D12 is sticking together, with or without Eminem

Tom Horgen, Star Tribune
June 20, 2004 POP0620

http://www.startribune.com/stories/457/4833738.ht

Imagine being in a rap group with Godzilla. When he talks, people clamor at his feet. When you talk? Crickets.

For D12, Eminem is that towering green monster.

“Our main focus is to step outside of that whole shadow,” said Kon Artis, a member of Eminem’s “band.”

It must seem like baby steps, though, especially when Eminem’s monstrous popularity could block out the sun. The same can be said for hardcore rap group G-Unit and its Kevlar don, 50 Cent, the world’s other biggest rapper, who presents the same gift and curse for the guys in his side project.

This summer, both groups hit the road without their superstars. D12 plays the Quest in Minneapolis Tuesday while G-Unit performs July 17 on the same stage. It’ll be like Sly and the Family Stone, without Sly.

Eminem and 50 Cent are busy working on their next albums, leaving their groups to fend for themselves.

For D12’s sake, Kon Artis said Eminem’s absence might be a blessing. With the rapper on board, this would be an an arena tour. Without him, the remaining five members are hitting the clubs.

“It’s probably a better show when we do smaller venues because it’s more intimate,” Kon Artis said, although his barefaced optimism sounded more like someone swallowing his pride. He added the obligatory, “He’ll be on some dates.”

The Detroit group’s hit song “My Band,” which is currently suffocating pop radio, parodies the perception many critics and fans have of the group — that the other members simply carry Eminem’s bags. Kon Artis said “My Band” is a way for the group to vent its frustrations about being painted as nobodies. Aspects of the song are real, he insists, though he’s referring more to the way the media sidesteps the other members rather than the song’s hilarious depiction of group infighting.

Besides the shower-cap-wearing Bizarre, most rap fans can’t tell you who’s who in D12. This anonymity might prove confusing when D12 performs without the blond one on its 25-city tour. Even when he does perform, Eminem gets his own dressing room.

“We don’t really give a [expletive] about that,” Kon Artis said. “Em has his room, we have our room. It’s pretty much the way it’s set up.”

D12 has exploited that perceived division to help sell its latest album, “D12 World.” In interviews on MTV and BET, the group relentlessly badgers its ego-mad leader, which leaves people wondering if the divisiveness portrayed in “My Band” isn’t fantasy after all. Eminem plays his part beautifully, brushing their remarks away like dirt off his shoulder.

“Em is not as arrogant or as overbearing as that guy comes across,” Kon Artis said. “You have to act it out. And if that means acting it out 24-7, then that’s what that is.”

Playing roles sells more records, obviously. Kon Artis, who’s been standing close enough to Eminem’s limelight to catch a tan, willingly submits to the mainstream marketing game. And if anything, the “My Band” act is a marketing triumph.

“Working with those marketing people is really important for your career,” Kon Artis said. “If you don’t do that, you’re just going to get whatever they think is best.”

While “My Band” smells of major-label tinkering, Kon Artis insists D12 came to the table with the concept and song already executed. With a million copies sold, it’s no doubt Interscope is pleased it played along.

Of course, a wave of solo albums is up next. One by Bizarre, the most marketable member next to Eminem, will probably come out first. Proof, the most talented next to Eminem, will follow.

According to Eminem, the group’s game plan was for whoever got a major-label contract to come back and scoop up the rest. He was just the lucky one.

For the most part, these crews — D12, G-Unit and Nelly’s group of no-names, the St. Lunatics — haven’t given people reason to care about their solo work.

Bizarre or Proof might change that. The best bet, though, is 22-year-old Lloyd Banks, who will be the first G-Unit member after 50 Cent to go solo. His album, “Hunger for More,” drops June 29. Banks is laid-back, lacking the oozing charisma of 50 Cent. But he makes up for it with superior rhyme skills and a voice deep as Barry White’s. When’s the last time a rap star’s crony was being hailed as his better? Never.

Crew love isn’t anything new in hip-hop. Rap titans Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. both promoted spin-offgroups before their deaths. Neither was successful. Two of Nelly’s St. Lunatics have released out solo albums. Murphy Lee’s found moderate success but nowhere near Nelly’s multi-platinum status.

As for D12, it’s all good. Eminem might not want to perform with them — or share a dressing room. He might sell more records. But whatever happens, nothing will change within the inner circle, according to Kon Artis, no matter how many times reporters ask them, “So, how’s Eminem?”

“When you’re in a group, you’re always going to be in that group. You’re always going to feel like you’re a part of it. Especially when you’re as tight-knit as we are.”

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