See also "Bud Bundy's Rap Career?!"
It's 4 on a recent Friday afternoon, and David Faustino is chillaxin' as hard as he can. The former Married ... With Children star sits on a beach chair in his West Hollywood garage, just off the Sunset Strip. It's quitting time somewhere, and between pot-smoking sessions, he and his buddies are sipping vodka-and-sodas and smoking cigarettes.
On the iconic show, Faustino played Bud Bundy, Christina Applegate's horny younger brother. He still hangs with other kid actors of his generation, such as Seth Green, for whom he's often mistaken. Then there's Faustino's buddy Corin Nemec — he played the title character from '90s sitcom Parker Lewis Can't Lose — who painted the graffiti-style murals in Faustino's garage. "Platinum-colored splooge" is how Faustino describes one of the designs.
Clad today in a straw fedora, sleeveless T-shirt and camo shorts, Faustino is immediately recognizable as Bud Bundy and, at 5 feet, 3 inches tall, approximately the same size. "You dunkin' yet?" his neighbor once sardonically asked him. But he's charming, and his friends attest to his ever-sunny disposition, which extends to discussions of his vanity. As he explains, he usually wears sunglasses in public, except when he needs an ego boost and wants to be recognized.
This, apparently, is one of those times. A bright green, convertible Hollywood Sightseeing tour bus — crammed with tourists from spots as far-flung as Serbia — pulls up in front of the garage. Even if not obviously starstruck, they're certainly curious.
Where some celebs might grab a nine iron — or at least retreat inside — Faustino approaches the vehicle and hobnobs with the crowd. He trades jokes with the afro-wearing driver and poses for photos. He's more than happy to indulge the curious, he notes upon his return; at least this guy didn't attempt to summon Faustino from inside by crooning the Married ... With Children theme song, as another driver did.
"I'm addicted to the fame," Faustino admits. "I'm addicted to the attention."
Now 37, he'll forever be associated with his most famous role, and folks likely will never stop asking him if he slept with Applegate. ("I don't kiss and tell," he tells them. "Keep that one a mystery.") But he's not exactly trying to shake his past; a framed photo of Bud-era Faustino hangs above his staircase, "just in case anybody forgets who built this place."
He was briefly married in the mid-aughts to actress Andrea Elmer, but his current bachelor lifestyle is reflected in the decor of his roomy, comfortable pad, which includes a sketch of a topless girl in the living room. He spends much of his time recording in his professional-quality studio downstairs. His boutique record label, Old Scratch, has signed Oregon rapper Patience Price, and Faustino and his partner are dead serious about pushing his career, enlisting a lawyer and even a marketing guy for the task. And that's not all: Faustino raps himself.
The fact always seems to surprise people, but Faustino has serious hip-hop credibility. He's actually an influential figure in the history of West Coast rap, as responsible as anyone for bringing a then-niche genre to the masses here. He co-founded an early-'90s Sunset Strip party called Balistyx, which was frequented by an absolute who's-who of hip-hop stars and featured performances by such cutting-edge artists as N.W.A and KRS-One. The Black Eyed Peas' will.i.am got his start there. "[Faustino] had a big influence. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for his club," will.i.am says. He credits his first record contract to his freestyle battle rap performances there.
Faustino has been through a lot since his Bud Bundy years. He opened and closed a marijuana dispensary, spent a night in a Florida jail after a pot arrest and endured the death of his father, who keeled over while having sex. Although he longs to star in a hit series, Faustino's career has seen a recent boom, doing voice-over work for cartoons and T-Mobile commercials.
But hip-hop remains his great passion, and on the 20th anniversary of Balistyx's launch, he and the party's other denizens took a stroll down memory lane. Two decades after the fact, folks can't contain their reverence for this event, which, they say, helped bring hip-hop into the mainstream. Kicking off in 1991, the party unfolded in a unique time in L.A.'s racial history, pre-riots, when hardcore rappers kicked it with pint-sized white kids dressed like gangstas.
