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Interviews with overexposed, platinum-certified stars such as D12 can sound a bit scripted. Check out this chestnut posed to group member Swift: What makes you stand out from Kuniva, Bizarre, Kon Artis, Proof, and Eminem?
"I'm a hardcore MC. I'm a lyrical assassin," says Ondre "Swift" Moore during a phone interview from a recording studio. "Which means, I'll go there with you," or, to translate, challenge you, match wits with you. "But on the flip side, character-wise, I stick to family, I believe in loyalty, you know what I'm sayin'? I don't believe in getting too close to people if you ain't family," he continues in a twangy Midwestern accent.
Luckily Swift is an amiable guy who responds without rancor or boredom when asked basic D12/Eminem questions, such as whether the new single "My Band" is based upon reality. The song is a so-called satire on which Eminem sings "These chicks don't even know the name of my band."
"Some people perceive it, like, 'He the lead singer, woo-woo-woo,'" Swift answers, tension creeping into his voice. "We just want the audience to know that we not a band," as in a rock band with a lead singer, "we're a group. We've always been a group. We've always been together, friends through hip-hop."
By now, every pop music fan knows the story. D12, or Dirty Dozen, is the crew Eminem used to run with back in his hometown of Detroit. Proof formed D12 back in the mid-Nineties. At the time, they were more of a loosely aligned crew of solo MCs than a full-fledged group. Until Eminem, who at 31 is slightly older than the other members (Swift is 28), was discovered by Interscope Records CEO Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre in 1998, D12 developed a surrealistic "horrorcore" style that bore a strong resemblance to Gravediggaz, Brotha Lynch Hung, and Esham.
While Eminem unveiled his "Slim Shady" persona to the world in 1998 via his independently released Slim ShadyEP (which Interscope put out a year later as The Slim Shady LP), D12's many members kept grinding away in the Detroit underground, dropping freestyles and mixtape tracks that have never been widely distributed. But Swift, who was the last member to join D12, says that Eminem was still loyal to his crew. "When he came out with 'Hi, My Name Is,' that let the world know, 'D12 does exist, and I'm representing for them and with them,'" says Swift.
When Eminem blew up, Interscope invited him to set up a boutique label, Shady Records; the first group he signed was D12, which Proof had solidified into a six-man team. The group's resulting 2002 debut, Devil's Night, was widely characterized by critics as Eminem's Svengali attempt to shore up his street credibility. (It didn't help that hip-popper Nelly's St. Lunatics crew dropped an album around the same time.) But Slim Shady devotees still snapped up more than a million copies.
Surprisingly, though, both Devil's Nightand its followup, D12 World, are solid collective efforts, each yielding more than their share of good tracks. On D12 Worldthere are cuts such as "I'll Be Damned," a funk attack against groupies and gold diggers that Swift claims was his idea, and "Leave Dat Boy Alone," on which he rhymes, "We comin' too strong, so it's irrelevant to blast you/We master ready, slash like relatives of Manson."
"My Band," unfortunately, quickly overshadowed the more recent D12 World's strengths. On the catchy hit single, Swift raps, "See I know how to rap/It's simple, but/All I did was read a Russell Simmons book/So I'm more intact, trying to get on the map/Doing jumping jacks while getting whipped on my back."
You might think that working under the shadow of one of the most popular artists of the past decade wouldn't agree with a hardcore MC who still chops it up with Motor City locals at nightclubs such as Alvin's. But Swift says he doesn't mind. He has paid enough dues in the rap underground to happily appreciate mainstream success in all its forms.
"When you get the TRL, MTV, and Direct Effect crowd, then I can do nothing but thank the Lord and be happy. If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be where we at," he says. "I don't feel uncomfortable. At [famed Detroit club] the Hip-Hop Shop every MC wanted to be on [this] level. That was what it was all about."