The return of D12
The Dirty Dozen’s Kuniva talks mix tape(s) and more
By B.J. Hammerstein
Metromix article available here.
May 12, 2008
It’s been four years since the hard-hitting Detroit rap group D12 a.k.a. the Dirty Dozen was sitting atop the Billboard charts with its second major studio album, â€œD12 World.â€
Marshall Mathers a.k.a. Eminem was arguably the largest pop star on the planet at the time. The unofficial D12 leader Proof was the reigning hip-hop mayor of Detroit. And pop fans around the world couldn’t get enough of the grim lyrics and grimy production style the group was known for.
A lot has changed since 2004. The April 11, 2006 death of Deshaun Holton (Proof) still sends shivers throughout the rap community in Detroit. Eminem, who toured with D12 in 2004 while finishing up his last studio album â€œEncore,â€ has had numerous rumors swirling about, but has kept an almost total lock-down low profile.
Denaun Porter a.k.a. Kon Artis has kept busy with acclaimed production work for acts like Guilty Simpson and Little Brother among many others while Rufus Johnson a.k.a. Bizarre has had media attention from his stint with VH1’s â€œCelebrity Fit Clubâ€ and dropping two solo albums, the most recent being 2007’s Koch Records’ â€œBlue Cheese and Coney Island.â€
As the summer of 2008 heats up, D12 is set to make a big splash. Wednesday, May 21 they hit the Magic Stick for a release party for their new mix-tape â€œReturn of the Dozenâ€ and then they take off on a tour to support.
â€œIt’s mostly original songs,â€ says Von Carlisle a.k.a. Kuniva while playing a couple of tracks during an interview conducted inside the Detroit Free Press office. â€œWe all got together; Bizarre flew in from Atlanta and we just holed up in the studio and did it. (We’re) letting people know that we’re back and ready to work. We’re ready to go to out there and show people who we are. We’re not dead.â€
Over the phone, Bizarre chimed in from Atlanta and answered the big question: Is Eminem on the record?
â€œNaw, he’s not on the mix tape,â€ Biz says. â€œWe just kind of wanted to let the world see us without Marshall. He’s doing his own thing. He’s got his own album to worry about, to put out. We just wanted to just do it with the four fellas.â€
So now Kuniva, Bizarre, Kon Artis and Ondre Moore a.k.a. Swift are entering a familiar world at an unfamiliar time. Kuniva, who was mostly known as the â€œquiet henchmanâ€ in the back of group, is opening up about life, music and the â€œReturn of the Dozen.â€
It’s been four years and a couple serious changes — the death of Proof, and Eminem not being involved in the mix tape recording â€“ since â€œD12 World.â€ What was the recording process like, you guys getting back together?
We never lost a step. It just comes back automatically. No matter what. No matter how far the distance. When we see each other and come back to work, it’s like we just left off from the last album. It’s comes second nature to us.
We just went in and we didn’t have a set marker of what we were trying to hit. We just went in and did the music how we felt at the time. I think for us, it’s a big step for people to look at us in a different light.
The tracks that you’ve played, on first listen they sound a lot different than â€œPurple Pillsâ€ and the older stuff. How has the music changed?
They’re used to seeing us doing this one-formula type of music. They’re not used to seeing the more serious side of D12.
Our fans will hear a more ferocious side â€“ [but] a realistic ferocious, not a humorous ferociousâ€¦There’re a lot of more serious songs, but at the same time we’re having a lot of fun. We wanted to let people know where we really come from: The true origin of D12 is to be dirty, to be grimy. We were raised in the battle-type world as far as battling emcees. We’re just getting back to our roots.
So, you’re kind of moving into the role that Proof kind of had â€“ the spokesperson of the group?
With everything that I do, I’ve always enjoyed playing the back and letting everybody else handle things. I’m usually the laid-back reserved one of the group. I don’t cause any ruckus. I usually don’t cause any bullshit or any kind of mess. I barely go out to clubs or anything like that. I’m always to myself. I’ve always been kind of isolated. I never really fought for the camera time.
It’s changed a lot because now everyone has to hold there own weight in this group. And I’ve learned that in this business, you have to step up, and be more aggressive — more noticed, more seen. And Proof carried all that weight with everything, and nobody can do what he did. So what we’re doing now, everybody’s holding up their end — and we’re all holding that shit up, holding it above our heads.
Proof really understood the rap game. What are some of the things he instilled to you, that you’re carrying on?
With the rap, he gave you a certain drive and a certain focus. And that focus was he taught you how to rhyme. He taught you how to make complete songs. I didn’t know how to really do it. He really sat me down and told me to write this amount of bars, and here’s the hook. You can’t just rap on and rap on. After a while someone’s going to start snoring.
You have to have a concept. You have to have some kind of a hook. You have to have a bridge. You can’t just write about the same thing on every single song. You can’t kill a person in each and every song. He taught us how to be versatile, but at the same time, be realistic. Then, sometimes, be unrealistic.
You always want to leave some kind of mark on someone’s brain every time they come across you — and anyone who met Proof, he left an impression good or bad.
You have a solo project, too, that you are trying to finish up and release at the end of the summer. After fours years, it seems like you as an individual, and the rest of the members in D12, have a lot to say about a lot of different subjects?
As far as my style and my music and the mix-tape that I’m putting together, it’s more just getting into the mind of me because a lot of people tell me I’m too laid back. I need to step up more. People need to know what I’m thinking.
Most people already know the group and they know who’s who, but they always have trouble with me and Swifty. We are always the ones who really don’t get that recognition because they always call us the henchmen. Proof was so vocal. Bizarre is vocal without even saying anything and Kon Artis, people know him for his beats. And, of course, there’s Marshallâ€¦
Now it’s to the point where we really have to step it up and also just show people who we are. And that’s what I’m doing on this mix tape here. I’m showing people who I am. What I go through. I’m addressing a lot of issues. Like people saying that he’s [Eminem] fat.
â€œMarshall’s fat. Bizarre is this.â€
They’re taking our quietness for weakness.
D12 is here to stay. Everyone knows that D12 means Dirty Dozen. I’ve read the blogs where people are so fucking cruel: â€œWhy do they call it the Dozen when two members are dead?â€
We’re always going to be the Dozen. D12 isn’t going anywhere.