"Dave looked like he was in N.W.A but white and short," says Nic Adler, who co-founded Balistyx with Faustino and two other partners, and nowadays runs The Roxy. "It was so colorless, this merge between black and white. It was the golden age where you could be whoever you wanted, and it didn't matter."
Balistyx was originally held at Whisky a Go Go, the glam-metal outpost owned by Sunset Strip magnate and Grammy-winning producer Lou Adler. Adler helped throw the Monterey Pop Festival, and he sits next to Jack Nicholson at Lakers games. But every Thursday night he allowed his teenage son, Nic — whose mother is Bond Girl Britt Ekland — and his friends their time to shine.
On Thursdays, the joint was recast with army nets on the ceiling, massive graffiti canvases, fog machines and laser lights. Rappers performed behind a chain-link fence; hot girls danced in cages. It was a teenage male's fantasy from top to bottom.
Thirteen bucks got you in the door, and the line went down the street as far as the Roxy. It wasn't the first hip-hop party in L.A., but it was likely the first all-ages rap soiree anywhere, and minivans and station wagons dropped off kids along Sunset Boulevard. The guys rocked high-tops, silk shirts and even backward duds a la Atlanta child rappers Kris Kross. The young ladies sported leotards and K-Swiss, or overalls with one strap down and their underwear showing. "There were amazing-looking girls there, and they were having fun," remembers partygoer Jensen Karp, who was then 14 and a pint-sized MC himself. "Balistyx brought hip-hop to the West Coast for those who were fiending to learn about it."
To promote the party, Faustino and his crew enlisted kids on bikes to distribute fliers, the most notable of whom were Alan Maman and Scott Caan, who later formed hip-hop group The Whooliganz. "If you wanted to be anti-establishment, you could be a punk rocker or a B-boy," says Caan, son of The Godfather's James Caan and star of Hawaii Five-0. "I think a lot of people found their identities there."
Maman and Caan told all their friends, while Faustino's fame allowed him to reach a wider audience by promoting the show on national television talk shows. Kids came from Orange County, Ventura County and beyond, and celebrities swarmed the place as well. A pre-megafame Leonardo DiCaprio attended seemingly every week, his buddy Tobey Maguire in tow. Bobby Brown came occasionally. There was debate about whether just he or his giant entourage should be comped. And no party was complete until N.W.A rapper Eazy-E pulled up in his white 650 BMW. Ignoring the parking signs, he parked next to the red curb and dared the authorities to ticket him. (They did.)
Inside, Faustino hosted the festivities, which featured both prerecorded hip-hop, spun by folks like N.W.A-affiliated DJ Speed, and live performances. Freestyle battles closed out the night; the final rappers standing always seemed to be a young will.i.am and Xzibit, long before his MTV show Pimp My Ride.
"Will was nobody back then. He was just a guy who showed up with a backpack, who wanted to get on the mic," says Dan Eisenstein, who, along with another child actor, Robert Gavin, was one of the party's founders.
Will.i.am then was known as Will 1X, and attendees remember him emerging victorious almost every week. But when he wasn't improvising rhymes off the top of his head, he was networking with people like Stacy Ferguson, a child actor herself, who later helped propel the Black Eyed Peas into the stratosphere under her stage name, Fergie.
How the hell did all of this come together? Adler met Faustino through their mutual friend Eisenstein, who played a member of Screech's nerd crew in Saved by the Bell. Eisenstein also appeared in Pump Up the Volume, where he met Gavin. These four wealthy white kids were all voracious consumers of hip-hop.
It was a budding genre but, a year before Dr. Dre's game-changing album, The Chronic, it was still centered largely on the East Coast. The four teenagers found themselves unsatisfied with the scene at the Alphy's Soda Pop Club parties, which were private soirees catering to young celebs. And they were tired of depending on Faustino's star power to get them past the velvet ropes at 21-and-older hip-hop clubs. In the waning months of the 1991 high school year, when Faustino was 17, they quickly laid out the blueprints for Balistyx, though it's fair to say their business plan was not particularly thought out.
