It’s hard to believe that it was nearly a decade ago when Obie Trice began to enter public consciousness via a skit on D12’s Devil’s Night. After high-profile appearances on The Eminem Show and the 8 Mile Soundtrack, Mr. Real Name, No Gimmicks finally got an album of his own – 2003’s Cheers. Although the album was generally well-received, it was bogged down by too guest appearances, not to mention completely overshadowed by 50 Cent’s debut.
Since that release, Obie got a bullet lodged in his head (which, by all accounts, is still there). The drama with the release of his second album, 2006’s Second Round’s On Me. The poor timing of his “no snitching”-themed first single, “Snitch,” combined with perceived blackballing by major video networks, resulted in little-to-no video play and poor sales. Two years later, the marriage between Shady Records and Obie ended. Now, in anticipation of his third proper solo album, Bottom’s Up, Obie gives us Special Reserve, a look into his underground days.
For those unaware, Special Reserve is a collection of songs recorded by Obie and production partner MoSS in the Detroit rapper’s pre-Shady days (circa 1998-2000). As a result, Obie’s style is much more raw – in both emceeing ability, personality and subject matter. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, as fans of the incredibly harsh delivery heard on the 8 Mile OST will find plenty of it here. As such, O. Trice kicks things off with “Welcome,” a bombastic intro with the rapper slinging pure grime. “Got Hungry” follows in suit, as an audibly irate and desperate Obie spits, “But the thoughts still exist / I’m in my room getting pissed / I should have 20-inch rims on a V-12 Benz / Hangin’ with brand-new friends, all-flavored Timbs, hittin’ nothin’ but skins / I gotta do something right now / Ayo this life foul when my job just burns me out.”
Obie takes it out of the streets into braggadocio for a moment on “I Am,” but returns to it with “Roughnecks,” although with a little more introspection. “Cool Cat” is a moderately humorous warning to haters, but the grating hook and plodding beat drags it down to mediocrity. Another miss is “Jack My Dick,” which literally accomplishes nothing. Fortunately, Obie ends it with the ultra-grimy “Dope, Jobs, Homeless,” a re-tooled version of one of his signature underground classics.
The production, all handled by Moss, is generally varied and interesting the whole way through. Moss makes great use of guitar and piano keys, and his snares are outstanding. Perhaps his best contribution to the production is his scratches and fantastic use of vocal samples. Some of the production sounds as though it was done much more recently on some tracks than on others (this is practically confirmed by a Pharoahe Monch sample that couldn’t have been utilized earlier than 2007); as such, the production values on the album aren’t always consistent. “You Have Been Slain,” for example, is fairly muted, which lessens the effect of the tracks’ militant percussion. Overall, though, Moss brings out the ferocious in Trice, and fans will certainly appreciate it.
When it’s all said and done, Special Reserve is a window into the past, and shows why Eminem signed Obie Trice in the first place: his abrasive delivery, clever lyricism, and self-deprecating humor (sound familiar, Shady fans?). While this isn’t as polished an Obie as his fans have grown accustomed to, it’s still a fascinating early glimpse of one of Detroit’s truly unique lyricists.