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Its a mild, 60-degree November day and D12 member Swifty McVay is drinking hot tea the way a 10-year-old might drink grape Kool-Aid.
I aint got the flu or nothing, Swifty says. Ive just been on this tea-drinking kick for the last few weeks.
Whats more, the emcees stocky build, clear complexion, black T-shirt and jogging pants make him look more like a member of the UAW than of the most notorious rap group ever to come out of Detroit.
Later, he scurries up a narrow stairway to a room thats converted into a recording studio. Its cluttered with instruments, computers and speakers. Swiftys new production team, Da Fyre Dapartment Mark Fenton, who owns the East Side bungalow hes in, Marlin Benson and Teresa Creggett are busy tweaking tracks, smoking squares and watching football. Theres warmth here. It could be a family barbecue.
Swifty cant hold back the jokes, and he grins constantly, between sips of tea. He has good reason to be happy. He spent many months of 2005 touring with D12 on Eminems Anger Management Tour, has two quadruple platinum plaques under his belt and his mixtape, Forrest Fyres, drops in January.
Im just trying to keep on making music. Thats all Ive ever been about, Swifty says.
Its true, the rappers long journey in and up through the hip-hop biz is admirable. Born Ondre Moore in 1975, Swifty grew up on Detroits West Side and was into gymnastics. He graduated from Mumford High School in 1993 and was a mainstay at the fabled Hip-Hop Shop. There were run-ins with cops, and Swifty even did jail time. I sold weed, been locked up for buying stolen vehicles, but hip hop was always my comfort zone, he says.
In the meantime, Swifty was in a host of local hip-hop groups, including the Sinbad Boys, the Narcotic Clan, Outcast, and Rabies the only crew to make noise before D12. Rabies, whose inspiration was Onyx and Redman, landed a BMG deal in 1997 and released a single, If the Beat Dont Stop, before getting booted from the label.
We had a single with an option of an album deal, which means the label has the option not to put yo album out, Swifty says, laughing.
In early 1999, storied Motor City rapper Proof was putting together an all-star lineup of local emcees (including Eminem) to form a group called D12. Swifty, who had Rabies going and wasnt asked to join, says he supported D12 from the beginning. I always had love for them cats, he says, in a tone thats nostalgic like a major leaguer reminiscing on his first childhood home run. One day Bugz [an early D12 member] thought it would be good if I joined the group. So Swifty joined D12 in 1999.
Three weeks later Bugz committed suicide.
Bugz death was hard for all of us, but we dealt with it, Swifty says, ruefully.
Adding Swifty to the six-man group was the last request of our fallen member, Bugz, Proof says in a separate interview. He goes on to say that Swifty is D12s mood-setter; whenever hes around theres a lot of grenade pins on the floor. [Hes] our pinch hitter.
While Swifty is thankful to have joined D12, resentment festered in certain Detroit rap circles some thought themselves more deserving of the coveted D12 slot. Swiftys explanation: A lot of cats turned Proof down when he asked them to be a part of D12. Dont hate; yall know who yall are.
D12 and Em know as much about hatin as Lil Kim does about implants and nose jobs. Beefs with such locals as Champtown, 5ELA, Royce, DJ Spudd and Esham, and with such nationally known heavyweights as Ja Rule, Benzino and David Mayes have filled many column inches in Metro Times and around the world. Through the drama which no doubt raised D12s public profile Swifty has often been the groups de facto peacekeeper.
See, I dont put a lot of people in my circle and I dont talk bad about nobody, Swifty says. Then he stands and reaches for more tea. His voice rises: But if somebody wanna talk about my dogs on wax, Im gonna go at em, rap on the track first, or swing first. You cant hate on my crew; I dont stay neutral.
In a much-talked-about February 2004 article in the Source magazine, Detroit emcee Champtown called D12 houseniggas and implied that since Em didnt originally sign D12 to his Shady Records, he wasnt financially looking out for his group the way 50 Cent was looking out for his G-Unit crew.
Swifty doesnt see it that way: He [50 Cent] passed the ball to his boys a certain way, and Em passed it to us a certain way. Both ways worked; it was our job to dunk the ball. Eminem worked hard for his and looked out for us; being in the background aint bothered us. We know how to play our positions.
Contrary to street talk that suggested Em kept most of D12s royalties, Swiftys doing well financially. All of us were able to get the chips we wanted to get. I went from Hanes to Joe Boxers, my socks changed, my ride changed, my zip-code changed and my family hasnt wanted for nothing since Ive been signed, Swifty says, getting almost defensive.
The rapper does acknowledge that contractual errors cost the group, which he chalks up to youthful naïveté. When you got a 70-page contract, youre bound to miss something, he says. But when youre new, it aint really nothing you can do anyway. You gotta take it or leave it.
Swifty swills more tea and begins telling D12 road stories involving Proof getting lost while crowd-surfing in Japan, and fans storming the Madison Square Garden stage. Songs from Forrest Fyres spill from the studio monitors. Raw lyrics ride atop strident baselines and beats. Swiftys latest is similar, in a good way, to D12.
The music is no different, its still me, he says. But in D12, I brought a lot of the Swift out. In my solo [recordings], Im bringing out Swifty McVay, which is a little bit more crazy.
Along with the Fyre crew, D12 DJ Kareem Hicks and Eminem are assisting in Forrest Fyres production. Hence, Swiftys betting that his solo album will fly. And why not? His Fyre Dapartment is charged, and hes got the D12 cred and associations. But there are snags: Its nearing the release date for his album, and the label and distribution details are still being worked out. Swifty might put the album out under his Fyre Dapartment moniker.
It wouldnt be the first time Swifty put on a label hat. In 2003, he started Rabbit Entertainment and signed longtime friends, Raw Collection. But after a solid street buzz, the relationship dissolved. They felt the pace I was going on wasnt fast enough, so they choose to venture off and do their own thing, Swifty says.
Vibe magazine suggested in the current issue that the lack of interest in albums from D12s Proof and Bizarre might finally convince them to just be happy living off Eminem.
Is Swifty concerned with the lukewarm commercial and critical response to Proof and Bizarres 2005 solo records?
I dont sit back and wonder, I hope this dont happen to me. I believe in myself and in what they [Proof and Bizarre] are doing too.
And of D12?
Swifty says the group is doing another record in 2006. Ems greatest hits collection is out this week, and the superstar is working on Obie Trices new album as well.
Then Swifty talks about the importance of local camaraderie: Detroit lost its identity when Berry Gordy took the music away. Now we got a lot of new labels and artists, and the people are starting to support again.
Support or no, Swiftys well aware that without major-label backing, getting Forrest Fyres to D12-adoring kids wont be easy at least not without a bit of swift divine intervention.
If its meant to work, he says, God will make it so.
For more information, visit swiftymcvaysfyredapartment.com.
Kahn Davison is a freelance writer. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.