"I wanted to throw the greatest party, not necessarily to make a budget work," says Nic Adler, who did Balistyx's booking. "I would call a [rapper's] manager and they would be, like, 'It's five grand cash,' and I would be, like, 'OK, no problem.' "
Hip-hop artists had mad respect for this unlikely crew, believe it or not, largely buoyed by their love for Married ... With Children. "I think rappers liked the show because the Bundys just told it like it is," Faustino says. "It wasn't this super-sterile white family that people couldn't relate to."
A fairly starstruck Eazy-E became Faustino's close friend; the actor even brought Ice Cube to The Arsenio Hall Show for the first time.
As odd as these couplings seem, Faustino's love for rap music was genuine. "Hip-hop touched my soul," he asserts, adding that he was prepped for the rap revolution by the jazz records his dad constantly played when he was little. And who could forget his alter ego on Married ... With Children, Grandmaster B, who wore a backward ball cap, shades and a black Starter jacket?
Meanwhile, revered rappers like Nas and Ice Cube were psyched to see their posters lining Bud Bundy's walls. "My album poster being on Bud's wall was one of the illest moments for me," Nas says via email. "My whole projects went crazy. It was a sign that I'd made it in a lot of ways. Great times."
Though corporations like Pepsi would soon appropriate hip-hop to sell products, folks recognized that the Balistyx crew wasn't exploiting the genre — it was bringing it to a new audience.
Adler believes that, like punk and glam rock before it, rap's arrival on the Sunset Strip helped launch it to the mainstream. "We were downloading hip-hop to a brand-new audience," he says. "These kids were going there because it was Dave Faustino's club, but when they were in there, they were, like, 'Whoa, I love this music.' "
Adds Scott Caan: "It was like church."
It can't be easy living in the shadow of Christina Applegate, who portrayed Faustino's hot older sister, Kelly Bundy, on Married ... With Children and has become a star in her own right. While Faustino has continued to work, he hasn't had a success approaching Applegate's ingenue part in the hit movie Anchorman, much less headlined a major sitcom like his TV sis.
In 2009 Faustino portrayed himself as a drunken has-been in a web series called Star-ving, a Curb Your Enthusiasm–style comedy for the digital network Crackle. Though some of the details portrayed in the short-lived series were true — he gets almost no Married ... With Children residuals, for one thing — others were not. Coolio is not snogging his ex-wife, Faustino's manager doesn't require an oxygen tank, and he isn't nearly broke.
In fact, his financial situation is fine; he owns property in L.A., the Valley and New Mexico. He can be heard constantly in national spots for T-Mobile and Bud Light. He's also been recording voice-over parts for a pair of animated Nickelodeon shows, Winx Club and The Last Airbender: Legend of Korra.
Faustino is a true acting lifer, having scored his first gig at 3 months old, portraying Lily Tomlin's daughter in a comedy special. He later acted in prune commercials and won minor roles on shows such as Little House on the Prairie and Family Ties. At 16, he was able to buy a house for his family — two sisters, a brother and his parents, before the divorce that followed three years later — and move them from Burbank to Northridge. (Potential love interests, Faustino told People magazine in 1992, should be "real fine, small and lots of fun ... and they should know how to cook pasta.")
After spiraling through small parts in some dozen shows in the first half of the '80s, Married ... With Children was his big break, at age 13. Fox's first prime-time series, which ran from 1987 to 1997, was fairly shocking for its lowbrow humor and cynicism. The wholesome family life portrayed on Leave It to Beaver had morphed into a suffocating hellhole, where your neighbors were irritating and your own family was after your money. Bud Bundy was the runt of the litter, a sardonic one-man Greek chorus (often wearing a mullet) who could only survive by his wits alone, whatever they were.
In real life, however, the experience was blissful. Their breezy shooting schedule didn't require the actors to show up until 2 p.m. on Fridays for their live tapings — not that Faustino would necessarily make it. "I call him David Slowstino 'cause he's late to the set a lot," Ed O'Neill, who portrayed patriarch Al Bundy, quipped to People in 1992. "He'll call from his car phone saying he's on his way from some club or premiere."
