Detroit rap city
D12’s Kuniva talks about music and loss as his group makes its way to Chico
D12, Eminem’s Detroit all-star rap troupe, hasn’t enjoyed the critical acclaim of groups like the Fugees, Wu-Tang Clan, or even Eminem as a solo artist. But its music has reached its share of DJs and discotheques around the world. The band’s albums have sold millions, and singles like “My Band” and “Fight Music” display the group’s playful party-crashing nature, and are complemented by the group’s witty and charismatic lyricism.
In 2006, one of the group’s members, and one of the most influential musicians to come out of Motown in the past 10 years, was shot and killed. DeShaun Dupree Holton, known in the hip-hop world as Proof, was a key member of D12, and he was slain during a bar fight at the C.C.C. Club on Detroit’s infamous 8 Mile Road.
In the years since its last full-length, 2004’s D12 World, and in the aftermath of Proof’s death, D12 has been fairly quiet on the hip-hop front—touring sans Eminem with a variety of acts, including Kottonmouth Kings and current tour mates Potluck, and moving in and out of the studio (with Eminem) trying to tie together everything for the group’s next release.
In a recent telephone interview, D12’s Von Carlisle, aka Kuniva (aka Rondell Been), described the difficulty the group has had picking things up where it left off.
“It still affects us to this day. … I don’t think one person in the group would say they don’t think about [Proof] every day.”
The members of D12—Kuniva, Bizarre, Swift, Kon Artis and even long-time friend Eminem—relied upon Proof for much more than what he contributed musically. His absence has been especially felt when touring, where in the past Proof had been the most outgoing and motivating part of the group while on the road, Kuniva said.
“He was the one that really got involved with the fans,” he said. “Sometimes he would go around towns when we did shows and meet random people. Next thing you know we get to backstage and he’d be hanging out with 15 people we didn’t know.”
Now, without that type of leadership, everyone has had to “step up” their act a little bit, said Kuniva. All the while, the group was well aware that people were eager to hear D12 again, with some fans being sensitive to their situation and some not. Kuniva even remembered seeing blog entries telling the group to “Get over it!”
Ultimately, the group members agreed that Proof would have wanted to “keep pushing on” and making music for their fans.
“We like goin’ left-field with it and not doing the same stuff that everyone does,” he said. “The music is going to be more therapeutic.” The changes have not been drastic, however, and the album will still feature the craziness that the group in known for, only this time there will be a serious side, too.
The album is still being recorded and won’t be released until next year (according to manager Rico Shelton), but until then the group will be staying busy with other creative projects. For example, Kuniva and the other members have been working their mix tapes (both solo and collaborative).
D12, whose last two albums, Devil’s Night and D12 World, both debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts, is making steps toward returning to the spotlight, albeit without the accompaniment of an important person with whom they once shared it. Progress has taken some time, but it’s likely that people will still come out to the shows and celebrate the band’s attempt to jump back into the mainstream.
“We don’t have any expectations as far as fans—we will take whoever accepts us,” Kuniva said. “We mainly make music for ourselves.”
And likely for Proof, too.