May 21, 2011

My Gut Reaction: Obie Trice - Special Reserve (December 15, 2009)

I've always felt kind of sorry for Detroit-based rapper Obie Trice. While it's true that he was lucky enough to score a deal with a major label, something that a lot of people are never able to accomplish within their lifetimes, he was never treated as an equal amongst his peers. Eminem signed Obie to his Shady Records imprint in 2000, even going so far as to briefly feature him on both The Eminem Show and D-12's Devil's Night, but the moment that Marshall signed Curtis Jackson to the label, all of the marketing focus was shifted away from the man actually born with the name Obie Trice, forcing him to scramble on his own to finish up his own debut album, Cheers, which was released in 2003 with little to no interest. Obie would go out of his way to pledge his allegiance to Shady Records, but the favor was never returned (I don't count Marshall including Obie on Eminem Presents The Re-Up, since he was contractually obligated to do that shit.) Cheers was loaded with A-list talent, including big names such as Busta Rhymes, Dr. Dre, DJ Muggs, Timbaland, and Em himself, but Obie was never able to capitalize on these favors by jumping onto any of their own albums (save for Em, but, once again, contractual obligations are a bitch). 50 Cent appeared on Cheers (alongside his fellow G-Unit tool Lloyd Banks); did he allow Obie Trice more exposure and an opportunity to impress a wider audience by offering him a guest slot on The Massacre? Fuck no he didn't; why would he? As it became blatantly obvious that the only artist on Shady Records that Marshall Mathers cared about (after Curtis imploded, anyway) was himself, it barely registered that Obie Trice severed ties with them: I assume that the majority of the hip hop audience had been under the impression that Obie was dropped from the label long after his sophomore release, Second Round's On Me, tanked.

Unsurprisingly, Obie is currently attempting a comeback, promising that his third album, the as-yet-unreleased Bottoms Up, will be a return to form, a form that most hip hop heads will be unfamiliar with, as Obie's name didn't even appear on the radar until after Marshall signed him. I have no idea if the man will actually succeed in his quest to win over an increasingly fickle audience: our chosen genre has a relatively short attention span, and given the response some of his teaser singles have been receiving when they hit the other blogs, I'm not even sure if the interest exists to begin with. Hell, I don't think that even this post will garner that many comments. But I still believe that this project is worth mentioning.

In 2009, Obie Trice unleashed Special Reserve, a compilation album whose title keeps with his ongoing theme of having album names that remind you of getting shitfaced. It's a short collection of tracks he recorded between the years 1997-2000, before his Shady deal, with Canadian producer MoSS, who just so happens to be the first producer signed to DJ Premier's imprint, Works Of Mart. I'm not clear how these tracks came into being, as I'm not familiar enough with Obie's life to know whether he actually had a deal with an independent label prior to signing with the Marshall Mathers Experience, but Obie clearly thought that these songs would hold over the fans he still had while he was busy readying Bottoms Up, a project which still has not been assigned a release date. So Special Reserve won't sound cohesive as an album, but it was never intended to, and it isn't a mixtape, as Obie would have released it as such otherwise.

The collector in me tends to enjoy when artists open up their vaults and let loose some material that would remain unheard under normal circumstances, so I'm intrigued by what Obie Trice has to offer.

Although the song's very title would lead you to believe otherwise, this is not a rap album intro, since Obie actually spits over some catchy MoSS production work. It also isn't intended to be an introductory song, either: there is nothing welcoming about Obie's need to impress listeners and his threatening bodily harm against any of his adversaries. Even though “Welcome” was recorded well before Cheers, it somehow sounds like a natural extension of that project, which can only mean one thing: Obie Trice has somehow perfected the art of time travel. We should send some of our finest scientists to Detroit post haste.

Well, I'll give Obie credit for an accurate song title: the man sounds hungry as fuck over this hard-hitting instrumental. While most of this sounds pretty fucking terrific, Obie does manage a couple of missteps throughout his two verses: his “chorus” (by that I mean he repeats the last set of bars in the first verse twice) is terrible, and, in an effort to make his very last line rhyme, he uses the phrase “Fuck N-O!” instead of just going with a sentence that real people actually use, “Fuck no!”, unless they happen to be talking shit about the city of New Orleans for some reason. Obie was much younger back when “Got Hungry” was recorded, and he probably wouldn't pull the same stunt today, so I'm willing to let it slide.

That title is hilariously corny, but it masks a really fucking good one-verse wonder from Obie Trice, as he narrates what happens when someone is shot and bleeds to death while waiting for the paramedics to arrive. He makes the interesting choice to begin the song with the actual shooting, but he doesn't add any sort of context: was it gang-related? Wrong place at the wrong time? The listener is caught unaware of the facts: the guy just gets shot, and you can only watch him die (or listen to him die, I suppose). Not only is this some pretty powerful shit, Obie proves himself to be an ace storyteller, tossing in enough one-off details to make you feel even worse when the protagonist passes away. (SPOILER ALERT!) MoSS lends our host a beat that mixes some ominous organ keys with steel drums, of all things, and that shit works beautifully.

