D12 ain’t no backing band

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Remember those steel drums you heard in 50 Cent’s “P.I.M.P”? That was Denaun’s work. How ’bout 50’s side-group G-Unit’s biggest single “Stunt 101”? Yup, that was Denaun too. And Xzibit’s, “Multiply.” Guess who produced that one? Denaun.

If that’s not enough, the emcee has just wrapped up projects with Method Man, Redman, Snoop Dogg, Bilal, Eve, Young Buck and Busta Rhymes. Dr. Dre schools him. He lives around the block from Detroit’s own Jay Dee, and the two reside in the same apartment building in Los Angeles.

Oh, Denaun is also Kon Artis in D12.

This week, D12’s hugely buzzed sophomore effort, D12 World (Shady), hits the streets. Denaun produced two tracks on the album: “U R the One” and “Good Die Young” (a somber send-off to Bugz, a former D12 member killed on Belle Isle in 1999).

In the weeks leading up to the D12 release, the publicity machine has left Denaun with little time for rest. He shot the video for the group’s first single, “My Band,” and has just finished a weeklong Euro tour, with a stop in London for a Top of the Pops performance. Next up, MTV’s TRL. In the meantime, he’s back in Detroit. Between recording sessions, he’s spending time with his folks in Southfield.

But even on their couch, Denaun isn’t fully at ease. He’s hunched over, arms resting on his thighs, fingers entwined. He seems nervous and there’s plenty on his mind, as not everyone in Detroit is comfortable with his or D12’s successes. He’s skeptical, admitting his tendency to not pull punches. Just then, Denaun’s dad, Charles Porter, points at the television. BET is airing the “My Band” video. Denaun decides to relax.

He puts his phone on the coffee table, leans back, and spreads his arms over the top of the couch. As he watches his group turn their backs and mockingly shake their asses, he smirks to himself.

Why wouldn’t he smirk? D12 World will be platinum in a matter of weeks.

Forget football and basketball — Denaun wanted to rap. In fact, the only subject that kept the attention of the Osborn High student was science.

“It was a big fashion show,” Denaun says of his high school days.

With beat-making, Denaun’s part-time hobby became a full-time obsession. He left his life of petty crime and auto thievery behind him (which culminated in a gunshot wound that nearly killed him), and began working with Von Carlisle, aka Kuniva. The duo called themselves Levels of Lunacy.

Enter Proof, an emcee who had grown up around the block from Denaun and had close ties with fellow emcees Eminem and Bizarre. Denaun had already produced early Em work. Proof suggested they form a group, and D12 was officially born in the mid-’90s.

Other members — IQ, B-Flatt, Fuzz Scoota — came and went, but it was the death of Bugz that rattled the group. They fulfilled Bugz’ parting wish and made fellow emcee Swift a full-fledged member. The group made another pact: Whoever hit the big time as a solo artist had a responsibility to help the others. While Proof got a label deal first, it was Em’s signing to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath that changed everything.

Em made good on his word. Buoyed by the platform of international superstardom, Em launched Shady Records. His first order of business — sign his hometown crew. At the time, D12 were basically unknowns beyond the 313, and to those who hadn’t done their homework, Em had always been a solo artist.

The band’s 2001 debut, Devil’s Night, shifted an eye-popping 371,881 units in its first week of release. It soon hit platinum. For D12, success came fast, but it wasn’t without a price. The members were left standing in Em’s shadow. The obvious journalist query would be this: “What’s it like working with Eminem?”

“My Band” is all about that, a middle finger to those assuming D12 is Em’s backing band. The video is full of piss-takes (Em’s in drag), of themselves and others, including Janet Jackson, Kelis and every obtuse boy band you can name.

While D12 World isn’t a complete departure from the group’s fisticuffs street-core rap, the music conveys a sense of willingness to bend rap’s increasingly rigid frame. Along with Denaun’s tracks, producer credits read like an industry who’s who (Em, Dr. Dre, and Trackboyz) including up-to-the-moment producer Kanye West.

To state the obvious, Em has breathed life into the local rap scene, thus changing many lives for the better.

While Denaun feels “truly blessed” to have achieved success, he’s rather agitated by those quick to quip that D12’s fame is the result of Em simply lifting them up.

And there’s no denying that D12 World will up the ante for Detroit hip hop. Sure, 90 percent of the talent here lacks major label backing, but it doesn’t excuse the many artists who blame the isolation of Detroit for lagging careers.

“The ghetto ain’t holdin’ you back,” Denaun says flatly. “A lot of these cats need to stop using it as a scapegoat. We losing people in Detroit like it’s the war in Iraq, and for what?”

Denaun is tired of the negativity here, namely those accusing him of riding Em’s coattails. When not touring, he’s planning on spending more time in Los Angeles, not because he has given up hope; rather, he feels he can help Detroit artists from there.

“I’ve been through beefs all my life,” he says. “I’m tired of all that. I’ll give back by being positive.” He’s nothing if not confident, and knows that he’ll soon be, if he isn’t already, a sought-after producer.

“Right now, I am going to push myself as a producer to the labels,” he says.

On his Detroit agenda — outside of D12 — Denaun is finishing a project with Kuniva, tentatively titled The Brigade. He’s looking to work with Guilty Simpson, Paradime, Wasted Youth, female singer Treasure (who is featured on all five of the tracks Denaun produced for Snoop), and others.

On a community level, he’s donated money to Pulaski Elementary School — his old haunt — to rebuild the playground. He’s also hoping to refurbish the park near his family’s old home in the Seven Mile and Hoover area.

As for all the rumors and beefs, Denaun clears it all up. Most of what you have heard or seen, he says, might have happened in some way, shape or form. But it’s all sensationalized by someone, somewhere. D12 doesn’t need to sell records this way, but salaciousness never hurts. It is, after all, good for record sales. In the end, D12 are the ones laughing.


D12 will perform Friday, April 30, at the State Theatre (2115 Woodward Ave., Detroit, 313-961-5450).

David Valk is a freelance writer. E-mail [email protected]
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