In Motor City, Obie Trice is another kind of urban legend.
Amongst tilted heads I cheer on as Obie Trice splashes Hennessey down the gaping mouths of the front row like a priest watering the Lord’s thirsty children. The DJ accompanies with a scratch solo as Obie flips the bottle on himself, chugging whatever’s left before the show steams onwards.
The crowd riles over a back-catalogue of live-friendly heavy hitters. Go To Sleep, Average Man, Cry Now, and the tear-jerking Don’t Come Down all build towards Obie’s anti-pseudonym anthem Rap Name from nearly 15 yeas ago. America will recall the song’s introduction reverberating the radios when it was spliced into Eminem’s 2002 hit Without Me: “Obie Trice, real name, no gimmicks”.
“He was just a regular dude”, Obie recalls his life-changing venture with Eminem, “he was interested in signing me. He was over in Europe, he heard some music that I put out here and he wanted to fuck with me so he came back home and he found me, it was a good look. He was like who the fuck is that, he from Detroit? He came found me then I signed”.
In spite of the feuds that plagued, or perhaps fuelled, Shady Records in 2003 with the fully-fledged, introduction of 50 Cent could be considered the label’s most vigorous peak. The’ inherited’ Murder Ink beef that had Eminem showing up to work in a bullet-proof vest sparked further drive behind the existing momentum of The Eminem Show and 8 Mile’s success. Patient for his time and Eminem’s attention until then, Obie Trice embraced his new family’s conflicts as he lay the foundation for his own biographical rap epic.
Crack-hustling, his exiling from home by his Mother and her subsequent death – as well as the occasional bricking of an unlucky adversary – all served as experiential material when Obie Trice was finally granted his debut release; “Shit, Cheers was my first album, it tells a story”, Obie recounts, “I was 26 when I came out with that album. Everything that led up to that age at that time is what I delivered in the album. Everything that I started out with in the beginning, it was just me, everything I went through”.
Exuberant production from Eminem and a few lighter but equally audacious tracks balanced both the album’s tone and Jimmy Iovine’s commercial appetite. Cheers succeeded in embodying the blood stains of Detroit’s streets, the cognac that ran through the cracks and the rainy days that washed it all away.
The quieter signings by Shady A&Rs of Stat Quo, Bobby Creekwater and Ca$his failed to make noise like the previous recruits. By the end of 2006, after Second Round’s On Me, Obie Trice had out-energised everybody on his label. 50 Cent was reclining in the candy shop and The Re-Up wasn’t exactly the showcase spark-plug that fans hoped the current Shady roster was capable of. Still, Obie’s follow up LP stood tall in comparison as a worthy albeit underground continuation for Eminem’s label.
Mathers’ cocooning fingerprints on Cheers and Second Rounds On Me trigger speculation over a future where the star had spent just a little longer over Obie’s shoulder. Instead, the two parted ways after discrepancies snowballed between the execs and Obie Trice’s intentions. He missed Big Boy’s radio interview, much to the dismay of Jimmy Iovine, despite allowing him only two hour’s sleep. A general lack of enthusiasm and promotional effort ensued on Iovine’s part. The label decided to focus on 50 Cent, who they considered ‘the next 2Pac’, resulting in lacklustre commercial sales for Obie’s second album and his eventual departure.
Yelawolf and Slaughterhouse charted poorly, with the latter’s anticipated follow-up ending up mysteriously shelved. Eminem’s vision for his signees had become unfocused after rehab, and all creative direction appeared to tilt on the fence where it struck with confidence and wit before.
More recently, in early March 2017, Eminem and Shady Records inked deals for Buffalo rappers Westside Gunn and Conway- a milestone for the Western New York city to have its first rappers signed to a major label. However, the talent-gravitating, award title contenders that Shady Records once were are diminished in rap’s modern climate. Whilst they’ll always serve as the hub of the world’s most successful rapper, the likelihood of harnessing again the charisma and tenacity they once had in Obie Trice is looking disappointingly bleak.
Continuing our brief conversation in the backroom of a Manchester club, Obie answered to if there’s any ground the veteran still wishes to cover; “I wanna make a pop record. I wanna take some shit to another level. I got the new label, I’m tryna get artists out, I’m tryna take it to another level. It’s just a hustle and bustle like anything else, y’know what I mean, so that’s basically it. I’m tryna do the best records I can do where I’m at in my career and get one more great ass pop fuckin’ record that everybody listens to, and I’m back up in there. You won’t get another interview with me again”.
If he’ll be wrestling with Drake for a Billboard 100 spot I can’t say, but in the twilight of a career dodging everything from death to groupies with dentures, Obie Trice is still as real as his name now denotes.