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"I think that all three of us probably had that mentality to some degree just like, 'Yo, we don't know anything else,'" Mathers says. "This is what we know. All we know is music; it's all we love and are passionate about. So, I think that, I mean I, for sure, was like, 'I don't have nothing else if I don't do this.' There's nothing else I would even care about doing."
The crew also says that they're a lot more understanding these days, attaining a level of maturity and sobriety that keeps Mathers from punching people out. But then, they note, their asshole filters are also a lot better, which helps.
Detroit hip-hop, says Royce, is "more advanced than when we were younger. Kids have a lot more opportunities to get on, I think. We started off where we were just fighting to get on the radio, and I see Detroit showing a lot more support than when we first started. To hear a song on the radio by Dej Loaf and Big Sean, people like that ... [to know] they're working or they have opportunities. I think they're growing here. I feel like Detroit always had some of the illest emcees."
"We've always had talent here," says Mathers. "But we've never really had the platform or the ability to — there's so many more outlets now with the Internet and things that these kids can create opportunities for themselves. Make a hot song and put it up. You can make a name like that. With us, when we were first coming up, it was like, if we don't get some kind of song on the radio here in Detroit, we're fucked."
"I think Detroit hip-hop today is really balanced," says Rosenberg. "I think that, when you look at the type of artists that are not just locally but are nationally recognized, you can get a good view of what's really here. You think about people like Eminem, Big Sean, Royce, Danny Brown, even Dej Loaf now, who's got some national radio play — that's a really broad spectrum of artists. It's great to see that. I think that Detroit's recognized as a scene now, and I think that back when we were first coming up, that was our goal: to make it recognizable as a scene, so I think we accomplished that.
"When people think about a Detroit emcee, I think the first thing they do is respect the idea, because they know it's going to be somebody who can really fucking rap," Rosenberg continues. "Someone who can come for your head and who's real, and it's not going to be any fake shit."
"And I don't think it's any particular style that they associate it with either," adds Royce. "Probably the closest that it's been since the Motown era just in terms of variety and notoriety, all the different moving parts. And the unity. Everybody's supporting each other as well. It's good right now."
"It's just hard, if not harder, to maintain something than it is to get it in the first place," advises Mathers. "When you struggle for so long and you worked so hard to get something, once you get it, you have to keep it. You can't slow down; you can't stop, you know what I'm saying? You have to work. Sometimes I feel like I work almost twice as hard to maintain it than I did to get it. Me, 15 years ago, I had to put myself in that mind frame to really remember or try to remember how I felt, but at the same time I feel like I work at least as hard to maintain, and I think we all do. To know that it's possible to have something last if you keep at it, you know. You can't just get it and be like, 'Oh, I've got it,' and try to put out one album and be like, 'I don't got to do shit now. I'll just coast through my next one' or whatever."
"That's how you don't make it to 15 years," adds Rosenberg.
"That part is cool," says Mathers. "Being able to be blessed to do that."
"Totally blessed," adds Porter.
We ask if, when they first met each other two decades ago, they thought they would be where they are today. They all laugh. "I had different goals," says Royce. "I probably, at that moment, wanted to have a better verse than somebody or something. 'Maybe I can out-rap Canibus one day,' or something," he laughs.
"Do you still think you're going to be able to out-rap Canibus one day?" asks Rosenberg.
"It's a toss-up," is Royce's answer, with a smile.
Back then, says Mathers, "it was whatever was going on at that moment and trying to be the best rapper that I could possibly be." His focus, he says, was on that.
"Your dreams get bigger after you do things," says Porter. "But what we wanted to do? It was a lot smaller."
"The goal was to not have to struggle and work regular jobs," says Mathers. "'Man, if we could just make a living. Just do some shows and get paid a couple hundred bucks a night or something, but do what we love to do.' And just make enough to just get by and make a decent living, that's all we really cared about."
"If I made what a painter makes and was getting paid what a painter made doing what I was doing, I made it," says Porter. "That was it."
"Hopefully what we've done is somewhat inspiring, you know?" says Rosenberg. "Marshall and I — I'm not from Detroit proper, but I'm from the Detroit suburbs, Marshall's from Detroit proper — we're just a couple of guys who really were extremely passionate about music and created this globally recognized brand from nothing. Hopefully people can see some inspiration in that and be inspired the way that Marshall and I were by things like Def Jam, by things like Aftermath, to be able to create their own version of that."
We ask how everyone first met, and the men get excited reflecting. "Eye-Kyu told me that Em needed some beats, and I had been doing beats for like, three or four months," says Porter.
"We found out, once we were introduced, that we pretty much grew up fucking five blocks from each other," says Mathers.
"I would walk past his house all the time to go to school," adds Porter.
"But we never knew each other," says Mathers.
Rosenberg asks if Proof had known both of them.
"I was skipping school at the time," says Porter, "and Proof came up to high school and he was like, 'Oh, man, this white boy came up here and out-rapped everybody.' And it was him!"
"Proof used to sneak me in the lunchroom sometimes," says Mathers with a sly smile. "We would go up to Osborn [High School] and I would rap in the lunchroom and battle."
It was kind of like a cypher, Porter explains.
"It was kind of like that," says Mathers, "but whoever had the best verse, Proof would put money on or whatever."
But Rosenberg has a slightly different take.
"Didn't he try the White Man Can't Jump trick with you?" he asks.
"He made a lot of money in school like that," laughs Porter.
"Proof saw White Man Can't Jump and used Em as Woody Harrelson to his Wesley Snipes," Rosenberg explains.
After so many years, the artists carry a demeanor of comfort, filled with gratitude for what they are achieving — gratitude especially for Detroit.
"I think we all really appreciate the support this city has given us throughout the years," says Rosenberg, "and we try to give back. We try to do things here that other cities don't get like when we go and do this tour that we did with Rihanna, we only did three cities and Detroit was one of them. Detroit's not the biggest market in the country, but we want to make sure we do stuff at home. We're always focused on doing stuff here, and we appreciate all the support that the city's given us, especially our fans."
"That's what we're thankful for," says Rosenberg. "Detroit."
And to that Mathers closes out our interview with an "Amen."