Denaun Porter was celebrating his birthday last week when “Untouchable,” one of three songs he produced for Eminem’s new album “Revival,” hit the internet.
“I didn’t know they were putting it out,” says Porter, confirming the high levels of secrecy surrounding the project. By the time he looked online and saw a post discussing the song the following day, it had already logged 1,000 comments.
“I started reading them, then I had to stop,” says Porter, who is extremely wary of social media. “Too many people was talking. I saw the conversation was being had, and that was the purpose of the song, for people to start having a conversation. That was enough.”
Porter has been Eminem’s collaborator for years, going back to Em’s pre-fame 1996 debut album, “Infinite.” On stage, Porter is Em’s right-hand man, a slot he filled after the 2006 death of DeShaun “Proof” Holton. And he’s a member of Em’s clique D12, in which he rapped as Kon Artis and produced several of the group’s songs.
The affiliation with Em has yielded Porter huge successes, but it has also taken its toll on his personal life. While he is as confident in his abilities as ever, he knows better than to wade into the minefield of an online comments section.
As long as he makes Eminem proud, he’s good.
“The only people I ever tried to impress in this game were Marshall and Proof,” says Porter, speaking this week from a Birmingham recording studio. “I’m still doing the same thing that I was trying to do as a kid. That was my first thing, to try and make sure they were impressed. And those are the people I look up to, still.”
These days, the stakes are higher than they were back then. Porter was in a Los Angeles control room earlier this year with Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, Rick Rubin and Em previewing “Revival” tracks when ears in the room started perking up.
“The songs where they stood up and said, ‘Who did that? Who did that?’ Em said, ‘Oh yeah, Naunny did that,’
Naunny is taking his wins in stride these days. The 43-year-old rapper, songwriter and producer has spent the last few years working on his confidence, getting over himself and learning to trust his instincts.
A year and a half ago, Porter was living in Los Angeles. He had left Detroit several years earlier after finding himself in a depressive state following the death of Proof, who was killed in a shooting at an after-hours nightclub. Porter had recorded several solo albums but never released them, thinking they were never quite right. Despite his successes in the music industry — two platinum albums with D12, producer of hit singles for 50 Cent (“P.I.M.P.”) and G-Unit (“Stunt 101”) — his confidence was shaky.
“I still wasn’t what I wanted to be,” Porter says.
A combination of negative factors were clouding his head space. He began taking his health seriously, curbed his partying and entered into a relationship, all of which helped his mental health and his happiness. And he stopped running away from Detroit.
He was convinced to move back home by Royce da 5’9,” another close friend and collaborator of Eminem’s. Em was beginning work on what would become “Revival,” and Porter stepped up and built a team around Eminem to help foster his creative process.
He enlisted Mark Batson, a producer and songwriter who in addition to Eminem has worked with Alicia Keys and Dave Matthews Band, and Emile Haynie, whose credits include Lana Del Rey and Eminem. The three of them would be Em’s go-to guys in the studio on a day-to-day basis during the making of the album.
“I wanted to make this team and just work around (Em),” Porter says. “I didn’t care if we were fixing songs that he had already worked on. It didn’t matter. I didn’t want him to worry about production as much. I wanted him to just write and hear music and be around people that he knows and that he’s comfortable around and just make it a change of scenery for him. And it worked.”
Porter has production credits on three songs on the new album. Overall, he saw his role as a Rick Rubin-type, someone who helps create a vibe and set a tone for an artist during the formation of a project. It’s a role he’d like to continue in, whether its working with artists he knows — Porter is producing Royce’s next album, due in early 2018 — or new artists looking to establish themselves.
One of the artists Porter focusing on these days is himself. He’s working on songs for an upcoming solo project, and this week he recorded covers of several Christmas songs, including “The Christmas Song” and “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” that he plans to distribute to friends and family for the holidays. He may even release them commercially.
It’s part of new leaf he’s turning over: Stop harboring music, trust his process and believe in himself.
“It’s just me letting go,” Porter says. “I can’t just say I have faith, I’ve gotta walk by it, too. I think I’ve done it in other areas of my life, I just need to do it with this.”