Second Round’s on Me
etroit’s streets are grand, sweeping boulevards lined by liquor stores, outlets of the iconic local hot dog stand Coney Island, and decaying abandoned buildings. An automotive Venice, its concrete canals are mostly deserted—the vehicles lost in the vast thoroughfares. Even the city’s centerpiece, General Motors’ gleaming Renaissance Center, seems to hulk defensively over the river, bunkered down awaiting better times. This is the city Obie Trice claims to reign over, though even he acknowledges it is more by default than design: “The white boy stepped down / So I will accept the crown,” he explains on “Cry Now.”
Trice hasn’t had much more luck than his hometown of late. His debut, Cheers was overshadowed by Em’s other protégé, 50, and the follow-up, Second Round’s on Me, suffered more than a year of delays and non-starts—during which time Trice caught a bullet in the head, though unlike label mate Proof, he survived the shots.
So, can you blame him when he enters the record sounding guarded and defensive? A brief skit features a woman (his mom?) evicting a sedentary Obie from her house and asking him what he plans to do with his life. “I’mma rap,” Obie responds. That’s right, real name, no gimmicks; Trice casts himself as the everyman, albeit one in a very different mold to that of more conscious Midwesterners Lupe Fiasco and Rhymefest. This ordinariness is both his biggest strength and his crutch. As the door slams, Trice hunches his shoulders, and head down, he launches into the brief “Wake Up,” no frills spitting over grim bass as bleak and empty as those Detroit streets. He claims to be “sitting on paper bigger than Shaq hands,” but he sounds like he’s just trying to survive in a “dirty-ass hood with no hope of climbing.” “Violent” continues on this trajectory, Trice lumbering over beats as melancholic and oppressive as the city that birthed them.
Like his city, Trice stands out of place in contemporary America. He is confident, but lacks the strutting arrogance of his Southern contemporaries or New York rappers’ cocky sense of entitlement. It works because Trice is a staunch, determined rapper. Where Eminem negotiates similarly gloomy beats with a dazzling, lively flow, Trice simply plows through. But the single-mindedness can become weary over the course of an album. Regardless of the beat he is presented with, Trice barrels forward indiscriminately; an average guy in a harsh environment, he has no other choice.
Trice’s most grievous missteps occur when he steps outside this everyman persona. With the notable exception of 50 Cent, Eminem’s influence has rarely been a positive one on his protégés; rather than lending them his strengths, Shady saddles his dependents with his worst indulgences: stupid novelty tracks (D12, Trice’s debut single “Got Some Teeth”), unimaginative production, or poorly executed deviations. Em’s presence is all over “Jamaican Girl,” in which he tries his hand at a dancehall sex number. Mathers’ attempts at erotica range from creepy to banal—using an Eminem production as an aphrodisiac is about as effective as Obie showing us nude pics of his grandmother.
Elsewhere ill-advised collaborations and uncharacteristic subject matter mar proceedings, particularly the record’s dragging second half. Single “Snitch,” sounds like every other Akon guest appearance on the market, and while it’s an enjoyable but inessential track, Trice is poorly served by hooking up with the hot guests of the moment. Two tracks feature Trey Songz-sung hooks over mediocre production, and these, along with “24’s” in which Obie raps about his car and the ice round his neck, are the sort of dull mainstream concessions that threaten to sink the record. Nelly can jump on faddish memes and squeeze hits out of them, but Trice only dilutes his personality. He is at his best playing himself as straightforward and uncomplicated, as on the banging “99 Problems”-esque “Wanna Know,” or with the honesty and narrative simplicity of “Obie Story.”
Just as Detroit casts around for ideas to revitalize itself, Trice seems to be searching for something to transform him into a genuine star. Though dancehall sojourns and Akon hooks will likely do as little for him as the People Mover and casinos did for his hometown, you can’t help wanting Obie to succeed. Just as Detroit still has the potential for a glorious metropolis within its dreary streets, Trice has the capacity to make a great rap record. Until that time though, he’s just going to keep plowing forward, waiting for his renaissance.
Reviewed by: Jonathan Bradley
Reviewed on: 2006-08-16