They say whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. So maybe Obie Trice should thank the bullet lodged in his head. This past New Year’s Eve, the Detroit MC got caught in the crosshairs of the escalating gun violence that has claimed the lives of three prominent local rappers in less than two years (including his label mate Proof). Based on the Motor City’s rising death toll, Obie’s narrow escape makes him one of the lucky ones. With a constant reminder of his mortality stuck in his skull, Obie seems determined to make the most of his second chance at life by putting the D’s strife into song on his sophomore effort, Second Round’s on Me.
While Obie’s 2003 debut, Cheers, was filled with lyrical prowess, its potential was overshadowed by the cartoonish lead single “Got Some Teeth,” which sounded like a Slim Shady outtake. He’s obviously learned from that mistake. Mr. Mathers doesn’t serve as an overbearing presence here, but rather as a worthy copilot through Obie’s bleak oratories of Detroit’s streets. On the Eminem-produced “Violent,” O. Trice sets the dark tone for the album, rhyming, “Hat match the jacket/Jacket match the glove/Glove match the mack that sends niggas above.”
Often associated with a tinny, keyboard-heavy sound, Eminem’s expanded production palate helps his protégé find his swagger on the creepy thump “Kill Me a Mutha” and “Ballad of Obie,” where acoustic guitars, firecracker snares and soothing electric whispers are the sonic foundation. Trice’s superb attention to visual details and calculated rhyme structure serves as the perfect complement. With live drums, horn stabs and a soulful moan, the Sick Notes–produced “Cry Now” shows him at his most lyrically adept (“We cock our tools and shoot our own color/This ain’t Detroit Red, you won’t X me out Malcolm/My exodus would never be from a violent outcome/I turn exorcist on niggas with extra clips/Exit on my ethics is no longer present/ X-rays said I was this close to heaven”).
Second Round rises above being merely a show of complex wordplay. With producer Jonathan “JR” Rotem serving as the album’s other major collaborator, Obie is able to add historical context to his struggles. Backed by JR’s soulful horns and congas on the Trey Songz–featured “Mama,” O spits, “Been on that block from dusk ’til dawn/’Til that shit Whites brought to America’s gone.” The pair creates similar chemistry on the deeply personal “Obie Story,” as JR and Rigo “Riggs” Morales’ layered wall of sound shifts from somber to energetic and back again, depending on the subject matter (“Dad ain’t around/He left a nigga saggin’ in them Superman draws that one Saturday/Is it my fault, shit got dark?”).
Trice rarely struggles lyrically, but on the guitar-drenched “Ghetto” he spews elementary bars like, “I’m from where the diapers full of feces… Bodies lay in traffic, that’s right where the streets be.” Other infractions are the Mr. Lee–produced bounce track “Terrible” and Eminem’s faux-dancehall cut “Jamaican Girl,” which both sound completely out of place among the rest of the album’s darker material. Aside from these awkward broad strokes, Obie paints a memorable allegory of Detroit’s social woes and their affect on his own life. Filled with unflinching street tales and dense lyrical couplets, Second Round should be sipped slowly for full potency. No shots to the head necessary.—BRENDAN FREDERICK