It’s hard to look at this today
I don’t know that much about Proof, Eminem’s best friend and hypeman, the basis for the Mekhi Phifer character in 8 Mile. He’s always been a vaguely comforting and dependable presence, the guy who stands next to Eminem whenever he has to do a TV performance, looking vaguely goofy in his NASCAR goatee and doing everything he could to fade away from the spotlight and prop up Eminem, just being there so Em would have someone to play off, game enough to dress up like a clown in the “Purple Pills” video or carry bags in the “My Band” video. I always liked that he made the utterly inexplicable career-suicide move of calling his solo album Searching for Jerry Garcia and hugging a skeleton on the cover, exactly the sort of thing that seemed guaranteed to keep him from ever becoming a star, but I never bothered to listen to it. It’s been hard to do anything but take him for granted, and so it was weirdly deflating to hear that he’d been killed early this morning, around 5 a.m. at a Detroit nightclub, shot in the head, dead by the time he arrived at the hospital.
Right now, we don’t know anything about the shooting, really. The club was open late illegally, and an unidentified 35-year-old man also caught some bullets; he’s in critical condition right now. Early reports said that the other guy might’ve been Bizarre, the big nasty fat guy in D12, but it’s since been reported that he was at home in Atlanta and had nothing to do with the incident. This SOHH report mentions a Detroit hip-hop war, which I hadn’t known anything about. Eminem’s protege Obie Trice was shot in the head when he was driving on a Detroit Freeway in December, but I always thought that was some completely random road rage shit, and anyway Trice turned out to be totally fine, going home from the hospital the next day even though he still had a bullet lodged in his skull. And apparently there was another murder there last year, some unknown rapper named Blade Icewood, shot in his wheelchair while he was sitting in an SUV. These don’t sound anything like related incidents, but who even knows. For whatever reason, Proof is dead now.
Someone who knew more about Proof is going to have to write the definitive eulogy; it won’t be me. But somehow it’s even sadder that he spent the last seven years of his life in the shadow of a rapper whose fame and talent totally dwarfed his own. From what I can tell, he made his biggest impact on rap before he became almost famous, hosting Detroit rap battles and coming up with the idea to put D12 together when all six of them were complete unknowns outside their city. It’s entirely possible that we would’ve never heard Eminem if Proof hadn’t taken under his wing years ago, if Proof’s vote of confidence hadn’t given Em the push he needed to get himself heard and eventually becoming the biggest pop star in the world. When Eminem did blow up, he kept his friends with him, bringing Proof on tour as his hypeman countless times and putting out two D12 albums, both of which sold OK but came off looking like Em side projects. It feels reprehensibly callous to be writing this stuff on the same day Proof died, but D12’s biggest hit was an extended riff on how nobody ever paid attention to anyone in the group except Eminem. I saw D12 once at the Warped Tour four or five years ago without Eminem, and I remember the crowd booing when they realized Em wasn’t there and the group bringing out Bizarre last like he was their big star. I also remember D12 and Rancid being the only remotely good things I saw that day. What I don’t remember is anything Proof did at that show. Everyone else in the group tried to ride Em’s coattails by adapting goofily larger-than-life personas, spitting gratuitous shock-rap lyrics in over-the-top cartoon-voices, while Proof was content to play the straight man, never doing anything great with his understated growl but never embarrassing himself either. Even during his brief moments of spotlight time, he was there to complement Em: playing the first guy who eats Em in an 8 Mile battle or standing next to him in a matching Free Yayo T-shirt at the Grammys. Despite being associated with the biggest rapper in the world, he only finally got to release his solo album last year because D12 projects kept pushing it back; he never even got Memphis Bleek treatment. And now he’ll never get a chance to get past journeyman status. We’ll never know what he could’ve done. It’s bullshit.