Proof Positive

Eminem's pal hits the 'Nix

Here in the 'Nix, we're not known as a hotbed for mainstream hip-hop -- we're an indie hip-hop town, with a packed schedule of weekly club events and frequent visits from crews like the Shapeshifters.

That's going to change in the near future, thanks to the imminent migration of Proof, who's leaving Detroit for the Valley. If you don't know Proof's name, you will soon. He's Eminem's best friend. Mekhi Phifer's character in 8 Mile was based on Proof; he's the one who put Eminem's "band" D12 together back when the six rappers were battling in Detroit clubs. And Proof's profile is on the ascent since last week's release of his banging solo album Searching for Jerry Garcia.

A couple of months ago, I was receiving regular phone calls from local impresario and artist manager Mike DelPrete of Aqwela Entertainment, promising that Proof was on his way, shopping for a house in Scottsdale, and hanging out with his local homies, the members of Headline (whom DelPrete manages), and Fade, a local producer who runs 22/20 Music Group. It almost sounded too good to be true, but when I caught up with Proof by phone late last month, shortly after he was in town for the Anger Management Tour, he confirmed that he's bought a place in Scottsdale and will be spending some time in Arizona a couple weeks after the tour's over.

If you don't know Proof and Eminem's story, here's a primer. Marshall Mathers grew up down the street from Proof, and would cut classes to hang out at Proof's school for freestyle battles. As their talents solidified, Proof (a.k.a. DeShaun Holton) founded D12 -- shorthand for Dirty Dozen -- with his homie Bizarre, and invited Eminem to join the group that would eventually also include Kuniva, Swifty, and Kon Artis.

The deal was that whoever made it out of Detroit first musically would come back for the others in D12. Everyone figured it would be Proof. Then Eminem won second place in the Rap Olympics, hooked up with Dr. Dre, founded his Shady Records label under Interscope Records' umbrella, and went back to Detroit to sign his homies and release D12's 2002 multi-platinum Devil's Night.

"Coming from Detroit is really rough," Proof tells me. "For us to break through from such a dry and desolate industry town full of working-class auto workers, it's amazing."

Since then, Proof's mostly kept busy with D12 and coordinating Eminem's stage shows and working out his set lists -- until now. Proof started up his own label, Iron Fist Records, and put out his first wide-release solo album, Searching for Jerry Garcia.

Though the album features a grip of guest appearances from artists like Method Man, Nate Dogg, 50 Cent, Obie Trice, and MC Breed, there's not much Eminem on there, which is understandable given the long-standing association with Em. Proof wants to break out on his own, not as Marshall's protégé -- it was Proof encouraging Eminem to hit the stage back in the day, not vice versa.

"That's what my goal is," Proof affirms. "This is me, not Eminem. I love the guy to death, we've been best friends for 17 years, and he's glad to see me do something. D12 is still a band -- I'm already in a group with the guy, I didn't need to rely on him for my solo record."

What surprised me most about Proof, other than the fact he's relocating to the Valley of the Unrelenting Sun, is how down-to-earth he comes across. While he's on the tour bus en route to the San Antonio stop of Anger Management, he busts out singing "Deep in the Heart of Texas." He's got nothing but compliments for the people he knows out here like DelPrete and Fade.

If you need proof that Proof isn't your ordinary radio rapper, look no further than the title of his album, Searching for Jerry Garcia. I can't think of another rapper, indie or mainstream, who'll cop to a Grateful Dead fetish. Proof sees similarities in the way Jerry went out -- stress, drugs, poor diet -- with most artists around these days, including himself, having struggled with the aforementioned when he was younger.

He also admires Garcia's loyalty to his art. "That really fit me, where I'm at now," he told me. "Searching for Jerry Garcia is the epitome of what a true artist is in today's corporate music industry. That's what I'm stretching to be; Jerry Garcia did what he really wanted to do."

The rapper's record is light-years from the Dead's hippie aesthetic, though, with tracks like "Kurt Kobain," where he gives shout-outs to the people he loves before taking a bullet to the head, and "Mom and Dad," where he and Rude Jude declare, "We are fuckin' drug addicts . . . Mom and Dad, I smoke weed, I do blow, I take E, I bang ho's, I sniff paint, I jerk off, I smoke crack."

Proof laughs when I ask him about the "Mom and Dad" track. "It's a little bit of a shocker; we were fuckin' around, pokin' fun. That's the closest thing to a D12 track on there."

He was cryptic about the crew he'll be working with out here, so we'll have to wait and see what happens. But one thing's certain -- while Eminem has reportedly bought a million-dollar condo in Vegas, Proof's bringing his game to the 'Nix. And that can only be a positive thing for hip-hop in this desert.

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