Rap Basement


“I Dont Need Em” D12 interview

Posted By on August 26, 2005

D12 has sold more than 4 million albums since they first broke nationally
but have been overshadowed by Eminem, the only group member to achieve solo
success. Now the rest of D12 is ready to break out and get their careers in

D12 has sold more than 4 million albums since they first broke nationally
but have been overshadowed by Eminem, the only group member to achieve solo
success. Now the rest of D12 is ready to break out and get their careers in

It’s hard enough getting one rapper to be somewhere on time, let alone a
group of six MC’s with split personalities. But that’s the daunting task
D12’s management has decided to tackle on this steamy June afternoon in
Birmingham, Mich. With Eminem unavailable because of scheduling conflicts
and Bizarre overseas promoting his solo debut, one would think gathering the
remaining four members of the group for an interview would be somewhat easy.
Think again. After waiting patiently for an hour, management makes a few
follow-up calls and finds out that Swift can’t make it because of an
unexpected family emergency. Now the quartet has been whittled down to a

The first to arrive at the Townsend Hotel’s ritzy boardroom is Kuniva, a
soft-spoken cat with cornrows who speaks with a heavy Midwestern drawl.
Proudly sporting a white Pistons jersey and jeans, he grabs a seat at the
end of the long conference table and joins in the waiting game. About 15
minutes later, Proof strolls into the room and greets his homie. “What up,
baby boy?” he says in a raspy voice. “They woke me up out of my sleep like,
‘you know you got an interview today?’ I’m like, ‘whaaat?'”

While Proof appears fully recovered from his early wake-up call, a
sleep-deprived Kon Artist wishes he could have hit the snooze button a few
more times. Up ’til 6 a.m. working on tracks, the other rapper-producer of
D12 is still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes when he arrives a short while

But who could be mad at the crew? It makes sense that they’re catching up on
sleep now. With the Anger Management Tour 3 just a few weeks away and
various side hustles on everyone’s plate, it doesn’t look as if sleep will
be on D12’s agenda anytime soon. “I think me, Proof and Bizarre are probably
more busy than Eminem right now,” says Kon Artis while in mid-yawn. “Being a
producer, I’m always in the studio. I can’t just sit at home and do nothing.
Until I catch up to what everybody else is doing, I’m always working. ‘Cause
our thing was, once we get in the game, everybody go and do what you do to
the fullest.”

From the outside looking in, it would appear that Eminem was the only D12
member working to his full potential. In addition to being a mult-platinum
solo artist, he’s CEO of Shady Records, which is home of one of the game’s
biggest stars, 50 Cent. He produces hits for some of hip-hops top artists
(Jay-Z, ‘Pac, et al). He starred in the 2002 blockbustor flick 8 Mile. And
he took home a Best Original Song Oscar for “Lose Yourself,” the
chart-topping single off the film’s soundtrack. So, after playing the back
for a few years, the rest of D12 are finally ready for their individual time
in the spotlight.

“We been spittin’ since spittin’ was startin’ to spit,” says Proof. “We spit
hotter than Satan with a chest cold. But I guess we gotta get out in front
some more and let Em play the background, ’cause it’s our time to really
jump through the forefront of the game. Like, it’s cool D12 is over here and
running. That’s great, but I wanna exist over here. It ain’t about wanting
to be apart from something. It’s just we want to exist on our own.”

If you haven’t noticed by now, it seems as though you can’t read a D12 story
without all roads pointing to Eminem, although he was not the first member
of the Detroit rap crew. It’s a classic example of the “gift and curse
syndrome.” While the bleach-blond MC’s proven star power and
defying-the-odds life story make for an interesting read, the five MCs that
round out the group often end up obscured by Em’s mult-platinum shadow. But
what if Eminem was never a part of D12? “I think we all think about that,”
answers Kon Artist, almost in a whisper. “I wonder what kinda music would
have came out [if Bugz was still alive].”

For those who don’t know the D12 history so well, Bugz was a local rapper
from the mid-’90s Detroit battle circuit. He was also an original member of
D12, which was founded by Proof (a.k.a. Derty Harry). In 1993, Proof was
hosting designer Maurice Malone’s famed open-mic showcase at the Hip-Hop
Shop, a local clothing store that transformed into an MC battleground for
every Saturday night. “The Hip-Hop Shop is the nucleus for Detroit’s hip-hop
scene,” says Kuniva (a.k.a. Rondell Beene). “It brought us all together in
one common cause to do hip-hop, ’cause there’s a lot of other shit we could
have been doing on them Saturdays, like getting into a lot of dumb shit.”

It was at the shop that Proof would hatch the idea for the Dirty Dozen (D12
for short), a rap collective consisting of 12 of Detroit’s dopest MCs. The
idea was eventually winnowed down to just six MCs, each with an alter ego.
Although membership fluctuated in the beginning, the group’s core remained
mostly intact: Proof and his childhood friends Eminem (a.k.a. Slim Shady)
and Kon Artis (a.k.a. Denaun Porter), who was initially the group’s producer
before becoming an offical member. Kon Artis was also half of a rap duo
called Da Brigade, with Kuniva. And Bizarre (a.k.a. Red Headed Rapist), a
horror-core rapper whom Proof met at the Shop, had been recruited early on
and brought Bugz in.

“Every man that’s in D12 was brought in by another member of the group,”
explains Proof. “It wasn’t like no put put-together we-don’t-know-each-other
type shit. Like, Denaun asked for Kuniva to be there, Bizzy asked for Bugz
to be there, and Bugz asked for Swift to be there. So, that made it six
right there.

