‘We’re killing each other’
At Proof’s star-studded funeral, rappers and minister urge grieving city to unite, end senseless violence.
Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News
Pierce Johnson attends his friend’s funeral. Fans lined up outside.
“Proof just loved people and people loved him,” Eminem, right, said at his friend Deshaun Holton’s funeral, which drew 1,700, including hip-hop stars Dr. Dre and 50 Cent.
An urgent call to stop the violence that is ripping Detroit apart was made Wednesday at the funeral of slain Detroit rapper Proof, before a gathering of 1,700 that included hip-hop megastars Eminem, Dr. Dre and 50 Cent.
Detroit rapper Obie Trice — who was shot in the head on New Year’s Eve while driving on the Lodge Freeway — spoke at the funeral, making a plea for the community to come together as one.
“I wanna talk to the black men in here, you know what I mean?” said Trice, who got choked up while addressing the capacity crowd. “Black men in here that are coming up in the hood, coming up in the struggle: We’re killing each other, dawg. You feel me? You know? And it’s about nothing, it’s about nothing. Nothing.”
Proof, 32, a respected Detroit rapper and a beacon of Detroit’s hip-hop community, was shot in the wee hours of April 11 at C.C.C., a club on Detroit’s east side, after police say he shot Keith Bender Jr., who died Tuesday.
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, pastor of Fellowship Chapel, delivered a powerful 45-minute eulogy in which he called for an end to the senseless killings.
Detroit hip-hop clique D12 and G-Unit rappers Lloyd Banks and Young Buck also attended the funeral, held at Fellowship Chapel on West Outer Drive in Detroit.
An emotional Eminem, who sat in a pew near the front of the church behind members of Proof’s family, wiped tears from his eyes and buried his head in his hands during the service. He addressed the church, saying goodbye to his best friend and right-hand man.
“I’m sure everybody who’s ever met him, even just met him once, could testify to the fact that this man just illuminated a room when he walked in it,” said Eminem, who was dressed in a dark suit and a black T-shirt with Proof’s image on the front. “Proof just loved people and people loved him, and he was just a people magnet. He was a magnet, he just lured you in. When you first met him, you just wanted to know more about him.”
Also paying their respects at the service were Naughty by Nature, Detroit rapper Trick Trick and Eminem’s manager Paul Rosenberg.
‘Dying too soon’
“Our community suffers the loss of another young man, who reflects the fact that those whom we love are dying too soon and leaving too quickly,” Anthony said during his eulogy.
“Not only this family is involved and suffered a loss, the other family has also suffered a loss. Two families, both grieving, and a community now grieving. We are dying too soon, and not living long enough.
“Parents are here because their son is now gone. A wife is here because her husband is now gone. Children are here because a father is gone. Siblings are here because a brother is gone. You are here because a comrade and a friend is gone. Gone but not forgotten, physically dead but spiritually alive. The rap has ended, but the sound of his music lingers on.”
Police are still investigating the shootings. Bender, a Gulf War veteran, died Tuesday. Police say the two argued over a game of pool and Proof, whose real name is Deshaun Holton, shot Bender. Proof was then allegedly shot by Mario Etheridge, a relative of Bender’s and a bouncer at C.C.C.
Anthony made numerous references to the fact that some members of the community didn’t agree with his church hosting the rapper’s viewing and funeral services considering the circumstances of his death.
“It would be irresponsible for (the funeral) to not be here,” he said.
He also brought Bender’s name into his eulogy several times. “Deshaun was and is important to God, just as Keith Bender was and is important to God,” he said.
Anthony quoted liberally from Marvin Gaye’s anti-violence anthem “What’s Going On” as well as Nas and Fred Durst’s verses from the 2001 All-Star tribute to Gaye’s original.
“Violence is a weed that is choking the very life out of our community,” Anthony said, making reference to the Bible’s parable of the wheat and the weeds. It’s a theme he revisited throughout his eulogy.
Anthony also attacked what he called immoral themes in Hollywood movies, from “Training Day” and “Monster’s Ball” to “Brokeback Mountain” and the violence in hip-hop culture.
In reference to the Oscar winning song, “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from last year’s “Hustle & Flow,” Anthony said, “I hate to tell you this, but it’s supposed to be hard out here for a pimp.”
The two-and-a-half hour funeral was very solemn and was marked by occasional fits of crying from those close to the rapper. Earlier Wednesday, before the service, police responded to a bomb threat. Officers with dogs searched near the church, but found no explosives, police said.
Outpouring of grief
Proof’s gold casket was surrounded by bouquets of flowers, including arrangements in the shape of the letter P, a Christian cross and the number 8, for Eight Mile, the road that Proof helped make famous through his involvement with Eminem and the road on which he lost his life.
Well-wishes from family and friends — including Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick — were read aloud during the ceremony, and Proof’s aunt Carol Holton read the rapper’s obituary. The obituary was reprinted in a 16-page full-color booklet that was handed out to mourners and contained dozens of photos of the rapper, chronicling his past with the groups 5-Elementz and Goon Sqwad up to his days with D12.
During the ceremony, Linda Boston sang a moving rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, which ended with her singing, “Take Deshaun home, Lord! Amen!”
Proof is survived by his wife, Sharonda, and five children, Deshaun, Kativa, Nassan, Nyeem and Elijah.
“I thought it was a beautiful ceremony,” said MC Serch, former morning show host at WJLB-FM and a veteran of the hip-hop scene. He called Anthony’s eulogy “very powerful,” and said Eminem composed himself quite well under the circumstances.
“It’s a terrible loss,” Serch said of Proof’s passing.
Outside the chapel, several hundred fans were stretched about 30 feet past the entrance, quietly gathered at the barricades. Fans and well-wishers congregated near the cordoned-off Fellowship Chapel beneath a cloudless, powder-blue sky to glimpse the funeral procession as it left the church while others snapped photos on their cell phones. Police presence was heavy outside the church.
Proof’s casket was taken to Woodlawn Cemetery on Woodward Avenue in Detroit in a horse-drawn carriage that was followed by eight limousines and two stretch Hummers.
Ralphe Armstrong, who played bass on a number of D12 tracks, said after the funeral Proof was a gentleman, “not a buffoon or someone who used profanity all the time.” He said he’s resentful of the image of Proof that’s been portrayed in the media during the last week, and said Proof cared about the city and about his fellow community members.
DJ House Shoes, a Detroit DJ, said he’s tired of attending funerals for Detroit hip-hop stars, following the death of his good friend Jay Dee, the Slum Village rapper/producer who died in February from lupus.
“I don’t want anybody to see me in a suit ever again,” he said.
At one point during the funeral, Nedra Ruffin, daughter of the Temptations’ David Ruffin, used the chapel’s microphone to plug an upcoming album by her son. Her comments were met with ardent boos from the audience.
Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed to this report. You can reach Adam Graham at (313) 222-2284 or agraham@ detnews.com.