by | Feb 25, 2009 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

They say the first stage of grief is denial. And at the funeral of the rapper Proof, some folks were apparently in severe denial – about what he contributed, the world he celebrated or their own part in the culture of violence that killed him.

Let’s begin with Proof himself (legal name Deshaun Holton), who died not serving his country or saving a child but after a Detroit bar fight at 4:30 in the morning. Although police say his last act on Earth was pistol-whipping then shooting another man – before he himself was shot and killed – Proof was nonetheless hailed at his funeral for his friendship, his aura and, ironically, his love of people.

And his music, which includes these lyrics:

You got a gun on your waist, I got (one too)

Or this:

We gon’ ride till the wheels fall off Or God wanna kill us off (gun sound) I don’t duck when you pop that gat.

Love of people?

‘We’re killing each other’

One of the rappers who spoke at the funeral last week was Obie Trice, a member of the circle that includes Eminem and the group D12.

Trice, according to published reports, told mourners: “I wanna talk to the black men in here that’s coming up in the hood. … We’re killing each other, dawg. And it’s about nothing. Nothing. Nothing.”

Powerful words. But they’d carry more weight if Obie Trice didn’t make his money recording songs with lyrics like these:

I got a 12 gauge Mossberg

to pump up your chest Have you gasping for air after

that shell hit your vest Fear me like you fear God

cause I bring death

Or this:

You back on the streets? I send another hit at you This is not a hypocritical issue I will critical condition your tissue

And then there’s Eminem, the biggest star in Detroit’s rap universe. He spoke of Proof, his best friend, with understandable grief. I don’t doubt they were close.

But Eminem himself has recorded songs about killing his wife, stuffing her in the trunk and driving her to the beach to dump her, with his young daughter in car. And in real life he has been arrested for brandishing guns during confrontations.

Does all this stuff not count?

Intersection of art and real life

Look, every guy is a great guy at his funeral. And your friends always are going to see the best in you.

But when you enter the public stage, you are judged by your actions on that stage. I would love to have my pals race to defend me anytime I write or broadcast something disagreeable, but it doesn’t work that way. What you do is what they remember.

What Proof and other rappers do – not all the time, but too much to ignore – is glorify guns, violence and attitude, the kind of attitude that escalates an argument into a deadly encounter.

You can’t suddenly decry that in a church when you’ve been making money from it out on the streets.

If the mourners saying “stop the violence” are serious, they’ll begin with their own lyrics. And maybe we in the Detroit media should be less mesmerized by the fame of our hometown rappers and more critical of how that fame is achieved.

Finally, for those who say the thug image is just part of rap’s “art,” it’s role-playing, why don’t I know the difference – well, I do. Here’s the difference.

A bullet.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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