Indeed, off-set Faustino's social life would have made Bud jealous. His posse included budding celebrities, children of famous actors and ridiculously pretty lady friends, including Fergie and Stefanie Ridel, her groupmate in pop act Wild Orchid, who was dating Faustino at the time. They even had their own security crew.
The group developed a weekly routine: When Balistyx closed at 2 a.m., they would hop into their fleet of BMWs and take Pacific Coast Highway westbound toward Nic Adler's family's house in Malibu. "There would be a caravan with, like, 20 cars," Adler remembers.
"We were spoiled kids," Faustino adds.
Casa de Adler was a swank pad featuring half-basketball courts, both indoors and out. Some low-level partying would commence, although the crowd was more focused on flirting than getting high. By the wee hours, they had finally crashed, on floors, all over the house; how Lou Adler permitted these shenanigans remains a mystery to his son. Faustino would rouse himself for his Friday taping, and the group would subsequently hit L.A. clubs, promoting Balistyx. After a Sunday barbecue, they would finally disperse early in the week — only to start all over again on Thursdays.
Their fantasy lifestyle was one of total freedom. Money was not an issue, and the stifling rules dictating normal teenage life simply did not apply. When they got really ambitious, they would take to the sea. "We went on a lot of cruises because once you get out in international waters, you can drink and gamble," Adler remembers.
Their lives were straight out of a hip-hop video, and so naturally Faustino gave rapping a shot. With Nic Adler assisting with the producing and writing, the crew released a 1992 album called Balistyx on the Lou Adler–founded Ode Records. Featuring tracks with names like "Music Hears No Color" and the single "I Told Ya," Faustino preached their inclusive message under the name D' Lil.
The work didn't take off. "I wasn't old enough to tell a story yet," he laments. "I just kind of did the couple of poppy songs that they helped me write. And when it didn't go over big, I just put the whole rap-artist thing on the back burner."
Balistyx itself wouldn't last much longer. After moving to a new venue — which the organizers describe as too big — on Highland Avenue, the party began to fall off altogether following the L.A. riots, in April 1992. "Suddenly it was not OK for 500 white kids and 300 black kids to be listening to hip-hop in the same club together," Adler says. "Race relations made it almost unacceptable for us to act like we were hard-core black kids."
Twenty years after the Whisky opened its doors to this motley crew, hip-hop has become the dominant musical subculture. Even Justin Bieber is rapping. The death of Balistyx coincided with West Coast rap's golden age, and talents who performed at the party went on to dominate the industry. Will.i.am's Black Eyed Peas, of course, have become one of the most successful groups in pop history.
The music industry's fortunes, conversely, could hardly be more bleak. After sales reach peaked in 2000, they have slowly declined and recently bottomed out. It's a tough time to run a label, but Faustino recently established his own, Old Scratch Records. The imprint is focused mainly on promoting Patience Price, a Portland native whom Faustino initially recruited to help run his weed dispensary. (Despite calls to name it Bud's Buds, the Reseda spot — which opened in 2005 — was dubbed Natural Care Collective.)
Price was moving weed down the coast to dispensaries when he and Faustino were introduced by a mutual friend. They poured their energy into the shop but shuttered it in 2007, when it became clear that the legality of such dispensaries wouldn't be resolved anytime soon. It didn't help that another partner in the business accused Faustino of cutting him out of it. (Faustino says that allegation is bogus.)
During that time, though, he and Price discovered their shared interest in hip-hop, and Faustino found his style tremendously appealing. Last spring — the night Faustino's father died, in fact — the pair decided to partner up.
Price has recently relocated to Southern California, allowing the two to record together three or four nights a week. Faustino says he feels more invigorated than he has since Balistyx. "I feel like I've been sitting on a powder keg of a dream that's been dormant all these years."
