Searching for the spot light
Hip-hop survivor Obie Trice is ready for his close-up
“You got to be delusional to think Obie is losing,” Obie Trice jeers on “Wanna Know” off his sophomore album, Second Round's on Me. And he's right. Clearly, the man is not losing. Signed to Eminem's Shady Records, the Detroit rapper is a member of the highest profile, top-selling rap clique in the world. His skills are widely respected in the hip-hop community. His 2003 debut, Cheers, went platinum. He's collaborated with many of rap's top stars, including Diddy, Em, 50 Cent, Tupac Shakur, and the Notorious B.?I.?G. Second Round's on Me is one of the tightest, most power?ful albums to drop this year. With this laundry list of accomplishments, Obie is definitely not losing. Thing is, he isn't exactly winning either.
As XXL magazine recently pointed out, Obie is notorious for his bad luck. Cheers came out during the height of Fifty mania, guaranteeing that Obie's everyman rhymes would play second fiddle to 50's gangsta theatrics. But the misfortune doesn't end there. In fact, it gets worse. As Obie was busy preparing his long-awaited follow-up, he was shot in the head by an unknown assailant while driving on a Detroit freeway. Miraculously, he survived, but he now lives with a bullet lodged in his skull.
If that wasn't enough, the project hasn't gone smoothly. The video for his Akon-assisted banger “Snitch” was banned by MTV, which refuses to associate itself with the antipolice street code. Robbed of a visual for his most commercially viable single yet, Obie was forced to Plan B, filming videos for the curb anthem “Cry Now” and the dance-hall club joint “Jamaican Girl”. Neither has scored significant play.
Next, as Obie was revving up to promote the album, his cousin Proof of D12 was murdered. The loss was devastating to his personal life, and it left its mark on his career too. While O has been admirably unwilling to exploit the tragedy, this stance has left him in a strained position with the media—thwarting press attempts to sensationalize the drama, he's inevitably reduced himself to a footnote.
As a result, sales have been slow for Second Round's on Me, and there's been almost no media attention for the effort. People are seriously sleeping on Obie Trice, and it's a damn shame.
“It's out of my hands,” Obie says with a sigh, on the line from his hometown of Detroit. “It's the roll of the dice.”
He admits it's been that kind of year. “It's just been a lot of stress with the whole black cloud over the crew,” he says, “with Marshall getting a divorce after he just got married, me getting shot and almost killed New Year's Eve, and Proof's death.”
There's been a lot to process. When it comes to getting shot, Obie says he's had a range of emotions. “At times, I feel this sense of invincibility,” he offers. “Sometimes I be paranoid, sometimes I be scared, sometimes I'm angry about the whole situation. It's just a lot of different phases I go through.
“I try to understand that I have a purpose, because I could have been deceased like Proof,” the rapper continues. “I'm here for a reason, and that just keeps me going. It's a stressful time, but you get in the studio and just create.”
As is often the case, Obie's struggle has given birth to some remarkable music. Second Round's on Me is darker than Cheers, more pensive, more meditative—but also more moving. Against the backdrop of Eminem's brooding beats, Obie spits crisp rhymes about the grim realities he's grappling with. The tracks recorded after the shootings prove particularly potent. The slow, menacing, sing-song–style “Violent” serves as a warning to Obie's unknown aggressors. The nostalgic, horn-heavy “Cry Now” celebrates survival. The melancholy, piano-drenched “Wake Up” mourns the loss of Proof and tries to make sense of the state of American inner cities.
Because Second Round's on Me is an album that can be played from start to finish, over and over again, it's difficult to understand why it's had such little impact on the game.
“I feel like I still haven't reached where I want to reach,” the Motor City rapper admits. “I feel like I'm just one hit away. I just want to make that transition from ‘That's Obie and we respect him as an artist' to ‘That's Obie the superstar.'?”
What's standing in the way of that? What's it going to take for him to get his shine? “I don't know,” he replies, sounding genuinely baffled. “If I knew, we wouldn't even be having this conversation. I have no idea. I really don't.
“I can make the songs. I just need to get attention. It's time to take my shirt off now.” He laughs, his infamous sense of humour finally kicking in. “That's how you do it nowadays. You got to get your body right, get some abs going on, and take your shirt off. And be sexy. It's just that I like too much Taco Bell right now.”
Obie Trice plays Langley's Citrus Nightclub on Thursday (October 19).