Denaun Porter empties his 'Backpack,' finds himself

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Denaun Porter is starting over.

"This is the beginning for me," says Porter, the rapper and producer who has been a fixture in Detroit's rap community for 15-plus years. He's a founding member of D12, a successful beatmaker (among his credits are 50 Cent's "P.I.M.P.," G-Unit's "Stunt 101" and songs for Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes and scores of other rappers) and since 2009 he's been Eminem's on-stage hypeman at concerts and festivals around the world.

But now the 36-year-old is hitting the refresh button on his career and kicking off his long-in-the-works solo career. His debut EP, "Stuff in My Backpack," will be released Thursday, and comes after fits and starts of a solo career going back several years. In order to complete the set, he had to break out of a depressive funk that kept him in a defeated state.

"I didn't love myself," he says, on the phone Tuesday afternoon from New York. "I had to really work and start looking within, and I had to work on my own self-love. That was the start."

D12 — Porter's group with Eminem, Proof, Bizarre, Kuniva and Swifty McVay — shot to success upon Eminem's explosion onto the world stage and scored two No. 1 albums, 2001's "Devil's Night" and 2004's "D12 World." It also opened the doors for Porter to become a top-tier player among music producers; he also scored credits on Burt Bacharach's "Please Explain" and the Beyonce and Shakira duet "Beautiful Liar."

But despite his success, Porter felt unfulfilled.

"I sat down with Russell Simmons once, and he asked me if I was happy," Porter says. "I said, 'I think so?' He said, 'You're not happy.' "

That realization set off a journey of self-discovery for Porter, who at the time felt himself being pulled in a million directions career-wise. A lifelong superhero fan, his own awakening mirrored those of the characters in the comics he still loves today. He pared down his commitments, started working on projects to which he only felt a strong connection, and began working on his own material.

He recorded three or four albums worth of material before settling on the songs that make up "Stuff in My Backpack." Rather than the sometimes aggressive, sometimes goofy tone of D12, Porter's new material captures the early '90s hip-hop feel of A Tribe Called Quest.

"That's always where my heart was," says Porter, who admits to feeling "lost" with the music which with he found success. "What better way for me to start a solo career than where I started?"

"Stuff in My Backpack" is a soft start — it's only eight songs — but it's a start. And Porter's solo career is his top priority; while D12 recorded a new song for the recent compilation "Shady XV," there are currently no future plans for the group.

Porter, who hopes to eventually line up some live performances behind "Stuff in My Backpack," sees the EP as an important step in moving forward.

"This project is a segue into me as an artist," says Porter, who worked on music for the upcoming N.W.A. biopic "Straight Outta Compton." "This is a floodgate for me to drop a lot of songs."

And those songs could be any number of styles — old-school, new-school, or any school in between.

"The next project won't sound like 'Stuff in My Backpack,' " Porter says. "But you'll know it's me."

Denaun Porter

"Stuff in My Backpack"

Available Thursday