DETROIT – Proof went out like a bad man in a ballad.
He died with pistols blasting after a pool game fight in an after-hours joint and was carried in a coffin gleaming like gold to the graveyard by two white horses.
Deshaun Dupree Holton’s trip, from uniformed Catholic school boy to mega rapper Proof to slaying suspect – police say he pistol-whipped and shot an unarmed man in the face before being gunned down himself – was a rocketing ride that ended Wednesday.
A complex man, those who knew him said he could flash new personas like a magician pulling cards from thin air.
He could be a charming ambassador for the city; a smooth, sly rhymester; a loving family member; a best friend.
He could also be a public brawler and a combative drunk. He could be the glib running buddy of a very serious gangster.
“Maybe he is like Detroit, so many sides, some good and nice and some otherwise,” said Danialle Karmanos, who produced a Detroit-boosting video featuring Proof for this year’s Super Bowl.
“Our experience was just so positive,” she said. “We didn’t know his world. But he rose above his circumstances and clearly there was more to him than that. He was smart, articulate, bright and profound.”
But it was Proof, according to Detroit police, who shot first on the morning of April 11, firing into the face of Keith Bender Jr., a 35-year-old Desert Storm veteran, during a fight at the C.C.C. club on 8 Mile, hours after the bar was supposed to close. Authorities say Bender’s cousin, Mario Etheridge, then fired on Proof, 32, killing the rapper as he stood over Bender.
Amid the grief surrounding Proof’s death, fellow rapper Obie Trice – himself shot in the head in a New Year’s Eve incident – decried the deaths as being “about nothing. Nothing. Nothing,” echoing the old Recorder’s Court jargon for a senseless slaying as “shoobie-do, ain’t nothing about nothing.”
Mourners recalled Proof as a skateboarding scamp, a cherished cousin, a dear brother, a friend full of love, a husband and father of five children, and a bold and brash authentic Detroit voice.
Law enforcement officials, however, were aware of an altogether different man.
Proof had his connections – Eminem, the rap group D12 – but they didn’t stop there.
He was an associate of Thelmon Stuckey III, a music producer and murderous cocaine dealer, for one. It was Proof on a 1997 Stuckey CD, rapping a warning that “If a snitch lip slips, in time he’s in a ditch,” a year after Stuckey killed a man he suspected of talking to the law.
“Although it is unfortunate that a life has been lost, that he died a violent death really comes as no shock,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney J. Michael Buckley, who sent Stuckey to prison for life without parole in 2004 for murdering a suspected snitch.
Buckley said he’d heard the tributes to Proof’s positive aspects, “but the court records indicate otherwise.”
Proof’s attorney David Gorosh and Interscope, his recording label, did not respond to questions about his scrapes with the law.
Testifying in a 1998 hearing to sentence Stuckey for a federal firearms violation, Proof said it was he, and not his pal, who was carrying a gun because of rumored threats.
He said he and Stuckey, whose wardrobe included orange and blue mink outfits and crocodile skin ensembles, were passing out fliers near some west side clubs for a music show when they spotted a suspicious car.
“So as he say, “Pass the heater,’ I gave him a heater – the heater, which is a 9-mm Ruger, black and two clips,” Proof testified.
What was Proof doing with a gun? the prosecutor wondered.
“Well, I’m not even a gun-toting type of person,” Proof answered. “It’s the situation I had here. I was – I was like forewarned by a man I call Uncle Norman.”
Proof said he handed over the gun, but once shots started flying, he testified he was “in the wind,” explaining: “I’m running dramatically, heart beating fiercely, upset, scared.”
Buckley noted that Proof appeared in public on several occasions wearing a “Free Stuckey” T-shirt.
This week, in an upbeat tribute in Proof’s funeral program, Stuckey said, “You don’t have to worry about warrants now!”
If his testimony flowed like blank verse, it wouldn’t surprise Cynthia Latson , a manager with Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment in Hollywood, who knew Proof when he was Deshaun and a fellow elementary student at Gesu School: “I’d see him in Mr. Walker’s office, for detention,” she said.
“But seriously, he was a great kid, fun and full of energy. He was always writing in his rhyming notebook. He told us he was going to be a rapper and we were, “Yeah, right.’ Well, I guess he showed us.”
The son of Detroit musical producer McKinley Jackson, Motor City music ran through Proof’s veins.
Proof left Catholic school and enrolled at Osborn High School, and by his own accounts, he often ditched school. While running the streets he met another music-mad teenager, Marshall Mathers III.
They partnered up, and Proof later told how he’d sneak Mathers into the predominately black school’s lunchroom.
Mathers said it was Proof who helped him become Eminem and create the Slim Shady character.
Along the way, Proof morphed through several groups and characters like 5-Elementz, Goon Sqwad and Dirty Dozen, which became D12.
Local DJ Hush, who met Proof and Eminem in the mid “90s in venues such as St. Andrew’s Hall, said Proof was always ready to help other performers tighten their acts and polish presentations. But, Hush said, Proof wasn’t someone who renounced his origins after stardom.
“He was many people,” Hush said. “He was Proof, a straight-up MC. There was Derty Harry, a rough character he could slip into. And there was Deshaun Holton.”
But Hush said Proof remained grounded: “He said his number was still good and that means you could call him where he’d always been.”
He also said Proof was a generous teacher, “fun, outgoing, respectful, and all he cared about was Detroit music.”
“Nobody really knows what went down, but I know my friend wouldn’t ever, ever, ever pull a pistol out on an unarmed man,” Hush said. “No. That’s completely out of character.”
But Proof had several encounters with Dearborn police.
In November 2002, police confiscated a 10-mm pistol and ammunition that a maid found in his room at the Ritz-Carlton.
Ten months later, Proof was on the ground and in handcuffs after he swung at an officer investigating a complaint about a disruptive drunk – a follow-up call said there could be a pistol wrapped in a towel inside the car – outside a Michigan Avenue bar. Reports said Proof was “extremely intoxicated, slurring words and smelling of intoxicants” and refusing repeated pleas to get in his Cadillac and leave.
The next month, he was sentenced to two years of probation and paid $1,260 in fines and costs for being a disorderly person.
In February 2004, police said Proof and some companions got into a fight at TGI Fridays in Dearborn, reportedly jumping a man after taunting him and his date. Witnesses said Proof grabbed the man from behind as his companions beat the man to the floor.
Proof eventually took – and failed – a polygraph test about the incident.
He pleaded no contest to misdemeanor assault and battery in February 2005 and was sentenced to 20 days on a work program plus six months of probation and assessed $1,620 in fines and costs.
With extraordinary agility, Proof was able to dance between the Detroit free-styling rap scene and 8 Mile bars and the Detroit of a glittering comeback Super Bowl city. Proof ended his performance at the C.C.C. long after closing hours.
The city’s big-time booster was the Proof that Karmanos said she was keeping out front, even as an associate wondered whether he should be edited out of the promotional video.
“Absolutely not,” she said.
He stepped up for Detroit, she said: “There’s no way I’d take him out.”
(c) 2006, Detroit Free Press.
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