4. ON & ON
MoSS hits the listener (and also Obie, I'm assuming) with a pulse-pounding instrumental that is a spiritual cousin to the best song Trice will ever record, Second Round's On Me's “Cry Now”. While “Cry Now” is still the much better effort, Obie actually sounds like he gives a shit on “On & On”, and yes, I realize I just wrote the word “on” nearly three times in a row within a single sentence.. Obviously, his relatively short tenure on Shady Records (where he at least released more material than Stat Quo and Ca$his) left him complacent, while back in the late 1990s the dude was fucking starving. The chorus annoyed the shit out of me, as MoSS seems to take listeners on a guided tour of every single rap song that has ever used the phrase “On & On”, but I still liked the song regardless.

5. I AM
There's a reference to Eminem on this track which comes across as a bizarre anachronism, even though I guess it's entirely possible that Obie Trice was on friendly terms with Marshall at the time “I Am” was recorded: they both hail from the same city, after all. Since I'm focusing so much on such a minute portion of a three-minute song, it's clear to me that I can only remember that one lone part. MoSS makes his first mistake with an instrumental that clashes ideologically with Obie Trice's need for approval, and neither side pulls out a victory. Still, it took Obie five tracks into Special Reserve to finally fuck up: you can't say that about any of his other albums.

Obie somehow fits four separate verses into a two-minute song without sacrificing anything lyrically. He isn't the best writer of our generation, but when he's giving a damn, his bars measure up to some of the better rappers out there, and that is the case for at least two of the verses on “4 Stories”, especially the final one, which sounds like an alternate take for “You Have Been Slain”. MoSS provides a beat that manages to be both entertaining and annoying as shit all at once: having to rely on soul samples as a crutch might be the man's downfall. But at least our host is up to the challenge.

I don't buy that everything on Special Reserve was recorded before Obie's interlude on Shady Records: if “Roughnecks” was sitting in the vaults while he was recording Cheers and wasn't up for album consideration, then the man must have been smoking some powerful shit with Em's money, as “Roughnecks” fucking bangs. MoSS starts with some hard drums and sprinkles in some organ keys, and Obie Trice rips the shit to pieces. Why, it's almost as though “Roughnecks” was the song that “Cry Now” wished it could be (although “Cry Now” has a much better beat). Even the chorus provided by Deuce Wonder (the lone guest star on Special Reserve) isn't that bad: I could legitimately see this song easily sliding onto radio playlists today, if only anybody gave a fuck about Obie Trice.

MoSS's beat isn't that bad, but Obie trips over his own shoelaces, bangs his head against the concrete sidewalk, and now is unable to utter any phrase other than “I'm a cool n---a first, a grimy n---a later”. At least, that's how it feels when you actually have to listen to this shit. Maybe some of these tracks should have remained in the vault: when Obie demands that MoSS “turn this [music] the fuck off” at the very end, you're left feeling that he just read your mind.

This song was fairly meh as well. What the fuck just happened?

Obie Trice devotes an entire song to the art of masturbation, sounding like a guy who has flat-out given up on even trying to hook up with chicks in favor of jacking off, just because it takes him less effort. Amusing at first, but the track gains several degrees of sadness before it finally fades out, and now I just want to set up an online dating profile for the guy, just so he might get lucky again someday. Oh, the song? It's pretty bad. Why do you ask?

The following is considered to be a bonus track on Special Reserve.

At least this song ends Special Reserve on a not-so-boring note, even though the title makes this sound like it was three separate freestyles strung together. It isn't all that great, either. MoSS provides an instrumental that sounds like it took him all of thirty seconds to put together, but it still works better than the previous two tracks: for his part, Obie even sounds okay. However, it's pretty clear why this was locked away for so long. And with that, we're good.

THE LAST WORD: Obie Trice's Special Reserve starts off surprisingly strong, but as I had feared, it tapers off significantly at the end. Still, the front half of Special Reserve ranks among Obie's best work, proving that the man did actually have the talent to warrant the Shady Records deal, even if he pissed it away shortly after signing the contract. Producer MoSS also gives the listener some inspired beats, acting as the DJ Premier to Obie', more talented Lil' Dap, I suppose. A handful of these tracks are pretty fucking great, which was entirely unexpected: the younger incarnation of Obie Trice sounds just as assured behind the mic as the latter-day version, aside from some obvious verbal slips and poor lyrical decisions that only get repaired with time and experience. While I have no such high hopes for his eventual Bottoms Up, Obie Trice has given listeners a glimpse at his past on Special Reserve, and it's actually interesting enough to care about, or at least to bang in your car. Huh.




  1. AnonymousMay 22, 2011

    good review as always max. nice for you to include a more underground release :)

  2. AnonymousMay 22, 2011

    "...he uses the phrase “Fuck N-O!” instead of just going with a sentence that real people actually use, “Fuck no!”, unless they happen to be talking shit about the city of New Orleans for some reason."

    Best shit I've read all week haha!

    I too feel bad for Obie and his total falling off the face of the fucking Earth (oh, and getting shot in the head... that too) but I feel worse for Cashis, to be honest. Em hyped him like crazy for literally 1 1/2 years before completely forgetting about him.

  3. as the lone obie fan here, heres my thanks and cheers for reviewing this!

  4. Tile GroutMay 23, 2011

    Whenever I hear the name "Obie" my thoughts wander to "The Chocolate War" books. Junior High and High School memories...

    It's not too surprising that Obie was a short-lived favorite. That happens all of the time. Sometimes it seems better for an artist to remain underground their whole career than, for a short time, experience the A-list life before tumbling back down (usually lower than they were before).