Price is 27, a muscular white guy who has written for Fred Durst. In his sartorial and rapping styles, he's certainly not a hipster a la Kanye West, but he's not a 50 Cent–style thug, either; he wears all black and has a tatted, slightly rugged look that wouldn't look out of place among the denizens of the Sunset Strip.
His hip-hop persona alternates between introspective thinker and party guy. (The former incarnation is more compelling.) On his debut work — a free album released this week, called Adrenaline and Vodka — Price draws on both East and West Coast influences. His songs feature his own sung hooks, oft-compelling production and a solid flow. They don't sound like radio hits, but it's easy to see how the album could be a favorite of true-school hip-hop fans like Faustino, who fairly gushes when describing Price's sound. "I fell in love with his music, his lyrics, his poetry and his ability to make melody," the actor says.
Faustino, meanwhile, has been recording his own music at a prodigious pace, though he has no plans to release an album soon. As a rapper, his skills don't approach that of the greats he's worked with, but he has his moments. "I have dreams where I'm 7 feet tall," he rhymes on a track called "Mr. Funny Man. "But instead of playing hoops I play pro racquetball/ Maybe because I like to paddle my little blue balls."
Tonight their energy is high, as Price is scheduled to perform at a hip-hop gathering called the Soulstyce Festival, held at a rodeo arena in Pico Rivera. Faustino plans to spit a few bars of his own at the show, and the crew amasses at his pad before heading over. On hand is their friend Todd Bringewatt, a co-owner of Old Scratch, who also worked on Star-ving. (Like Price and Faustino, he sports a fedora.)
Faustino first pilots his black Audi S4 to pick up his girlfriend, Christiana Leaucas, a feline, brunette actress who is set to travel to New Mexico for a role in the upcoming Arnold Schwarzenegger film The Last Stand. Faustino met her out on the town a few years back and promptly cast her in Star-ving. "I was, like, 'She's so gorgeous, I've got to have her on the show.' "
In the car, the passengers take nips of Ketel One and tokes on a weed pipe as Faustino drives past the Sunset Boulevard studio where he spent years taping Married ... With Children. Spirits deflate a bit upon arrival at the festival, however, which seems poorly attended and chaotic. BMX riders do flips off of giant dirt half-pipes next to the main stage, and no one seems to have any clue what time the side-stage performers — including Price — are scheduled to start.
The evening grows dark and chilly. Finally it is time for Price's set, and a quite-lubricated Bringewatt takes the stage to introduce Faustino. "Heard of a little show called Married ... With Children?" he asks, before Faustino and then Price take the stage, performing together on a song called "Wait a Minute." Faustino raps confidently before moving to the side and playing hypeman while Price does his verses. It's one of Price's first live shows, and though he performs capably, he struggles to display the charisma he often shows on record.
The amassed crowd is enthusiastic but small, a couple dozen probably; only a fraction of a typical crowd at Balistyx during its heyday. Price and Faustino's set is over in less than 10 minutes, and a different, under-the-radar hip-hop crew promptly mounts the stage for its turn.
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On the ride home Leaucas takes the wheel, blasting the air conditioning and the new Eminem and Royce da 5'9" album.
The Detroit MCs are two of Faustino's favorites, but he knows their success is an anomaly in today's industry. Later, he reflects on the long odds of creating a profitable rap act in today's climate, a quixotic challenge even for someone as connected as he is.
"It could be a Herculean task, but everything is," he says. "I mean, it could be a Herculean task for me to make a comeback and get on another show, but I have to believe and keep going forward. And I think the music has actually helped me obsess less about my career. I feel we're going to have a fun ride."
Indeed, what Faustino's second go-around in the rap world has in common with his first is that it does seem like fun. For every hour the guys spend in the studio, they seem to spend another one shooting the shit in the garage over cocktails, waiting for the next batch of gawking tourists to roll by. Nice work if you can get it. And nice, too, to know he's played an essential role in fulfilling hip-hop's big dreams. Even if Bud Bundy is never given the credit he deserves, the real players in the scene will always know what's what.