D12, formed in 1996 but hit the mainstream rap scene in the early 2000s. The supergroup consisting of Detroit rappers Eminem, Proof, Kon Artis, Swifty McVay, Kuniva and Bizarre, went on to release two hugely successful albums, before the untimely death of the group’s founder Proof in April 2006 put and end to their charge.
The remaining members of the group eventually went on to release solo albums and mixtapes without the addition of Eminem, who, by now, was recovering from his addictions and concentrating on his solo career. In 2018’s ‘Stepping Stone’, from the album Kamikaze Eminem, in a heartfelt open letter to the group, announced ‘it’s not goodbye to our friendship, but D12 is over.’ It was the nail in the coffin for the Dirty Dozen.
So, what happened next? Mr. Porter (Kon Artis) continued to produce music and support Eminem on tour, but the other members remained relatively quiet with their releases, struggling to make it back into the mainstream without their mentor. That is except for Bizarre.
Often rapping in his signature shower cap and featuring lyrics that warning labels were made for. His stage persona is a plus sized, larger than life character that is not for the faint hearted.
Young Rufus Johnson became known as Bizarre back in the 5th Grade. He used to sit at the back of the class, rapping under his breath. His teacher thought he was talking to himself and labelled him as ‘the bizarre kid.’ Thirty years later the name is still with him. But just how bizarre is Bizarre?
His outrageous lyrics and comedic video content, in which he can often be seen wide-eyed and topless, wearing wigs and surrounded by ‘little people’ whilst simultaneously gurning into the camera, have had hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube and those views aren’t slowing down.
I was now in a Zoom call with Bizarre. He was laid back in his chair with headphones on. A child’s painting of a butterfly behind him in the modestly furnished home. Occasionally drinking from a bottle of mineral water, he appeared happy and laughed a lot during the interview. It was clear I was talking to Rufus Johnson, not the character of Bizarre. There was no swearing from him. No rap diva antics.
Here was a father who also happened to be a very successful rapper. A man who was in one of the biggest rap groups in the world and one of Marshall Mathers’ closest friends.
Bizarre tells me he is unphased by lockdown and has taken the time out (whilst stuck in) to learn the studio from top to bottom. It’s a situation that has given him time to think and get hands-on in his home recording studio. Now, he is recording non-stop, “to keep me out of trouble,” he says. The rapper has been teasing new music on his social media pages and reveals he has a new album on the horizon.
“My next album Dumper Juice is out in August or September. I’ll have a single out on my birthday, July 5th. I’m taking it back to the old me, the deep voiced Bizarre from Attack of the Weirdos. Lots of real grimy beats on there, kinda like (Shady Records’) Griselda and (Eminem’s DJ) Alchemist type beats. There’s a lot of lyricism on this one.”
With Bizarre proudly showing off his young daughter on Instagram, fatherhood could have easily swayed his creative output but Bizarre reveals there is still very little he considers taboo. “I would never denounce God or Jesus. I think that would be going too far. I still say wild shit. But the world is more sensitive now than what it was 15 years ago.
“I try to keep it balanced. I look at Bizarre as a job and a character. I used to be kinda cautious of my output a little bit, when I first had my daughter, I tried to change my music. You can hear it in my albums. But then I realised that I’m Bizarre, this is who I am, it’s my character and I gotta be me.”
With such a vivid character playing a part in one’s life it must be difficult to differentiate between the two. But it’s not something that has affected his relationship with his daughter. “I think my daughter knows the difference between Bizarre and Daddy. I don’t think she even listens to my music. I think she heard too many rumours.”
With all his concentration focused on the studio, and hip-hop operating on such a dog eat dog basis, is there any new music that gets Bizarre going? He sits back in his chair and takes a sip from his water bottle before answering.
“My daughter always introduces me to new music. She doesn’t really like hip-hop. She likes Summer Walker and stuff. She put me on to Billie Eilish. I listen to a lot of her stuff now. I like this group called Alabama Shakes too” It would appear that Bizarre has opened up his palette to sample different delights..” In rap, I’ll listen to Lil Durk, Griselda, Lil Baby, that’s on my rotation right now but next week it’ll be different. I don’t have any heroes, but I look up to Scarface, Redman, Gangsta NIP, Ice Cube, N.W.A. LL Cool J— all legends.”
