I’ve been listening a lot this week to Proof’s second album, Searching for Jerry Garcia (Iron Fist Records). It reminds me, ominously, of Makaveli and Life After Death. On the cover Proof is embracing a skeleton. The last song of the album is called “Kurt Kobain.” “This is my last letter right here,” he says. “Fuck this world, lets get the fuck out of here.” He raps about his vulnerabilities and his own insecurities. “I don’t feel like I could win niggas/It’s like I’m lost and I find only demons/I wanna quit, its like I’m tired of breathing.”
Proof, born Deshaun Holton, was gunned down in a Detroit club last Tuesday evening, reportedly in an argument over a pool game. He was 32. In a Detroit Free Press obituary, he was remembered not only as Eminem’s “right hand man” but, more importantly, as one of the most influential voices in Detroit hip-hop, the founder of the supergrou D12, and the “mayor of Detroit.”
I found out about Proof’s death last Wednesday night, in the way you always find these things out: I got a phone call from my friend Brian. When he told me, I thought back to the night a few years ago when Brian and I went to see D12 at Lupo’s in Providence. I can still see Proof coming out on stage, smiling from ear to ear. He told fans that Eminem was filming 8 Mile and couldn’t make the gig, and a lot of fans left, angry that Marshall Mathers had not shown up. Proof was wearing a big Afro wig and he smiled as some people walked out. It was hilarious; you couldn’t even see his face as the wig hung down over his eyes, just teeth. I’m still glad I didn’t follow the other people out of the venue. Proof and the members of D12 passed around cigarettes and Hennessy on stage that night. After the show they stayed to meet fans and shake everyone’s hand. Proof seemed very nice and personable. I’ve heard recently in the Detroit media that Proof didn’t believe in bodyguards and that he was like a normal guy. When I remember that night at Lupo’s, I can picture him on stage, smiling and clowning around with Bizarre. If Brian hadn’t gotten jumped, beaten, and robbed in the bathroom during the show we might have stayed and talked to him.
Proof always stood out in D12, with his devastating battle-rap flows and deep, raspy voice. He had an enormous smile and an even bigger heart. Eminem called him his “best friend”; last week, he issued a statement saying that Proof “can never, ever be replaced.” I feel the same way. He was an actor, a battle rapper, an advocate for hip-hop and the culture, he was a performer, he was a father, and he always had the power to bring my friends and I together, in life and in death.