Actually, that made seven if you count Eminem. But by the mid-’90s, Eminem
was experiencing his fair share of success outside the group, releasing two
independant projects, 1996’s Infinite and The Slim Shady EP the following
year. With the buzz growing, Em captured the attention of Dr. Dre, and by
the end of 1998 the Caucasian sensation signed a deal with Dre’s Aftermath
Records. Given his bidding solo career, Em offically left D12, opening up a
slot for Swift (a.k.a. Swifty McVay) to round out the sextet. But Em made a
pact to come back for his Detroit homies once he got on.

After releasing the four-times-platinum The Slim Shady LP in 1999, Em
founded Shady Records and immediately signed D12. Sadly, Bugz was murdered a
few weeks later over a dispute at a local picnic. His death left the group
in shambles. Not only had they lost a dear friend, but if the D12 concept
was to still work, they needed to find a replacement. “Once the demise of
Bugz came, Em was like, ‘Do you want it to be D12 featuring Eminem or D12
with me in the group?'” recalls Proof. “And we was like, ‘If you in the
group, then you in the group.’ It was as simple as that.”

Shortly after the tragedy, the guys regrouped with Em and began working on
their national debut. In 2000, Eminem released his hugely successful
sophomore album, The Marshall Mathers LP, which sold a remarkable 9 million
copies. That set the stage for D12 to drop their first group album, Devil’s
Night, the following year. Capitalizing on Em’s solo success and phenomenal
fan base, the album produced popular singles like “Shit on You” and “Purple
Hill” and went on to achieve double-platinum status.

Most groups would consider that a success, but D12 didn’t have that luxury.
Despite their respectable record sales, many skeptics still viewed the group
merely as Eminem’s boys and not talented artists in their own right.

“I feel like we accomplished a lot but at the same time accomplished nothing
at all,” says Proof of the struggles the group members face as solo artists.
“We appreciate the machine that backs us, but our singles were driven
strictly off Eminem and not who we are as individuals. ‘Cause people hear
‘Shit on You’ and then ‘Purple Hills,’ and the perception of who we are gets

The entire group felt the same way, so they made a concerted effort to try
and define themselves on their second album, 2004’s D12 World. The end
result was “My Band,” the albums hugely popular single, which poked fun at
the group being overshadowed by Eminem’s solo success. It proved to be their
biggest single and helped D12 World move over 2 million units. “The record
served its purpose,” says Kon Artist of “My Band.” “It showed that we could
make a single that could appeal to the [masses]. I guess it separated us
more, ’cause that shadow of Eminem is hard to get from behind. So we were
just trying to get our independence.”

The guys got another quick lesson in independence when Eminem announced that
he wasn’t going to appear on the D12 World tour last year. Em was busy
finishing up his fourth major-label LP, Encore, so he couldn’t hit the road.
While some fans were disappointed that Eminem was missing-in-action during
the tour, it didn’t stop the rest of the guys from putting on a good show.
“We wondered how the crowd was gonna be,” asserts Swift via telephone a few
days after this interview. “But they really embraced us and let us know that
we get love with or without Em. It was the same intensity and energy from
the crowd like he was there, so that made us feel real good. Now we just
more disciplined as far as setting up tours without Em being there.”

The members of D12 are now at a career crossroad. Each is eager to carve out
his personal niche in the industry and prove he can make it without Eminem.
Bizarre was the first to branch off, when he landed an imprint, Redhead,
with Mathew Knowles’ Sanctuary Urban Records. That led to his debut solo
album, Hannicap Circus, which came out this past June. Proof followed suit
in July with his long-awaited debut, Searching For Jerry Garcia, which was
released through his Iron Fist imprint. Swift is working on his solo disc,
which he hopes to have out by next year. And in addition to producing hits
like G-Unit’s “Stunt 101,” 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P.” and Xzibit’s “Multiply,”
boardsman Kon Artis is adding CEO to his r�sum�. Earlier this year, he and
Kuniva launched Runyon Ave., an imprint label through Shady Records. They
plan to revive their old rap duo, Da Brigade, and also have signed
underground favorite Pharoahe Monch. “As soon as that kicks off, it’s gonna
be a big thing,” says Kon. “We need that for ourselves to set the tone for
us–to show that we can do something on an executive end. If you really
think about it, everybody having a successful solo career makes our
longevity in the game longer. Ultimately our fate lies only in what we do
for ourselves.”

The opportunity to prove themselves is all D12 wants. Hopefully, their solo
endeavors will help them earn the critics’ respect. Playing second fiddle to
Eminem isn’t how they plan to spend the rest of their careers. “For us to
survive, the first two singles off our [nex D12] album gotta be without Em,”
says Proof. “The third single could have him on it, but the songs can’t be
driven by him. If Em is gonna sit back and not tour [with us], then it don’t
make sense [for him] to be driving the records directly. ‘Cause if you
driving the record and you not gonna be there and can’t support the tour,
then that’s our sales. And as a CEO, you’re damaging yourself. I think it’s
at a point now where even Em agrees that it gotta be like that. It’s vital.”

As the afternoon drags on, it appears the lack of sleep is starting to catch
up to the guys. Kon Artis keeps nodding in-and-out of consciousness, when
out of nowhere a hyperactive Proof gets up on the table and does a backspin.
“I always wanted to do that,” he says afterward with a hearty chuckle.
Management gives the signal that it’s time to wrap it up.

Does D12 have any final thoughts?

“A lot of people think that when you make [it], it’s like you’ve made it and
that’s it,” says Kuniva. “But there’s just been a lot of obstacles that’s
been in [our] way. We’ve all been through the craziest shit together. So,
given the cards we was dealt coming up, it’s a surprise we even made it out
of Detroit. But I’m not even gonna say we made it out, ’cause we just made
it this far.”