Denaun Porter has been a key part of Eminem's sound since the very beginning. The producer and rapper was not only an original member of Shady's group D12 (using the name Mr. Porter); he also played a key part in making the Detroit superstar's very first album, 1996's Infinite.
Porter went on to produce for 50 Cent, Xzibit, Pharoahe Monch, and many more, and released solo projects as well. But he reconnected with his old pal Marshall for the creation of Em's upcoming album, Revival, out Dec. 15. I called up Denaun to get the inside scoop on how the project was made.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
I wanted to start with what we already know about Revival. Yesterday, Complex talked to Phresher about “Chloraseptic,” and he described it as this real, coming-for-your-head, aggressive song. I know that's one of the ones you produced. How would you describe it?
I think the most standout part about it is, it's a very creative approach to today's—I don't even wanna call it "club music," but you know, the standard. The one thing that I can say is that it's probably one of my favorite beats that I made on there. A favorite song that I've ever produced, for sure. That's because I sell music to people. But when you're able to give an idea to somebody's that's current…
If I'm working with any other artists, if I make that beat April of 2017, it might be so far ahead of its time that somebody'll hear it and go crazy over it three, four years later. That's a very tough thing to do, you know? So “Chloraseptic” is right now. It's a great approach, man. Not to be winded, I'm sorry. [laughs]
Were you around when Phresher recorded his part in New York?
Yeah, I went. I was around a lot for this album. I came back to Detroit, in a sense, to record it with him. Because I was in California for the most part.
So when Phresher did his part, I flew to New York. I actually did the session with him. We actually did two different versions of the hook.
Was there was this distinct beginning point to working on the album? Did Em or someone tell you, "I want to work on an album, and I want you there?" Was it that formal?
No, it wasn't. In the beginning of the process, I had been gone. I just missed working with him in that capacity, because through the years, I've been doing my own thing. He had started a project, I came home, and it was a couple of things that contributed to me staying. I just was like, "Man, you know what, this album..." I told him I wanted to go back to where, "I'm making the music, you're writing the songs." You know what I mean? I wanted to just go back to have that feeling. I missed working with my friend.
What can you tell me about the overall sound, musically, of the album? Was there a story you were trying to tell with the beats you picked or sound you used?
No. It wasn't anything like that. It's hard to do that with artists, 'cause you don't wanna box 'em in. He had already started the project, and when I came back, I was really ready to jump in and help where I could. But it wasn't a particular sound. I think there are some elements or things that we used when working together, but it wasn't a particular sound. It was just the feeling, you know?
I missed working with my friend.
What role did Em have in the production?
Oh, I mean, he always is involved. Any album, if you look, he's credited for doing a lot of things. His involvement is always there. He picks the songs and what he wanna do. But nothing out of the ordinary. He produces a couple of records, and he sometimes co-produces records. But he's done that all along. It's no different here. It was just regular Marshall. [laughs]
In a typical session for this, who would be in the room? You and him, anyone else? An engineer?
As far as working? Well, I guess it's okay to say at this point. My idea was I just wanted him to feel comfortable. It was just kind of getting into the mode. When you're recording a project, you might record two albums worth of material, or you might record an album's worth of material and then break that down.
I just wanted to see him in a great creative space, so Mark Batson and Emile Haynie [were there]. I called Paul [Rosenberg] and was like, "Hey, we're gonna go in with a team behind him." Just to mix it up a little bit. And the team was, to me, a very flawlessly picked team. Not to toot my own horn, but they were the perfect guys to team up with to do it, because we all had different talents. That was the main thing; it was just good. Man, I wish I could tell you more about it [laughs], but that's why I think it was a good idea, and I'm glad I brought that idea to him.
From my understanding, you produced three of the songs. What can you tell me about "Untouchable"?
That was a collaboration effort, and the crazy part is...well, I can't tell you everything about this song, but [laughs] it was a collaborative effort.
It started off with an idea Em had, and he's really good at that. Sometimes he'll have an idea and say, "Oh, okay, let's just work this out." So he brought this idea, and was like, "Yo, I always wanted to do this," and he just built from there. And it turned into...we can come back to it at a later date. It's a really good story behind that song.
"Walk On Water" was the first single off the album. Something that really struck me about it was how Em's vocals were recorded. They're recorded so raw, almost amateur-sounding—intentionally, obviously. What can you tell me about that?
That's another great story to tell. [laughs] I think Rick [Rubin] played the song. Paul may have sent it to him. It was a Skylar Grey idea. Something happened with her where, I didn't even think it was possible, but her pen game got even better.
The way it turned out was Beyoncé on it, which is one of the suggestions I made. I can't even, let's not talk about it. [laughs] But he did the vocals like that 'cause he wanted to have this certain feeling. It should sound in-your-face, real. The whole point of that record is, think about the hook: "I walk on water / But I ain't no Jesus." So people pray today, and then when they get what they asked for, they still ain't happy. I think that's the most selfish thing that people can do.
