Like a string of “yo mamma” raps that stretches way beyond “over the edge” and snaps back just in time to conjure cleverness, D12 plays the dozens — and they play them dirty. In physical reality, the group’s a sextet, but when you include an alias for each, it adds up to 12, hence, the “Dirty Dozen” moniker.
Eminem’s releasing the debut studio full-length of his hometown crew, which also includes Bizarre, Proof, Kuniva, Swifty and Kon Artis, on his Shady record label in June. And with the chill, anthemic single “Shit On You” already in heavy rotation, the album, Devils Night, is among the most eagerly anticipated of the summer. It creeps up and catches you, like a sluggish, thuggish summertime smash groove akin to “Whoop! There It Is,” only Shady-style twisted and foreboding — though Marshall Mathers himself has said that Bizarre comes up with more twisted rhymes than he does. If you’ve heard the one about eating a miscarried fetus, you know there’s no contest.
This crude style became a fixture early in the game when Proof and Bizarre started the group around a decade ago. Mathers grew up in a house down the street from DeShaun Holton (Proof) and, as the infamous story goes, Eminem would cut class and head over to Proof’s school for freestyle battles where the two would hustle classmates out of their lunch money. As the group solidified, Eminem got a solo shot at success when he won second place at the Rap Olympics. Next came L.A. and studio time with Dr. Dre. After Interscope Records gave him a label, his first instinct was to hook up D12 with a release.
The album is months away from hitting the shelves, but Rolling Stone has already profiled the group as one of the most important acts to watch in the coming year and they’re up for a Detroit Music Award for Outstanding Hip-Hop Group. So the sick six will take turns on the mic when they headline the Detroit Music Awards this weekend at the State Theatre.
Although the group has received national attention, there’s no question in anyone’s mind where D12 is from. The D in the name matches the Olde English Detroit Tigers logo; the album is calledDevils Night and the “Shit On You” video plays like a tour of Detroit with footage outside landmarks such as the old train station, State Theatre and Comerica Park. Shots of I-75 and Eight Mile signs also make it in, along with nondescript spray-painted storefronts, strip clubs, burned-out houses and the inside of a dingy apartment.
It’s not a nostalgic glossing over or distorted exploitation. They show Detroit like it is: the polished attempts at revitalization along with the dusty forgotten and the day-to-day working-living-learning core that just plain exists quietly through it all. And even with the posturing, limit-testing and rap-star “publicity stunts,” there still seems to be such a reality to the group.
They, like everyone else living, have experienced the ups with the downs. Tragedy struck when one of D12’s original members, Bugz, died after an altercation on Belle Isle. He was shot three times and run over. The ambulance got stuck in traffic on the bridge and though Bugz was rushed to a nearby hospital, he couldn’t be saved. Eminem dedicated the Marshall Mathers LP to Bugz.
With success, of course, come the debates: The anti-censorship argument that the group “raises issues” is kind of pushing it. Just this last weekend, Eminem offended Daytona Beach Mayor Bud Asher so much (with his “profanity”) that the artist isn’t welcome back to perform there again. It happened while Black Entertainment Television was filming the annual Black College Reunion at a city-owned band shell on the beach. Eminem was part of a lineup that also included Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliot and Nelly.
But really, when you break it down, D12 is just a part of that working-living-learning core. They ain’t doin’ it quietly, but they’re doin’ it real. And perhaps that’s why they’ve been so heralded in a town known for talking down its own heroes. We’re not afraid. Bring it on.