I’ve never been to Detroit, but I imagine it being colder than a polar bear’s toe nail (god I love Mac Dre) and quite a decrepit place, largely due to the United States’ inability to maintain it’s position as a manufacturing power house. Yet while business and happiness may be dead in the D, often times death breeds new life, and that is the case with Detroit’s Hip-Hop scene. While the Hip-Hop community has never embraced Detroit like it did with New York, L.A., and Atlanta, the hardships of living in a forgotten city has produced some of the illest MC’s and producers to ever touch the mic or MPC. Off top, people will mention Eminem, the whole D12 click (R.I.P. Proof), Royce, Slum Village (R.I.P. Baatin and Dilla), Elzhi, Guilty Simpson, and Black Milk. Yet someone who rarely makes the list these days, despite going platinum in 2003, is Obie Trice. After blowing up way bigger than could have been expected with his debut album Cheers, Obie’s career quickly took a turn for the worse. In 2005, while driving, he caught two bullets including one to the dome, 2006’s Second Round On Me received minimal press and did poorly in stores, and in 2008 he ended his professional relationship with Eminem’s Shady Records. It was a long fall for Obie, but in 2009 he hopes to ascend a few rungs up the ladder with his newest LP, Special Reserve.
Despite a continuation of the drinking themed titles, Special Reserve is a step in a new direction for Detroit’s Well Known Asshole. Unlike his previous two albums, which featured production from some of the hottest beat makers at the time, Special Reserve is a result of Obie solely teaming up with MoSS, someone practically unknown to the public, yet the first producer to sign with the legendary DJ Premier’s new label, Works of Mart Entertainment. Additionally on Special Reserve, Obie takes the path less traveled and has zero features from other MC’s. Who knows if this is a result of lack of funds, or a desire to prove himself, but either way Special Reserve is a great way for fans to see how the past couple of years has affected Obie, as well as get an early glimpse of someone who arguably the most respected producer of all time has given the stamp of approval.
The thing that stands out the most about Obie’s performance on Special Reserve, is that by no means does he rap like a well-known artist putting out his third disc. There is a sense of hunger in his voice from the first verse to the last, that more resembles a rapper getting discovered for the first time. Not only that, never once does he address themes at all related to the good life. Even though he has a reputation for loving the drank, there isn’t a single track that’s light hearted, or fun to drink and party to. Instead you get 11 songs strongly infused with the grime, grit, pessimism, and anger associated with inner city life. While this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and if you play it around your girlfriend, she will probably complain some more about how she hates the fact that you like rap, it seems like this is what Obie is best equipped to do. There is a personal nature to the subject matter, that when combined with his tone of voice and aggressive delivery creates a strong image of where the man is in his life, and it’s not pretty. “Got Hungry” describes Obie living in a violent hood, with minimal bright moments, and even less options for improving his situation. “What You Want” is a track dedicated to how easy it is to burn bridges when you have very little. Hands down my favorite track on the album is “Dope, Jobs, Homeless”, where Trice describes trying to survive during these three phases of his life. Obie provides some vivid imagery for all three verses, but for me, the highlight of the entire album is when he describes being homeless. This is a subject that rarely gets addressed through rhyme. Maybe a line here or there, but I can think of very few verses, if any, that are dedicated entirely to discussing homelessness. The way he describes the combination of avoiding the characters from your earlier life due to embarrassment, while just straddling the line between survival and unnoticed death is enough to make me take back a lot of the fucked up comments I made about the homeless people giving me a hard time in The Haight this weekend. What else can I say, the imagery is completely on point.
In terms of Obie’s faults, it’s just a lack of diversity in his flow. At the same time, for an 11 song album, it’s not really a problem. Although, if he doubled it to 22, there would be some serious complaints streaming through my fingers. Additionally, the only song I didn’t really feel lyrically was “Jack My Dick”, where he describes the fact that he often chooses to rub one out over sex because he’s afraid of dirty women. I’m sorry man, I don’t care how many times you’ve been burned, there’s a simple solution, and it’s called a condom. The last time I checked they’re sold at practically every grocery, drug, and liquor store in America.
The other problem with Special Reserve is the production. Even as I type this, I feel sorry for saying it, but it’s the truth. I wanted nothing more than for Premier’s new guy to just blow me away with his musical backdrops. Instead MoSS provides 11 beats that convey the same mood over and over again. The little information that can be found about him online alludes to the fact that he has an uncanny ability to find and utilize rare records that practically no one on earth has heard of. While I can honestly say that I didn’t recognize a single sample on the album, none of the samples really impressed me as great finds either. To his credit, although I didn’t love his sample choices, he does do a good job of seamlessly combining them with his own instrumentation. Additionally he chooses some great drum sounds that really resonate through your speakers. At the same time, the drum patterns are my biggest complaint about MoSS. There are too many songs that only utilize 1 or 2 bar drum loops. Combined with a very minimal use of high hats or shakers, it stagnates the shit out of each beat like some Imodium. Still, it wasn’t nearly bad enough for me to completely write MoSS off. The way he puts together each song, the overall sound quality of his beats, and the fact that he will receive some extremely valuable tutelage from Premier, all lead me to believe that he could one day be someone the underground community really supports and looks forward to, along the lines of Marco Polo. Yet at this point, I would say he would be much better utilized as someone who provides 2-3 beats on a project, rather than being the sole producer.
All in all, the overall sound of Obie’s newest effort is more akin to pounding some $5 vodka straight from the plastic bottle just to get drunk and forget about your problems, rather than leisurely sipping on some special reserve by a fire and enjoying the sweeter side of life. Yet in my opinion, Hip-Hop has always been more about healing the damage created by life’s hardships, rather than making everyone envious about how unbelievably tight your life is. In this case, Obie did some real soul-searching, and did a quality of job of putting it into musical form. Let’s just hope it’s helped him heal a little too.