This April we’re fittingly making Deshaun Holton, better known as Proof, Artist of the Month. Proof is known primarily as the founder of Detroit-based rap group D-12, Eminem’s hypeman and best friend, and the man who ran the battles in the Hip Hop Shop similarly to the character of Future in 8 Mile. He was also a member of the group 5Ela and half of the duo Promatic. He was an instrumental role in establishing Detroit hip hop, being associated with acts from J. Dilla to the Fat Killahz.
He is most known for his roles in the groups that he was a part of, but his talent as a solo artist was undeniable. His first solo album, I Miss The Hip-Hop Shop, had a sound that was grittier, more soulful, and less aggressive than the D-12 material that had been made up to that point. He showed that he was capable of more than just the signature Shady style. The album still had all of the charm and wit that he and D-12 were known for, but he also showed a more reflective side that wasn’t as present on the group material, on songs like “Broken”, the Promatic cut “Nowhere Fast”, and “Love Letters”, dedicating his verses to Paul Rosenberg and Denaun Porter of D-12.
He only kept building creatively for his next album, Searching For Jerry Garcia. Proof created a sound that was only fitting for an album with that title. Songs like “Purple Gang”, “Ali” featuring the late MC Breed, “No.T. Lose” with a bluesy hook courtesy of King Gordy. “Jump Biatch” and “M.A.D.” have a quite unique sound that can only be described as psychedelic rock-rap. This album is also very dark. Much darker than anything else he had put out beforehand. “Kurt Kobain” and “Forgive Me” are the two most notable tracks off the album. They are hauntingly dark songs on which Proof uses the backdrop provided by the producers and his raspy voice to build an atmosphere of melancholy, numbness, and frustration. Much like Tupac, Proof seemed to predict his own death on this album, on more than one occasion.
Genius artists, so retarded,
Broken hearted, my soul’s like an open target,
And I’m ready to leave Earth,
You step to my death, next year on my T-shirt.
Proof was not just an ordinary rap artist. He had a vision that became clearer and clearer as he got older, fusing psychedelic rock with a soulful hip hop style reminiscent of Dilla/Slum Village as early as his first solo release, the Electric Coolaid Acid Testing EP. Even songs off D-12’s Devil’s Night like “Revelation” and “These Drugs” (from the limited edition bonus disc) sound like they have Proof’s fingerprints on them, even if they were not produced by him. Being a member of D-12 might have subjected him to the stigma of being an Eminem clone, just one of Em’s boys, but any time he did solo music he quickly broke out of that mold, using musical styles that Eminem has not attempted at length, aside from maybe “Stimulate”.
Proof was also a legendary freestyler. Eminem detailed in his autobiography how Proof once forgot a verse he was supposed to be performing on the air while he was midway through, and he pulled one out of thin air. You wouldn’t have even known if you hadn’t heard what the verse was originally going to be. Back in ’06, he was challenged to make an entire project in 24 hours. Being the quick thinker that he was, he managed to make 22 tracks in that time span, creating the Time A Tell mixtape. And if that wasn’t enough, the mixtape had a level of lyricism that an embarrassing amount of rappers can’t put on an album that takes them 3 months to make. Unfortunately, the mixtape was delayed because of his death. However, it did manage to come out 4 years later as a fantastic posthumous release.
And Proof may be heard again, if D-12 can finally actually make an album. They mentioned that they’ve messed with his vocals to see how he sounds on newer beats. Generally, posthumous material organized by other people end up being used as cash-grabs and get littered with artists who the rapper would never have rocked with (just ask Method Man about Biggie’s posthumous The Duets album). But it’s a different story when it’s the group that you started, which already has the selling point of having the biggest rapper ever as a member, just using your verses to pay homage, isn’t it?
Before I end this article, I would like to add a small personal tribute. I first started listening to Proof and D-12 in mid-2006, just a few short months after his death. The first time I heard him was on “When The Music Stops”, then on “Trapped” off Eminem Presents The Re-Up (which I later found out was just a portion of the song “Oil Can Harry”). I knew he was something special after listening to “Trapped”. Searching For Jerry Garcia is one of my absolute favorite albums. I don’t know if any other rapper has ever attempted the sound that Proof managed to create. He used to speak about being open minded because his father was a musician, and I think that helped him differentiate himself from his group and from other rappers in general.
It’s weird for me to listen to some of his music as I’ve gotten older and started to understand the gravity of what he was saying prior to his death. I can think of at least 5 different times his death was brought up before it actually happened, most notably on “40 Oz.” and in the video for “Like Toy Soldiers”. There’s a whole new level (well, not really new, since it’s been 10 years [Jesus…]) of darkness and depth to a lot of his music.
Proof is the real reason why I listen to hip hop to begin with. He’s the one who formed the group that flipped my world upside down at age 12. The group that interested me beyond all the rap that I had heard up to that point. The group that introduced me to the darker side of humor and taught me you could say whatever you wanted to. Without him, none of the music that basically raised me would have existed. Who knows what my life would be like?
Rest in peace, Big Proof.