Nobody's a fan anymore, everybody's an expert. Period. You can't put out a song without being critiqued. People ask for love and then get it and it's not even enough, or they don't treat it right. If you ask for a toy, you're leaving it in the middle of the street. So that song is like, "Look. There's nothing I can do that's going to make you happy. You can't make everybody happy." So he wanted to sound very raw and bare and truthful, and that's what it sounds like.
Speaking of criticism, even before the album is out, I saw some critiques of the tracklist. People were saying, "Where's Royce? Where's Westside Gunn? There's no real rappers. It's just pop singers." Do you have any response to that line of criticism?
[Sighs] You know, again, people aren't happy. Whatever you do, they're not gonna be happy with it. And once they're made their mind up to not be something, you can't worry about it.
'Cause that's a handful of people who feel like that. The internet is a very broad place, and the people that got time to sit there and comment all of those things, they probably do that all day. That's not the only thing that they comment on. [laughs] So I don't know, man. I didn't expect that much criticism. I just look at it like, "Oh, these are people that got nothing to do."
You've spent so much time working with rappers, but when you're working with singers the caliber of someone like a Beyoncé or a Pink, what is that like?
I mean, with something like that...first of all, a Beyoncé, she knows exactly what she's trying to do. She's just pow, pow, pow. [laughs] Same thing with Alicia Keys. Alicia's a brilliant mind. These artists are who they are because of their talent already.
I'm a fan of Kehlani. I'm lookin' forward to working with someone like that because she's so new, and it's this raw talent. I love working with new artists, moreso. Because established artists, they know exactly what they wanna do.
Now, the great part is when they get in the same room and start working on things, and then the idea turns into something else. The art of working with people is what we lost, and it's just great to see that happen with some artists. The difference, though, is that an artist as big as Beyoncé or Alicia or even Rihanna, they have a way of doing things and that's what they do, and you go to them because you know what they do. That's the big difference. They know what the hell they wanna do.
Everything about this project, including the fact that it even existed, was top secret during most of its creation. With something that secret, how do you get feedback? Who do you play works in progress for, to get a sense of what people think?
That's a very good question. There was definitely inspiration between the collective—me and Mark Batson and Marshall and Emile. Everybody is respected differently in the game, you know? It's already a lot of minds in that room. It's a lot of incredible ideas in the room.
But I think what you do is you trust yourself. There's a lot of faith that you put into any project that big. You gotta put your faith into it. For people that, that's what they do. You can't worry about them when you're creating. I'm not gonna think about a brand when I'm making a song —that's not how I work. So I'm not gonna think about a fan, you know?
I always say this to anybody. Any artist out there that is struggling with the thought of listening to what their fans want, listen: You gained fans when nobody knew who you was. You made the decision to pick songs, you knew what songs you was gonna put out, you knew who you wanted to be to the world. You may have grown in front of this crowd, but you still got the attention of millions of people without that pressure. It's pressure to put an album out. I'm making it 'cause I believe that the fans who are fans, they're already there. So the approval in that room is enough.
Without getting into too many specifics, how is Revival different from or similar to other Eminem albums?
Well, let's see. Me, as Mr. Porter the producer, the way that I hear things is totally different than the way that the powers that be do. I trust myself as a producer.
I think it's better than the previous record. I'd put my money with that. I believe in this album completely, and not just for my contributions. You're getting a lot of different versions of who Em is. A lot of the things that people love about him, they get a piece of every one of them on this album, that's what I would say.
One other big thing that Em did recently was the BET Awards rhyme, which you were there for the taping of. What was that like?
It was cool. [laughs] It was work, but it was cool. I liked the thought of people not knowing what he's gonna say, you know?
What was it like to see that instantaneous reaction?
[laughs] Aw, man. I mean, there were some reactions that were like, "Oh my god, what the fuck?" just amongst the camp ourselves. 'Cause we're like anybody—he ain't calling nobody and telling 'em what he's gonna say. That's the surprise. But it was obviously a great experience.
Is there a tour coming up?
I don't know. I think we're crossing bridges as we get to 'em. The first one I wanna get to is get this shit out. I got, right now, a list: This [Royce da] 5’9” album to finish and my own album to finish. I've literally been sneaking to make songs in between. I might go to work with Em early, and then by 6 or 7, I'm at the other studio with Royce, and I'm still trying to figure out how to make songs for myself. I haven't slept in a year and half. [laughs] I kid you not about that.
I believe it. How far along are those other two projects, your album and Royce's?
It's funny, because I wanted both of those to come out around the same time, and it looks like that's gonna happen. I'm literally putting finishing touches on Royce's album right now. That one I'm executive producing all the way through, me and S1 and Royce. It's gonna be an interesting time. The album is in-fucking-sane. And mine is really shaping up to be...I'm happy with it. I'm finally happy with putting out a full body of work.
Anything else you wanna tell us about what you're up?
You'll see some acting. I just started working with this guy out of Virginia, Dennis Shuler, and we started doing comedy shorts. I've been working on that along with these albums. So I'm super busy. [laughs]
No wonder you haven't slept!
But I'm having fun with that, because in between songs that I release, there are these comedy shorts that we're writing, and they're coming out so funny, man. I'm having fun doing that. I'm just enjoying life completely.