Rap fans tend to forget that Eminem, deep down, is an underground rapper to his core. At the time Em was trying to get into the rap game, Duck Down Music was one of the top independent rap labels (it still is).
“I can say one label that we really wanted to mess with that didn’t end up happening was Duck Down,” D12 member Bizarre explained in an interview. “He really wanted to be over there at Duck Down.”
Launched in 1994 by by Drew “Dru-Ha” Friedman and Kenyatta “Buckshot” Blake, Duck Down Music was originally a management company overseeing the careers Buckshot’s group Black Moon and Smif-N-Wessun.
After the underground buzz and critical acclaim generated by their debut albums, Enta da Stage and Dah Shinin’, Duck Down turned into a record label and signed a distribution deal with Priority Records.
It was also around this time that Em started coming up in the Detroit underground scene. “When we first saw Em we were like ‘yo, this dude is crazy’,” Buckshot recalled in an interview. “I started seeing Eminem murdered dudes in battles. I started following him. He murdered this one, that one, on stage, off top of his head, it was like, Jesus! He is that crazy.”
Dru-Ha linked up with Em and the two entered into discussions around 1997 about signing the rapper to Duck Down Music, but they had to get approval from Priority Records first.
“When we wanted to do a project before we had to go to Priority and present the project and ask for whatever we were looking for and it had to be either approved or not,” Dru-Ha explained. “The Em project, at the time, we didn’t get the approval for him.”
It wasn’t long after that Eminem signed with Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment and released his major label, debut, The Slim Shady LP, on February 23, 1999. The album sold 283,000 copies in its first week, debuting at number two on the Billboard 200 chart behind TLC’s FanMail, and went platinum a couple months later.
Dru-Ha: Very shortly after he got the deal with Interscope. Eminem, he wouldn’t be the Eminem of today that he is without, going back to what we were talking about earlier, the endorsement of Dr. Dre, it gave him instant MTV, it gave him instant audience, it gave him instant beats, it instantly gave him the west coast, it instantly gave him radio. But you have to be able to handle the endorsement. I don’t want to take anything away from him, I’m saying just because you get it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be able to live up to it and he more than lived up to it, he was an artist that deserved that spotlight and it just so happened that when it shined on him the world got to see the talent that he was. On Duck Down there was no way we would have been able to give him that light and people like us, the purists, the dudes that really listen to hip-hop, we’d have still recognized his talent and dudes still would have liked him, but who knows how his story would have gone. There’s a lot of dope MC’s out there that don’t blow up, or don’t blow up anywhere near the level that they should blow up.Dru Ha Interview Pt. 1 | RapReviews
Em was no longer an underground rapper, but he still had love for Duck Down Music, collaborating with Buckshot on “Don’t Front”, a bonus track off The Marshall Mathers LP 2, where he shouted the label out.
Word to Buckshot and Dru-Ha, why the fuck not? You don't like it? Suck a cock! Almost forgot Before I signed with the Doc, I almost signed with Duck Down! ‘Cause Rawkus didn't make no offers, so mothafuck Loud They jerked me around, so what's up now?