It’s no longer just the Eminem show as D12 joins Anger Management Tour and makes mark with new collaborative CD
Kon Artis knows that being in a band like D12 that includes Eminem—one of the most popular and controversial rappers in history—means the other members of the group can’t be too bent on being noticed.
As long as the man named Marshall Mathers by his parents remains in D12, it’s going to be known as Eminem’s group.
That said, with their second CD, D12 World, an effort has been made to bring the other five group members out from beneath Eminem’s omnipresent shadow.
“There was a need to spread out because we were, we’ve been so tainted with the Eminem shadow,” Kon Artis said. “It’s hard to be looked at as talented artists when you’ve got one guy who’s so talented, who’s gotten so much attention. … Even Em, he was like, ‘Man, I’m tired of people not recognizing how talented everybody is.'”
D12 World might achieve that goal. The CD sounds more like a cohesive group effort than D12’s 2001 debut, Devil’s Night. It’s also considerably stronger than the debut, with tracks that consistently deliver potent beats and simple but effective synthesizer-and-bass-laden musical backdrops.
D12 World shares the salty and psychotic humor of the debut disc, but while it has its share of R-rated moments, it’s tamer than Devil’s Night. In fact, there’s more of a point to the lyrics.
The lead single, “My Band,” pokes fun at Eminem’s superstar status, while “Just Like U” finds a father comically advising his young son not to follow in his depraved, carnally obsessed path. Then there’s the serious “Good Die Young,” which pays tribute to Bugz (Kornail Pitts), an early D12 member who was murdered in 1999.
Despite the desire to showcase the members of D12 who are not nicknamed Eminem, Kon Artis emphasized that the group didn’t force the issue of giving every band member spotlight moments on D12 World.
“What we did was we played off anything that we possibly could that made sense to,” he said. “So we put certain people on certain songs, didn’t put some people on some songs, whatever fit right. That’s how we did it. And it turned out right.
“The crazy part about it is that Em is on more songs on this album than he was last album,” Kon Artis added. “Like his presence is still there. But everybody else ain’t so overlooked.”
Given their history, it makes sense that D12 would want to establish more of a group identity. After all, D12 existed well before Eminem exploded onto the scene as one of rap’s most dynamic and controversial figures.
The group formed in 1995 after the six members met at Detroit’s Hip-Hop Shop, where they were regular performers. Proof (real name Deshaun Holton), who was already close friends with Eminem, was one of the star performers and the host of the venue’s Saturday-afternoon open-mike battles. Kon Artis (Denaun Porter) and Kuniva (Von Carlisle) were members of a duo called the Brigade. The portly, potty-mouthed Bizarrre (Rufus Johnson) was a solo artist, while the sixth member of D12, Swift (Ondre Moore), was in a group called the Rabies. The rappers decided to join forces as an all-star group, with Proof offering the name D12 as a takeoff on “Dirty Dozen.”
Some predicted Proof would actually be the first member of D12 to make his mark. Instead, Eminem got the break after he went to L.A., was seen by an Interscope Records intern at the L.A. Rap Olympics and had his demo tape passed on first to label president Jimmy Iovine and then Dr. Dre.
He blasted on the scene in 1999 with the quadruple platinum Slim Shady LP and followed that in 2001 with the equally popular The Marshall Mathers LP.
When Devil’s Night was released later in 2001, D12 became widely perceived as the Eminem show—group version. There were valid reasons for this image.
For one thing, D12 got their deal on Eminem’s Interscope Records-affiliated label, Shady Records. Most media coverage of the group essentially portrayed D12 as if it was Eminem’s pet project.
That perception probably doesn’t sit well with the guys in D12. But Kon Artis acknowledged that Eminem (who has since had two more hit CDs, The Eminem Show and most recently Encore, not to mention contributions to the 8 Mile soundtrack) led the way creatively on Devil’s Night, before making room for other group members to have a bigger impact on songwriting for D12 World.
“I think when we first came in, it was more or less like learning how to create a song and create a situation that people want to listen to,” Kon Artis said, confirming Eminem’s mentoring role with D12. “Now it’s like a lot of these songs that are on the [new] album are created by different members. I think I created probably, I don’t know, maybe four of the songs. Hook wise, I wrote the hooks. And Bizarre wrote some hooks, Proof wrote some hooks. … Like last album, it was a little one-sided, with Em writing a lot of the hooks and saying a lot of the hooks. But this album, it’s a prime example of the group. Everybody steps up to the plate and steps out of their own shells.”
The production of D12 World also suggests a somewhat lessened role for Eminem. While Eminem produced nine tracks, Kon Artis, who between the two D12 releases produced hit tracks for 50 Cent ("P.I.MP.") and G-Unit ("Stunt 101"), took on a much bigger role, producing four songs. The remaining eight tracks featured outside producers, including Dr. Dre, Kayne West and the Trackboyz.
The various contributions to D12 World have registered with record buyers. The CD went No. 1, selling more than 500,000 copies in its first week of release, and enjoyed a significant stay in the top 10 on Billboard magazine’s album chart. Meanwhile, the single “My Band” quickly became a major hit.
The success of D12 World has not only quashed any question of the group suffering a sophomore slump, it may silence critics who saw Devil’s Night as a commercial disappointment.
The debut sold four million copies worldwide. But some dismissed those numbers, noting the CD spawned only a modest hit in “Purple Pills” and that Eminem’s prominent role in Devil’s Night practically guaranteed the CD would surpass platinum.
Kon Artis, though, flatly rejects any assertion that Devil’s Night fell short of expectations.
“Hell no it wasn’t a disappointment,” he said. “We sold two million in the States and two million overseas. Man, for a first group, there weren’t a whole lot of first groups coming out and doing that at all.”