We're in Royal Oak, Michigan a suburb of Detroit. There's ice, snow and slush on the ground outside and tangy Buffalo
wings and Long Island ice teas are on the table at Mr. B's. Sitting around it are five of the six members of the Dirty Dozen.
Proof, Kon Artis, Swift, Kuniva and Bizarre. The groups sixth member, someone named Eminem isn't here at the moment.
Before you knew who Eminem was, he was a member of the Dirty Dozen, aka D-12. And now per hip-hop tradition, he has returned
to Detroit to open the door for them. "We always said we would come back and help one-another after we got put on."
Eminem says weeks later, "I was first, so I put them on my label."
Where Eminem's last album was about one crazy man, D-12 are trying to transmit an entire twisted worldview. On their debut
album, Devil's Night, the group wants to immerse you in its vision of Detroit.
The album title exemplifies the strange reality of D-12's hometown: Devil's Night is a Detroit tradition, started in the
mid-Eighties, in which young hell-raisers set fire to abandoned buildings on the night before Halloween. Last year, 151 fires
"Just like Outkast brought you into the mind of A-T-L" says Bizarre, "we want to bring you into the mind
of Amityville (their name for Detroit) - a city where the sun never shines, full of potholes, snow and con artists ready to
jack everything you got."
"Detroit ain't into cleverness," says Proof. "Both of the coasts are artsy. Detroit ain't a real creative
place. It's a plant-worker place." D-12 are here to bring you the sick, the obscene, the disgusting. "We not gonna
bring you the normal thug-and-Cristal shit," Proof says. "We wanna be blamed for bringin' shit to the table that
people scared to talk about."
In between playfully harassing the harried waitress ("Do you sell weed here? Do you know where I can find some crack?),
the guys, all between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-five, spit rhymes from the album to give a little taste of the sickness
in store. "I'm an alcoholic that causes catastrophe to others," says Kuniva, in a black do-rag and an Echo sweatshirt,
"who'll make you see murder like Master P's little brother." Then it''s Kon Artis, the loudmouth of the group: "I
come to your show in a red hearse/With Fred Durst in the back/And in the passenger seat is a dead nurse."
Rhyming last into the tape recorder is Bizarre, a house-size kid with close-cut reddish hair and a deep voice. Bizarre
rapped on "Amityville" on Eminem's Marshall Mathers LP, and his big-man's and voice disturbed imagination stop you
in your tracks: "I ain't got no food in my house," he booms. "My job I been cheated/My girlfriend had a miscarriage/I
had to eat it."
The reason the filthy half-dozen calls itself the Dirty Dozen is that each member has an alias: Eminem is also Slim Shady.
Proof is also Dirty Harry, and soon "When we started," Proof says, "the idea was everyone have separate identities
and say what you really feel. But the thing is not to tell when you switch identities. Em's the battle rapper, Slim Shady's
the drug-addict maniac, and he flips it without tellin' you."
Proof and Bizarre founded the Dirty Dozen about ten years ago. Bizarre set the Dozen's tone early on with his unhinged
style. The pair's first draft choice was a skinny little white lad named Marshall who was an old friend of Proof's. "Me
and Proof grew up down the street from each other, but we went to different high schools," says Eminem. "I used
to cut class during ninth grade and walk over to Proof's school, and he would set me up in freestyle battles for money. Nobody
thought I would be able to rhyme, so it was like a pool-hall hustle where we would take all their lunch money when I won."
The guys never saw Eminem as just a white boy. "That nigga ain't white!" Kon Artis says, " He got white
in him, but he ain't white." Even though they say he can't dribble a basketball without traveling, they freely call him
'nigga.' "We're not saying 'nigger.' " Proof says. " 'Nigger' is a derogatory term. But 'nigga' aint negative
to us. It doesn't have a color or code on the street level."
Kon Artis was a local car thief who had NBA dreams when he got shot in the leg and turned to MC'ing full-time. He knows
how to make beats and is producing much of Devil's Night. "I'm always screaming," he says . "Sometimes I might
not scream but I'm still screaming." Kuniva was a friend of Proof's who showed rhyming talent, as well as the ability
to be humble and hard at the same time. Proof calls him "the principal of humble roughness."
The group was moving toward a deal when Eminem won second place at the Rap Olympics in 1997. Soon, Dr. Dre called, Em
was off to LA, and the Dirty Dozen drifted in different directions. But after a few months, Proof was urging the guys on and
D-12 were soon back on track, recruiting a new member named Bugz, who brought along an MC named Swift.
Then on May 21st 1999, at a small local island called Belle Isle where people go to picnic and party, Bugz got into a
fistfight over a water-gun incident and beat up two men. After the fight, they shot him in the back and killed him. Bugz name
is now tattooed on the forearms of D-12's members. "That incident brought everything to reality," Kuniva says, "and
let us know that life ain't no game and we gotta make the best of what we got while we got it."
Now they're just a few months away from the release of Devil's Night. Will the ears of Eminem fans be set on fire? "Our
album is for them," says Proof honestly. "But at the same time, we're not trying to get under Eminem's Shadow."