Review ·

Obie Trice appears to be everything his co-signer, Eminem, is not. Where Slim Shady made insane, saccharine pop hits that often parodied the developments of his real life, Obie serves bleak slices of autobiographical hell that are neither sweet nor ironic. Where Eminem translates naturally to big-screen videos and cinema, Obie feels better suited for smudgy newspapers or an episode of America's Most Wanted. Where Em is jumpy and animated, O is all Secret Service -- chilled and immovable, right down to the tinted glasses and permanent poker face.


None of these are bad things. Obie has the good sense to be himself rather than another twisted member of D12 or a clumsy imitator who apes proven formulas with lesser results (if your name is 50 Cent, please stand up). Cheers, from 2003, was a typical Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit debut: crossover-attempting lead single that failed ("Got Some Teeth"); follow-ups that fared slightly better ("The Setup," "Don't Come Down"); great album tracks with excellent production ("We All Die One Day"). Because it didn't sell four-million copies, it was considered somewhat of a disappointment, and that's a shame, because it's arguably one of the top three releases -- in terms of quality, of course -- the label juggernaut has seen post-Eminem Show. Not that the label is Sub Pop in the '90s or anything, but it's still worth mentioning.


Bar Shots is the standard pre-album mixtape that greets most of the Shady/Aftermath/G-Unit release schedule, and it's more evidence that they've got this thing down to a science: Whoo Kid-stamped, Eminem-hosted Bar Shots includes a few album teasers from Obie's sophomore effort, Second Round's on Me, but is mostly an exclusive slate of gray-black hood portraits and dizzying paranoia pumped through air-tight, punching-bag beats and topped with swirling melodies that pull often from wobbly blues but also reggae and soul.


This is Obie's first collection of songs since his near-fatal shooting last winter (he calls himself "Bullethead" at one point; I laughed) and although the incident is clearly a topic of discourse, its despair doesn't dictate the tape's tone. "You Could Be Slain" and "They Wanna Kill Me" feel like knee-jerk, too-close-for-comfort responses; the intro ends in a storm of gunfire. But the Alchemist-produced "Divine Intervention" -- just the act of God that probably saved Obie's life that day -- and "My Life" detail Trice's hustle rather than his mortality, and they do so with a marked smoothness. His refusal to cave in is exciting, even startling. "Haters" rolls on horn blasts and a pile of drums and has O turning back would-be's teasingly, cheerfully. "Spazzin'" is the same but with organ squeals and a drunken swagger.


Album tracks, like the incredible "There They Go," featuring a Detroit roundtable of Eminem, Big Herc, and Trick Trick, have a similar personality. Even "Jamaican Girl," which you might say is "experimental" if you were being nice about it, flows coolly and unforced. He may have a lot on his mind, but Obie hardly seems distracted.


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