Detroit’s dirty dozen, D12, formed in the mid-’90s and released their full-length debut album, Devils Night. after founding member Eminem had already achieved mainstream success. For years, Em was the only member making noise in the industry with his solo projects. That was until fellow member Kon Artis decided to try his luck at a solo career.
A man of many aliases and talents, Kon Artis aka dEnAuN aka Mr. Porter was surprised by the early success of his debut solo album. Last month, the rapper dropped the eight-track EP Stuff In My Backpack with features from Rapsody, Royce Da 5’9″ and Phonte. Brooklyn Radio’s Lara Gamble was able to score some time with the rapper and learned his first career choice wasn’t music but we can already expect a follow-up to his EP before the end of the year. Can we say made for this?
What is your earliest memory of hip-hop?
“Push It Along.” A Tribe Called Quest’s “Push It Along.”
What inspired you to pursue music as a career?
It would be “Bonita Applebaum.”
I’m guessing you love Tribe.
Yeah, that was it. I was like, “Okay, I want to take it serious.”
So, you’re like, “They’re doing this. I wanna do this.”
I want to be just like them. I want to steal everything they’re doing. I was rapping the lyrics in the mirror. All of that.
So, I’ve interviewed a lot of artists that came up in Detroit. What is it about your city that provokes such a high level of creativity?
I don’t know, you know. I’m still trying to figure that out. For some reason, we’ve got a real good talent pool. I think the competition or the competitive nature of everybody there in itself is motivating. It motivates you to want to be better, you know?
I think it started with just the creative nature and everybody wanting to be better. It’s like the crap in the bucket theory and sometimes, you know, you’ll stay up longer than the next person to try to out rhyme them or out rap them or out sing them. It’s just a real competitive thing there.
Do you feel like the city influences your style?
You know, from coming up in the rough side of it, I came up in on the rougher side, so me being A Tribe Called Quest fan was like awkward for my upbringing. And I think that’s why it spoke to me more so because it was my truer nature. I knew how to fight, and I knew how to protect myself and things like that, but I didn’t want to talk about being shot.
I didn’t want to lie. I was more ashamed of the fact that I went through that and I sent my parents through that, being shot and the rougher side of it. I would say that that just spoke to me more, and I gravitated towards it. I didn’t speak about the hardness of the city ‘cause I lived it, so I wanted to get out of it and get away from it.
Did you grow up in a musical household?
Yeah, definitely, but it wasn’t my first choice. My first choice was playing ball, playing football, and then I figured out, I was like “I don’t even care. As long as I make it to the NFL, I’ll sit on the bench.” I didn’t care. As long as I could take care of my mother like that. I was brought up in that household, definitely, but it wasn’t the first choice. I fell into it after all of the drama.
Everyone knows you as an original member of D12. How do you think working with those guys has led you to where you are today?
Learning experiences. I think everything you learn from. I learned a lot like how to handle business better. Just from mistakes that I made representing myself. I had to learn the business side of it because when you’re in a group, you’re not necessarily open to it. You’re affected by a lot it like stuff like publishing and things like that.
But I had to learn the ways of just how to deal with it for my own self because when you make a deal as a group, it includes you as an individual. And me, being that I was doing other things, I had to learn stuff and figure out a way, just advice for me to get outside of that because a lot that business was made for the group, not for me individually. So, it taught me how to care more about my business and pay attention.
When did you start working on your solo debut Stuff In My Backpack?
It was right around the tour, right around the Monster Tour. I had a lot of those songs. I was working on an album at the same time, and I decided to make that a theme because those songs were the first songs that I started messing with when I was thinking about the idea for the album. So, I would say it was the Monster Tour was when it really started to come together.
So, the album dropped on May 7. Are you pleased with its reception?
Yeah! Very! I didn’t know what to expect, but I don’t have expectations of a lot of stuff. I don’t think anybody owes me anything, so any positive response is, shoot, that’s a plus. It was positive responses. I’ve seen nothing but positive, and the negative things that I’ve seen was more so, you know, maybe something that people didn’t understand, like the artwork. I didn’t go for traditional, perfect artwork.
I was looking for something that represented that time, and that’s why the artwork has an older feel to it. It wasn’t like fancy, photoshop-y, you know, but it was an artist that did it. He’s like a graffiti artist that paints. So, that’s why I went with that. I didn’t see anything negative. I’m so happy with it. I didn’t expect it to go and reach all the people that it reached. I was just putting it out, and I didn’t expect all that.
How did you go about choosing the guest emcees and producers like Pharoahe Monch, Rapsody, Phonte and Brandon Williams?
To start, they’re all good friends of mine. They’re people that I respect musically, and I felt that they all…like Brandon is a guy that produces. He’s actually a musician. So, him being a musician and somebody that I learned—in particular, I’m learning to play keys and play bass and play drums. And these are people I associate myself with. Great musicians.
So, his involvement was just like, I worked on his album, on a song for his album, and I wanted him involved. Phonte is like one of my favorite emcees just like Pharoahe and Royce is. So, I just chose people that I felt I could make a great song with, not just doing songs to do them, you know? I didn’t want to make the mistake of, “Oh, yeah. Well, you know, you gotta have features!” No you don’t. If I can’t hold a song or make a song without a feature, I’m not an artist. So, they just fit. They fit the mold to what I was trying to do.
What’s the story behind the album’s title?
I mean, I started out, like the first question you was asking about, what was my first impression of hip-hop. I started off…I’m a backpack rapper by nature in that just more so real hip-hop, like true to it, not staying true to it. Because N.W.A. was true hip-hop to me, but that’s just my era where it impacted my life, and it helped me stay out of the street, and it helped me have a vision for something better for myself.
Everything in that backpack but the Yoda that’s there – that represents wisdom. But I’m also a comic book, Star Wars, space cadet fan. I’m just that person. So, the backpack is like everything. I don’t care if I make a pop song. It’s gonna have that element because that’s me. I have so many things I can do. It’s just weird. That’s my baggage. Everybody carries baggage. It represents a lot of things for me, you know?
What does the rest of this year for you? Are you going to tour?
I’m working on a song for Marshall right now. I’m working with Em on something right now and a great opportunity. Man, this project opened a door for me doing something else. I’m working on that right now, and I’m working on my daughter’s EP. And the only other thing outside of that, the N.W.A. movie, I did some work on a song for that.
Only other thing I’m really excited about is just the EP with my daughter. And I’m working on, I don’t know if you’re familiar, with Marv One. He’s a battle rapper, but I signed him. It was the only other person that I felt was somebody that was able to take battle rappin’ to a different level, and I think that Marv embodies that. He’s so true to who he is. He’s a super emcee to me, and I’m working on that EP.
That’s so fucking cool about your daughter.
They start young. Just to see your kid want to…to see the influence. I didn’t know how much my influence would be, but she’s forming to be an emcee, and she don’t want anybody in the studio. She wants to write everything. She wants to create a song. She wants to really embody the whole workload. She’s really scary dope. She’s better than me when it comes to rapping. I could tell you that. Definitely better than me.
Is there anything else that you want to add or promote?
Just those things. Those are the main things that I’m working on. My album is coming out towards the end of the year, I believe. And it’s called NiNe.
A new one? Like a follow-up?
Also, I’m an awesome cook. I’m cooking salmon right now.
Look at you.
Yup, I do that. I’m trying to figure out something I can’t do. Well, skydiving, I’ll never do that. But everything else….
You don’t really need talent to do that. That’s just kind of being stupid.
Exactly! It’s stupid. That’s what I don’t get.