The role of hip-hop jester has always been a precarious one. Think of it: Youre the Flava Flav of your crew, the in-house comic relief, or hype man at best. Fans and listeners rarely figure you to be a bona fide emcee theres a certain lack of respect. D12s resident weirdo Rufus Bizarre Johnson wants no part of that cliché, particularly since hes been slinging rhymes for more than a decade.
The portly goremeister hopes his latest, Hannicap Circus his second solo album, which hits store shelves this Tuesday will inspire fans to take him seriously.
Second solo album is correct. Back in 1998, before the world knew D12 existed, and when Marshall Mathers was still glowing in the success of his debut album, Bizarre released Attack of the Weirdos on Federation Records. Even then, he demonstrated his knowledge of hip hop, mining the genres underground for notable contributions from Young Zee, Pace Won and Eminem.
The albums title fit. It was funny weird, over-the-top coarse and purposely gross a somewhat macabre taste of what D12 would later give the world when it hit multiplatinum status.
Bizarres skewered image was destined to cast a cloud over his rhyming skills and the dues he paid for the D12 gold and platinum plaques. The word emcee is rarely mentioned in the same breath as Bizarre. Fans get visions of D12s Purple Hills video, of the chub in the shower cap, wearing yellow smiley face shorts and a half-T. They see the fiery red hair and the bare belly. They hear vile rap fantasies about sex with grandmothers and outdoing R. Kellys proclivity for underage girls.
Its no surprise then that Bizarres ready to move beyond his self-created Rap Frankenstein facade. Hes eager to let fans know that theres more to him than gore and absurdity.
Theres a lot to respect about the guy, not just because of the new album. Theres also a new label, Redhead Records, thats all his; his stable of artists includes rock singer Sindy Syringe and rapper Young Miles. Yes, Bizarre hopes to transcend his suggestive moniker and nail that elusive r-word respect.
I want people to know Im a real emcee, Bizarre says. The difference between this and my first album are the years, and the youth. I was just tryin to put somethin out [in 1998]. I got a lot of serious songs on this album. Like One Shot, which talks about how you only get one shot in the music business. I got a song talking about coming home [from the road], a song talking about hip hop.
Theres an altruistic side at play too. Bizarre says he wants to see Detroits hip-hop community get over its squabbling. Bizarre has been at the root of a years-long conflict between some of the citys biggest and most respected rap celebs. Strife between Royce da 59 and members of D12 dating back to 1997 spilled over into several ancillary conflicts involving members of both groups entourages.
Metro Times has reported on many of these beefs. In recent months, people on either side of the conflicts have begun taking steps to clear the air. Bizarre says hes in on those efforts.
Its too small a city for us to be beefin, he says, flatly. We need to embrace it and work together.
See, Bizarre believes that Em and D12 ought to have the same kind of relationship with Detroit artists that Dr. Dre enjoys with California rappers, one thats based on mutual respect and reverence, instead of trivial animosity and jealousy.
Could it be the rappers are getting older and wiser? Maybe.
Royce da 59 told Metro Times that maturity is taking over where youthful aggression once ruled. Men, he says, are now behaving like men.
Its not surprising theres a burgeoning movement of hip-hop thirtysomethings declaring a need for artists to grow up.
Jay-Z, in fact, talks about getting his grown man on and has adopted a more gentlemanly persona snazzy suits have replaced the tired jerseys. Andre 3000 sang openly about love and sensitivity on his Grammy-winning album The Love Below. Such sensitivity was widely considered taboo in hip hop only a few years ago.
Bizarre is following suit, creatively and business-wise. His solo deal with major-indie Sanctuary Records includes distribution of his own Redhead Records. Hes also scratching an acting itch, and has a cameo in the comedy The Longest Yard. Hell be pulling double duty this summer, joining D12 on the latest installment of Eminems Anger Management Tour while touring to promote Hannicap Circus.
To further the theme of personal and professional evolution, the man who built a career on outrage and jest says he fills his spare time with family. Nope, the rock star lifestyle aint exactly what it seems.
The tatted tubby spends quiet days at his new home in Atlanta, where he moved a couple of years ago with his wife and kids. He says hes a country boy at heart and loves the calm confines of Georgia living.
Hip hop, for all its machismo shtick, will grant a pass to, even respect, any man who chooses family over the blingy booty of fame. And Bizarres second-favorite topic of conversation is a suckerpunch to any fan who lazily judges him by image alone.
Enter the serious fisherman.
I love to go fishing, he says. It runs in my family, just growing up in the Great Lakes. Around June, July, that river be filled. Got to get that fishing rod in there.
Bizarres man-with-big-pole secret is getting out. Entertainment Weekly recently flew him to New York and trailed him on a bluefish expedition. It went swimmingly.
Fans should note that the fishing, the family and the release of Hannicap Circus dont spell the end of D12. Though the guys in the crew dont see much of each other these days, theyre lending support to their respective projects. Denaun Porter, Obie Trice, Eminem and hometown production team Sick Notes all contribute to Bizarres album, along with King Gordy and E-Dub. Bizarre says when he and D12ers Porter, Proof and Swifty McVay complete their solo projects, the cadre will reassemble as the Dirty Dozen.
Until then, hell work on balancing the evolving worlds of Bizarre and Rufus, the hype-man emcee and the fishin family man.