Obie- style rhyme
December 5, 2003
Obie Trice is a rarity in the conceited world of hip-hop – a relatively modest MC, writes Khalil Hegarty.
Detroit hip-hoppers have been busy this year. Since Eminem asserted his world dominance of hip-hop and bared his underground roots in the film 8 Mile, there’s been a growing interest in the city’s talent. The Motor City’s newest prodigy is an MC by the name of Obie Trice. In the past few months he’s been flat-out. He released his debut album, Cheers, two months ago, and he’s now on tour with the biggest-selling rap artist of the year, 50 Cent.
“This is my day off and I’m doin’ these f—in’ phone interviews,” the 26-year-old says from a hotel in Cincinnati.
For an artist in the middle of an international tour, Trice sounds remarkably fatigue-free. Through the Detroit street-drawl he sounds completely relaxed.
“Touring is excellent,” he says. “I’m seeing the world. Coming from where I’m coming from, you don’t get the opportunity to go to Europe in your 20s. You’re either dead or you’re locked up. For me to be seeing the world and doing what I’m doing is a beautiful thing.”
Trice isn’t exaggerating. There were more than 400 murders in Detroit last year, and more than half of the state of Michigan’s prison population is African-American. Indeed, Trice’s past was a life of cutting school, petty crime and mixing with the “wrong” people. Yet he managed to turn this life from the mess of drugs and guns into an international career.
“It’s either this or the hood,” he says casually. “I did my share of wrongdoings coming up. It was easy for me to turn it around and do what I’m doing now.”
Obidiah Trice was a typical Detroit kid, growing up in the suburb of Lauder. But anyone who has been to the city knows it can’t be compared to anything typical of a relatively safe Australia.
“Like any other city, you had crack, you had police, hustlers, you had murder, you had all that,” he says of his childhood. “Same shit, different city. You just had to watch your ass.”
Similarly, Trice’s years at high school were – to him – unremarkable, even though he attended the celebrated Cooley High, a school that has seen a bevy of talented musicians grace its halls.
“Cooley High, for me, I had a good time there. But I was like a drop-out. I’d go in there and just walk the halls and f— with the hoes.”
It would be easy to mistake Trice’s low-key tones for indifference. But he’s something that few rappers in today’s industry would ever contemplate being: humble. While 50 Cent wears his gunshot wounds like military decorations, Trice tries to keep his past to himself. It’s not that he’s ashamed; he just doesn’t think it’s worth dressing up. Rather than taking an on-stage alias, Trice is known by his name. Even a particularly violent period of his teen years – when he was thrown out of home – is something he talks about reluctantly.
“Yeah, I’ll talk about that,” he says quietly, but it doesn’t take long for Trice to become emotional and start raising his voice. “I went and stayed with my girlfriend for a bit. My chick was with this older nigger. He came to the crib one day when me and my girl were laying in bed. He just walked into the house and started picking a scrap with me. I was 15 years old; this motherf—er’s 38. So I’m dodging the blows when her bigger brother grabs him in a choke-hold and says, ‘What you doin’? That’s a little boy.’ I called my homie and got him to bring a gun over, and he brings a pistol through. So I’m about to shoot this nigger, and everyone’s saying to shoot him and nobody would know. But thanks to the grace of God, something was on my shoulders that stopped me. I almost killed him that night. Who knows, I might have got away with it. He could still be there, dead . . .”
Trice tails off, giggling slightly, not in a malicious way, but with the same manner that most people reminisce over adolescent mischief.
For Trice, life on the street is something he wants to keep in the past. Even Detroit’s underground clubs such as Hip Hop Workshop and Lush – where MCs such as himself and Eminem would battle on a regular basis – are low on his radar.
“I still go to those things every now and again,” he says hesitantly, “but I’m trying to have a major tour.”
Much of Trice’s ability to tear himself away from Detroit’s streets is thanks to his older brother, Terry.
“When I was young, he was like a father figure to me,” says Trice. “He gave me the push. He’d say, ‘Go do that music, you can do that.’ He guided me through it. That’s my brother-slash-pops. He’s still my manager. He’s on the road with me now.”
And the fraternal prodding has worked for Trice. After spitting rhymes through the window of Eminem’s car, Trice was signed to his Detroit record label. Soon, he was being flown to Los Angeles to work with Dr Dre, one of the most influential figures in contemporary music. And Trice is more than happy to admit that meeting and working with hip-hop’s heavyweights has been astounding.
“I’ve been working with Eminem since the end of the year 2000, but it’s not overwhelming any more. With Dre, I went out to LA, a car picked me up, took me the studio,” he says.
“There’s Ferraris outside of the studio and I’m like, ‘Ohhh man.’ So I walked into the studio and Dre says, ‘Obie! Wassup nigger,’ like he’s known me for years. We got in there, finished five bottles of Hennessy, worked for two days straight, and I knocked out five songs.”
Despite Trice’s reformed ways and new upmarket lifestyle, he still wears his allegiance to Detroit on his sleeve.
“All the people I grew up with, I’m still cool with,” he says. Ain’t nothin’ changed. I ain’t no snooty, arrogant type of motherf—er. I never turn my back on my people. I know that my people have been with me all the way.”
In fact, Trice sees no need to move to the glitz of New York or the laid-back climes of Los Angeles. “I’m still livin’ in Detroit,” he says proudly. That’s where I was born and raised and that’s probably where I’m gonna stay. It’s always home.”