The role of hip-hop jester has always been a precarious one. Think of it: You’re 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 â€” there’s a certain lack of respect. D12’s resident weirdo Rufus â€œBizarreâ€? Johnson wants no part of that clichÃ©, particularly since he’s been slinging rhymes for more than a decade.
The portly goremeister hopes his latest, Hannicap Circus â€” his second solo album, which hits store shelves this Tuesday â€” 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 genre’s underground for notable contributions from Young Zee, Pace Won and Eminem.
The album’s title fit. It was funny â€” weird, over-the-top coarse and purposely gross â€” a somewhat macabre taste of what D12 would later give the world when it hit multiplatinum status.
Bizarre’s 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 D12’s â€œPurple Hillsâ€? 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. Kelly’s proclivity for underage girls.
It’s no surprise then that Bizarre’s ready to move beyond his self-created Rap Frankenstein facade. He’s eager to let fans know that there’s more to him than gore and absurdity.
There’s a lot to respect about the guy, not just because of the new album. There’s also a new label, Redhead Records, that’s 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 â€” â€œrespect.â€?
â€œI want people to know I’m a real emcee,â€? Bizarre says. â€œThe 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 â€˜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.â€?
There’s an altruistic side at play too. Bizarre says he wants to see Detroit’s hip-hop community get over its squabbling. Bizarre has been at the root of a years-long conflict between some of the city’s biggest and most respected rap celebs. Strife between Royce da 5’9â€? and members of D12 â€” dating back to 1997 â€” 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 he’s in on those efforts.
â€œIt’s too small a city for us to be beefin’,â€? he says, flatly. â€œWe need to embrace it and work together.â€?
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 that’s 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 5’9â€? told Metro Times that maturity is taking over where youthful aggression once ruled. Men, he says, are now behaving like men.
It’s not surprising there’s a burgeoning movement of hip-hop thirtysomethings declaring a need for artists to grow up.
Jay-Z, in fact, talks about getting his â€œgrown man onâ€? and has adopted a more gentlemanly persona â€” 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. He’s also scratching an acting itch, and has a cameo in the comedy The Longest Yard. He’ll be pulling double duty this summer, joining D12 on the latest installment of Eminem’s 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 ain’t 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 he’s 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 Bizarre’s second-favorite topic of conversation is a suckerpunch to any fan who lazily judges him by image alone.
Enter the serious fisherman.
â€œI love to go fishing,â€? he says. â€œIt 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.â€?
Bizarre’s 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 don’t spell the end of D12. Though the guys in the crew don’t see much of each other these days, they’re lending support to their respective projects. Denaun Porter, Obie Trice, Eminem and hometown production team Sick Notes all contribute to Bizarre’s 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, he’ll work on balancing the evolving worlds of Bizarre and Rufus, the hype-man emcee and the fishin’ family man.
Thursday, June 30, at St. Andrew’s Hall (431 E. Congress St., Detroit; 313-961-MELT) with Hush, Paradime, Chief, Sindy Syringe and others.
Khary Kimani Turner is an area musician and freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.