OK…this isn’t that complicated, so please try and follow along. There once was a young, up and coming rapper who hooked up with a few of his friends from the neighborhood. They messed around, made a few demo tapes and slowly created a regional buzz. They say the cream always rises to the top (hmm…) and eventually, it’s only the individual with talent, charisma or “the look” that eventually “makes it”.
Contrary to popular belief, Eminem didn’t form the group D12. He just happens to be its most famous alumnus. In fact, D12 has been around in one form or another since the early 1990s, with a membership that changed here and there over the years.
D12 is currently comprised of six members. Their name is a play on The Dirty Dozen, while their gimmick, such as it is, is that each member has an “alter ego” or second personality. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll just list each artist’s more known stage name:
Eminem – You might have heard of him.
Proof – He’s generally credited with founding the group.
Kon Artis – D12’s lead producer and youngest member.
Kuniva – He came on board when Interscope signed the group.
Swifty McVeigh – Replaced the murdered Bugz in 1999.
Bizarre – A portly fellow who flaunts his man boobs and a fittingly bizarre lyrical flow.
The group sat on the sidelines and watched as Eminem released two albums on Interscope from 1999-2000. They finally got an opportunity to shine on their own with the release of 2001’s Devil’s Night. The album was released just as the firestorm caused by The Marshall Mathers LP was beginning to die down, but just in time to create a new controversy with the drug-loving first single Purple Pills.
Despite achieving multi-platinum status, the D12 debut album felt more like 20 tracks of Eminem outtakes performed by “his” anonymous crew. Now, after being pushed back for another Eminem solo CD, along with efforts from 50 Cent and Obie Trice, D12 has returned with the sophomore album, D12 World.
Right away, you’ll notice one thing about this CD: Eminem…or, more specifically, his voice. It’s first flow you’ll hear on about half of the album’s tracks. This isn’t a bad thing, as he’s the most talented lyricist of the bunch, but at times it’s hard to discern who’s album this really is.
That whole drama has been played out on radio, recently, with the first single My Band. It’s had a polarizing effect on rap fans, as you’ll either love it or hate it. So sue me…I love it. Yes, it follows the same intentionally “wacky” formula as every other Eminem number one single, but the off-key hook and “everyone’s in on the joke” vibe works.
Not surprisingly, Em produced that track and about ten others (including skits) on the album. He receives a lot of criticism for his work on the boards, but he’s improved tremendously from the cookie-cutter dirge beats he was laying down three or four years ago. He’ll take a chance with a growling bass line mixed with a familiar grade-school rhyme on Git Up. On another track, Loyalty, Em’s beat is more complex and the intricate sound meshes perfectly with a guest spot from Obie Trice, who absolutely destroys this one.
See what I was saying about whose album this really is?
The D12 crew does their best to keep up with Eminem and they usually succeed. Surprisingly, they’re usually at their best when the subject matter is either irreverent or juvenile or both. Bitch is a ridiculously over-the-top tongue-in-cheek tribute to misogyny. 40 oz. comes across as a quasi-crunk track and just as I was about to skip ahead, I suddenly found myself nodding along to this addictive love letter to malt liquor and other libations.
Everyone steps up their game on some of the more personal tracks, as well. 6 In Tha Morning isn’t all that deep and the generic disses just seem “there”, but the beat is hot and the end result is probably better than it should be. Better examples can be found on Good Die Young which is as close to heartfelt as you’ll ever see from a group with D12’s discography. It’s a tribute to late former member Bugz and the sparse drums and bass are a perfect fit.
The best track here, however, is How Come? Only Eminem, Proof and Kon Artis appear, but this cut does an excellent job of examining the whole point of beef in rap, with an unspoken nod to former friend Royce Da 5’9″.
Kanye West collects another six-figure payday for laying down the beat for the title track. It’s just OK, and ultimately bogged down from the tired “the world is mine” theme that should’ve died with Tony Montana. That’s about as harsh as it gets with the criticism, though. Sure, it would be nice to see one of the other D12 members distinguish themselves from the rest of the pack (although, Bizarre does come close), but at the end of the album…we all know whose band this is.