David Silver was the younger kid desperately trying to be cool; while he succeeded (in the show’s universe, anyway), the uncool best friend he left behind accidentally shot himself, which made David feel super bad while he was spinning discs as the school DJ. (Green himself wanted to be a DJ.) He dated Donna on and off, and struggled through various drug problems, including heroin, because… well, the 90s. In later seasons, when many of the more famous cast members had departed—Brenda, Dylan, and Andrea were all gone by season 6—he became what one viewer described to me as “a main character no one liked.” He pursued—David did, the character—a music career, managing a band who turned out to be white supremacists, while also running the Peach Pit After Dark, where, as Dave Eggers has made note of, the Flaming Lips once played. In one episode, David wants to book a rap night, but an Australian metal band objects and trashes the club; members of the Pharcyde appear as themselves. In a b-plot, according to Wikipedia, “Dylan allows Molly to hypnotize him and regresses to a past life as a hobo.” Later, Brandon and Steve hire David away from a car wash job by making him the music critic for their paper. David Silver is not an aspirational character.
Of course, Brian Austin Green, the person, was fine: he dated Tiffani Amber Thiessen and, in 2010, married Megan Fox, so the albatross that weighed so heavily on his character did not seem to translate into real life. Well, except for his rap career.
THE MUSIC: Listening to One Stop Carnival today feels like attending the performance of a technically precise but bone-dry period drama: you show up early and get settled in while marveling at the set’s period-perfect details, and then the actors come out and do their period-perfect thing but they’re just saying “we are actors in a play and we are acting, saying lines.” It sounds like what a computer would calculate a hip album in 1996 would sound like, a zeitgeist in search of an author. The second track is produced by will.i.am back when he was called “Will 1X” and sounds a little like a Cibo Matto song; you half-expect Father Guido Sarducci to show up at and start yelling about Tilt-a-Whirls. Green repeatedly name-checks the Black Eyed Peas even though they hadn’t yet released an album as such, and thanks them first in the acknowledgments, even though “The whole Pharcyde crew” (third thanked) clearly played a far bigger role in the making of the album. Green knows how to assemble a flattering taste palette, but can’t do anything with it. Two separate songs (“Style Iz It” and “Da Drama”) start with an admission that he has nothing to talk about, and this is not false modesty.
On the opener, “The Closet,” Green presages Drake’s “buy two and claim they got it for they sister” line by some thirteen years, one teen-soap star to another: “I was in the closet last night listening to that Brian Green album,” he mutters. “That shit was phat, but I ain’t gonna tell my friends.” It’s the same self-consciousness, but here it falls flat. As ridiculous as the idea of Brian Austin Green, Rapper is, Drake’s career demonstrates that there’s no reason why Green couldn’t have made it work. Hell, the Insane Clown Posse have made it work (despite media outlets’ annual ritual of paying for reporters to fly out to their festival for the sole purpose of making fun of their fans, while the basically identical Burning Man gets treated like some countercultural new Jerusalem), regrettable carnival imagery and all. The only fair conclusion is that Green is an awful, awful rapper. Which is fine, really. I imagine it matters less to him these days.
Previously: Christopher Lee’s Concept Album: When Saruman Went Metal
Mike Barthel has a Tumblr.