Bizarre spent five years of his life dying his hair red and it lended him the perfect name for his indie label Redhead. It’s a growing project and one that the rapper is always looking to add to: “Right now, I just had two artists sign. One is Danny Mellz, you gotta check him out. He’s a rapper from Detroit. He’s coming out soon. He has a single out now called Johnny Copeland. I also have a 17-year-old singer called Harlem. She’s from Baltimore and she’s dope.”
D12 started at the bottom of Detroit’s rap underground before eventually becoming stars in mainstream hip-hop. It’s a moment of hip-hop history which will continue to be revered as a pivotal moment in music for years to come. “When we were younger, we basically hit up every Open Mic Night that Detroit had to offer: The Hip Hop Shop, The Rhythm Kitchen, and others, all the different rap outlets. We blew up.
“It was cool, I’ve got a lot of memories, done a lot of travelling,” those memories don’t always crystalise however. “It’s kinda like a blur because it all happened so fast. Our careers took off and we did so much touring and moving around. I kinda forget a lot of the stuff. It was cool though: a fun blur. All the travelling, a different city every day, staying in nice hotels, all the fans showing love, D12 giving a good show.”
While entirely intoxicating, the touring game can put pressures on your life offstage. “I like touring. I’ve missed it. It was hard though, being away from your family and trying to eat healthy. It’s so easy to eat crap when touring, but I had a nice balance between tour life and family life. I can’t wait to get back on the road. I’ll come to the U.K when all this shit clears up too.”
Bizarre is outwardly proud when he lists his achievements. Sitting up straight and looking me right in the pixelated eyes, he tells the story of how his newfound fame enabled him to leave his roots in his hometown of Detroit, which ‘ranks as the 2nd most violent big city in America.’: “I got out the hood. I live in Atlanta now. So, getting away from Detroit is an achievement. Also letting the whole world hear my talent. D12 appeared at the MTV Awards, the Grammys, all those award shows are my accomplishments. Plus, there was the show we did in Ireland. I think we played to 150,000 people. That might be the biggest show we did. They love us over in the U.K.”
Over the years, Bizarre has worked with some of the biggest names in hip-hop, but it was when he joined forces with legendary horrorcore rapper King Gordy, performing as L.A.R.S (Last American Rock Stars,) that he truly felt at home. “It was something that King Gordy wanted to do for a long time. We always talked about doing a project together, but we never had the time. I was always either on tour or working on a D12 or solo project or something.
“Finally, this opportunity came about where we could put this L.A.R.S album out on Majik Ninja Entertainment. People had been wanting it for years, so we knocked it out. Gave them what they want real quick. It was a one album deal.” Though that certainly wasn’t because of any ill-feeling between him and Gordy. “I love working with King Gordy, He’s my boy, man. He’s like my little brother. He’s an extended part of my family. We have been working together for like 10 years plus, that’s the homie, man.”
Before our conversation was to come to an end, I asked Bizarre, who had gone against the grain all his life, battling with demons and life on the streets of Detroit. A man who had survived the disbanding of the rap group he became synonymous with and made a name as a solo artist, if he had any words for anybody coming up in a similar position. “Just grind, man. You control your career; you don’t need a label behind you.
“You don’t need that shit anymore; you can promote yourself. Feed the fanbase you have whether its 30 or 30,000 fans. Let them grow, interact with them. Get on social media and talk with them, post shit. Treat it like your brand. It’s like a flower, plant the seed and it will grow. With social media, you need even need to wait for a release date, you can put it out today if you want to. It’s dope, man. People don’t realise how much control they have.”
As Bizarre announced that he had to go to pick his daughter up from school, he wished me a happy birthday and said one final, refreshing goodbye. Seeing him away from his character and in an intimate setting was, although a little confusing, ultimately rewarding.
Bizarre may not have been the loud, brash man in a shower cap that has entertained me in his videos, no. He was himself. That was even better.