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 Parading around the white elephant ...



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— by Joseph Patel, with reporting by Rahman Bugg

Arrogant. Obnoxious. Cocky. These are just a few of the adjectives being hurled in Eminem's direction this afternoon in Las Vegas. But the verbal bombs aren't coming from music critics or spurned autograph-seekers. They're being uttered by the mega-celebrity rapper's own coterie of friends — Kon Artis and Kuniva, two of Em's rap compatriots in the group D12.

"[He's saying] 'I'm the lead singer of this band,' " Kuniva says, incredulous. "He's walking around like, 'Dude, I'm getting all the hot chicks and you're not.' The lead singer! Don't call him Eminem anymore. Call him 'The Lead Singer!' "

The heat of the Vegas desert hasn't charred the minds of the D12 crew. The rappers are just goofing around, expressing mock outrage at each other as they do in the video for "My Band," the first single from their new album, D12 World. It's the clip that pits the group's brightest, most recognizable star, Eminem, against the rest of D12.

 

 
"He's white." —  Bizarre

 
"The strangest by far of the group. His voice is so sick on record, you just laugh when you hear him." — Eminem

 
"Creative genius. He's got a soulful voice, too, can sing his ass off. And he's got a temper." — Eminem

 
"A battle MC. He's very in tune with the club circuit. Gets challenged on the daily. We're trying to get him out of that." — Eminem

 
"Silent type. You're not sure if he likes you or not sometimes. A lot of realism in his rhymes." — Eminem

 
"Raps more about street-oriented things. Crazy stuff because he's seen it." —  Kuniva

"What are you guys' names again?" Eminem asks before the three MCs share a hearty laugh.

One would think that when D12's debut album, Devils Night, was released in the spring of 2001, it would have ridden Eminem's juggernaut toward the land of a thousand platinum plaques. But it didn't. Despite having the trump card to best all trump cards, the boys of D12 insisted that the blond, blue-eyed MC who had sold close to 20 million albums worldwide was just one voice of six, just one of the guys. White elephant? What white elephant?

The strategy backfired — sort of. Devils Night managed to sell just over 2 million records, but the group did not develop the pop myth that fuels careers. The album bore just one semi-hit single, the quirky ode to stimulants, "Purple Pills," and failed to launch the solo careers of any of its members. This, despite the presence of music's biggest attraction (Eminem) and beats from hip-hop's most successful producer (Dr. Dre). 50 Cent and G-Unit they were not. 

"My Band" represents a 180-degree turn in strategy for D12 and their resident headliner. Rather than ignore the disparity in popularity, they're exploiting it, through satire, a nod and a wink. Not only are they acknowledging the white elephant, they're parading it around on their shoulders.

"We kind of wanted to play off the stereotype of how a lot of people get the faces mixed up with the voices on the records, so we're kind of ... throwing it back in people's faces," Eminem explains.

"With the attention being focused on Eminem all the time people don't really get a chance to know us or see us," Kuniva says. "So we're flipping it on them. We turn the tides on these critics that say we ride Em's coattails and stuff.

"He is the lead singer, you know," he adds. "What can we say? I mean, we all dirty from riding his coattails."

In addition to providing coattails, Eminem also serves as a mentor to the group. In the middle of an interview with the group's Bizarre and Proof under the gaze of MTV's cameras, Eminem enters the room to offer a little instruction to the still somewhat green interviewees. A TV interview is different than a print interview, Em says. You have to repeat the question in your answer. And you have to keep your answer short, he explains, so they can use it as a sound bite.

So what is Eminem's reward for investing in D12? Why is one of the biggest names in pop music, an icon for an entire demographic of rap-loving, angst-filled youth, willing to dilute the potency of his own celebrity for a group of relatively anonymous MCs?

The answer lies back in Detroit. Most people who bought a seat to the movie "8 Mile" feel they know the story of Eminem's rise to fame. But the flick, focusing on the transformation of Eminem from nervous sideline rapper to local star, is only part of the tale. The story of D12 picks up where "8 Mile" left off: the evolution of local star into global phenomenon, who emerged out of the Hip-Hop Shop, the Saturday night open-mic rap night at club Alvin's in Detroit.

Eminem remembers the time well. "Proof used to tell me, 'You gotta come down to the Shop. I gotta hear you spit.' I was kind of reluctant at first. And then I was like, f--- it, let me go. I went there and got a reaction and was like, you know what? This is my thing. Between [D12's] Swift and this guy Beretta and Proof, they owned the Shop ... until I started making a name for myself."

A camaraderie grew out of a mutual respect for each other's skills, and the idea of starting a rap collective was born. They would each pursue their own individual opportunities, but would come together frequently to represent their crew. "It was to be like a Wu-Tang thing. Proof had the idea," Em explains. "We wanted to have a crew of like 12 of the dopest MCs from Detroit, [but when] we couldn't find 12 MCs we thought were dope enough at the time, we decided to make it six MCs with two aliases."


Next: Eminem comes back for his boys, and they're immediately faced with a brutal, bloody murder ...
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Photo: Interscope

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  "My Band"
D12 World
(Shady/Interscope)


  "40 oz." live from Las Vegas
D12 World
(Shady/Interscope)


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