If Shady Records defector Obie Trice has any beef with former boss Eminem, he’s not willing to discuss it—not yet at least. For now, the Detroit wordsmith is focused on his latest project, Special Reserve, a collection of tracks recorded during the pre-Shady years that just dropped yesterday (December 15).

Produced exclusively by MoSS—the first producer signed to DJ Premier’s Works of Mart label—the album reveals the mind state of an underground dweller just before he joined forces with one of hip-hop’s hottest commodities. This is Obie: Before Shady, before getting shot in the head, and before realizing that a mainstream deal doesn’t always mean mainstream appeal.

XXLMag.com caught up with Mr. Real Name, No Gimmicks and MoSS to talk about how this project materialized, why Obie still feels underrated as a rapper, and how BET brass got Eminem to come out of hiatus for his surprise performance at the 2006 BET Awards.

XXLMag.com: How did you two hook up for Special Reserve?

MoSS: What a lot of people don’t realize is this album was actually recorded before Shady. Between 1997 and 2000 we recorded this album, and this is what we were recording when Shady called. That’s why we call it Special Reserve, because these are the tracks that have been sitting around for 10 years. In no way, shape or form am I suggesting these are songs that were rejected. It’s just that the direction in which [Shady] went didn’t really fit the music we were doing.

Obie Trice: This is pre-Shady music. This is basic Obie. It’s the music that you’ve never heard before. We put out a few singles back in the day like “Well-Known Asshole” and things of that nature, but this is rare music. MoSS used to go to school in Ohio, and my cousin also went to school up there. I was out of town just to get away and go up to the school and just hang out up there, and MoSS would have records in his room. We stayed in this one big room, like a studio apartment, and we was sleeping on floors and just tearing up this little small city in Ohio—but we would make music all day and all night. So this is just some of the things that I was going through back then, and some of the thoughts that I had, before the whole Shady thing.

XXLMag.com: MoSS, you’re the lone producer on Special Reserve. It’s a formula that’s worked for rap groups such as Gang Starr and Mobb Deep. Do you think that having just one producer makes for a better, more cohesive album?

MoSS: It can. You have an album like Illmatic, where they had a lot of different producers on it, but it still came together and, in my opinion, was one of the better hip-hop albums ever recorded. But I collect a lot of records, and for me, when I buy used records, I look for consistency. I try not to buy an album with one good song, because I don’t want to play a song and have to lift the needle. So I try to build my albums the same way. I want it to have a similar sound from beginning to end.

XXLMag.com: What kind of a sound were you going for pulling this project together?

MoSS: We were just going for a street record, just a straight hip-hop record. That’s all I basically know how to do, and at the time when Obie knocked out the vocals, that was the direction of the album. We were just trying to make a raw album. It’s a little bit different than you heard from Cheers and Second Round’s On Me.

XXLMag.com: Obie, how would you describe the content of the album?

Obie Trice: Like I said, I was young [when I wrote it]. You’ve got a song on there called “Jack My Dick,” you know, I’m talking about jacking off (Laughs). It was just more so like a freefall, just whatever I was feeling. It was like a no-holds-barred approach. Like, being in a small, dingy-type [club] with a sweaty crowd where everybody got bomber jackets on and skullies and just pure, raw hip-hop.

XXLMag.com: Being that some of the material is nearly 10 years old, do you feel that the content will still resonate with listeners?

Obie Trice: It’s definitely relevant. I’ve listened to some of the music and I just laugh, like, Wow, that was me at that time. True fans of hip-hop music, though, they’re definitely gonna find something off this record. I definitely grew in [my] music since then. My new record, Bottoms Up is supposed to come out early next year, it’s definitely different than my flow patterns here.

XXLMag.com: You parted ways with Shady Records last year. Everyone wants to know what prompted you to leave?

Obie Trice: Uh, I wanna talk about that in promoting my next record, when I do media for [Bottoms Up].

XXLMag.com: Fair enough. As far as your stature in hip-hop, do you feel underrated as an artist?

Obie Trice: I think I’m definitely underrated. I think that this album, showing where I come from, and the new music with the two records that I have with Shady, it does show growth in music. And with the new record I’m releasing next year, it’s definitely a major difference. I just think people need to open their ears more and I need the right promotion behind me, the right marketing. That’s what we’re trying to reach for this time around and on any future projects that I do, to just get it out there a little more. Because the music is there, it’s just not getting across, so that’s what we need to work on.

XXLMag.com: Is there something specifically you feel you have to do differently? What do you think has to change?

Obie Trice: Well, I can only talk about my last album, Second Round’s On Me. There was a lot of things going on with that record as far as promotion-wise and the marketing scheme of the record, and then a bunch of issues with MTV not playing my lead single [“Snitch”] with Akon, and that kind of hindered things—we needed that video look. BET wouldn’t play the video because Eminem had missed the BET Awards three years in a row, so he had to shake hands with them, kiss and make up with them by going back to the BET Awards with Busta Rhymes that one year to fix that situation so we can get music played. So honestly, it’s the push of the label, the push of the radio playing the music and just working the record. Some people work records, and if it ain’t an instant hit they leave it alone. That’s kind of like Interscope’s format. You have other labels that work records for six months—they believe in this record, and they believe in that record. So it’s just about the mechanics behind the whole situation, I believe. —Lauren Carter