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Obie Trice speaks with Eric Davidson about creativity in cities like Detroit, being thrown into the deep end of the music industry & his current relationship with Eminem. He headlines BARE Festival July 6-7.
“Hip hop is something that I always loved to do, Eminem found out about that and came and found me. Next, I was on stage with him rocking in front of 70,000 people.”
This year marks the 15th anniversary of a record that was executive produced by Eminem, with further production by the likes of Dr. Dre and Timbaland. An LP that also featured a who’s-who of mid-2000s rap artists, including 50 Cent, G-Unit, Busta Rhymes and the late Nate Dogg.
It was a project that debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 and went on to sell millions of copies worldwide. However, the artist behind the album is often referred to as ‘slept on’ by fervent fans.
Obie Trice released ‘Cheers’ in 2003 via Eminem’s Shady Records. Em had the utmost faith in Obie, using every avenue he could to push the artist, most recognisably perhaps in the video for ‘Without Me’.
Fans of rap the world over saw Obie bodyslam “Moby” and his line, “Obie Trice, real name no gimmicks” is forever burned into the minds of everyone who possesses 2002’s ‘The Eminem Show’.
It was an exciting time for the then 25-year-old, but in a Hot 97 interview a few years ago Obie mentioned that “nobody moulds artists”, especially raw artists. He said they just throw you in the deep end. I asked him if he was ready for that back then.
“I don’t think I was quite ready for it at that time. It was behaviour that I had to get used to, you know what I mean? Nobody actually trained me for this. You know, you got talent out here who have been trained for the cameras since they were little, since they were kids. My situation wasn’t like that. It was just raw, uncut.
“Hip hop is something that I always loved to do, Eminem found out about that and came and found me. Next, I was on stage with him rocking in front of 70,000 people. The stage is what I always loved, that’s what I was most comfortable with. The other parts of it like TV and all the other stuff, the hoopla that comes with it, that’s the thing I wasn’t ready for.”
While Obie and Eminem are still friends, it was the souring of his relationship with the co-founder of Interscope Records Jimmy Iovine that caused the most tension. According to Obie, the rapper missed a radio interview with sought-after radio host Big Boy. This led Iovine to believe that Obie didn’t want success as badly as he should have, something that Obie totally denies, saying in one interview with The Boombox, “That wasn’t the case. I was just young when I came into the game”.
Obie subsequently parted ways with Interscope and Shady Records and began to carve his own path via his independent label, Black Market Entertainment.
“The pros of being independent are that you can do exactly what you want. It’s not some head person putting your music out or telling you what’s what and things like that. You have total control over whatever it is that you want to do. I like that part about it.”
However, he does admit that if Eminem came knocking again he’d have no hesitation rejoining his ranks.
“You’re basically putting your own money into yourself though. Even though a major label also use your money, they have such a huge account so they’re able to throw out cash and get certain things done. With being independent, where it’s only me and another person and we’re working on a specific budget, it’s hard to get music on those outlets, outlets where everybody knows you have got a project out. That’s the beauty of social media today though, that the people who are following you can actually know that you have music out.
“I definitely like the independent grind, but if Marshall [Mathers] ever said to me, ‘Come back with me’, I’d definitely go back with my man. We know that we would do nothing but great things if that ever happened, you know what I’m saying?”
The conversation turned to Detroit, hometown of both Em and Obie.The city isn’t known for having a music industry, but time-after-time it breeds high calibre artists. From Motown in the ‘60s, Dilla and D12 in the 2000s, all the way up to artists like Dej Loaf and Big Sean today, I was curious to hear his thoughts on why Motor City’s track record is so glittering.
“I can only speak for myself, to be honest. I just always loved music since I was a little kid and I always wanted to be involved in the arts; it was something I was into as far back as I remember. I always liked to be entertaining and creative since I was a small child, and then I became a young adult and started seeing the harsh realities of where I lived and what I was going through and who I was as an individual on this earth.
“When you’re a little kid, your mind is not on this planet. You’re always fantasising about being Michael Jackson and this type of shit, but you don’t really understand exactly who you are until you become a pre-adolescent.”
“I definitely like the independent grind, but if Marshall [Mathers] ever said to me, ‘Come back with me’, I’d definitely go back with my man."
Obie is actively trying to encourage creativity in his birthplace. In 2011 he met with Virgil Smith, a Michigan state senator, to discuss cultivating local talent. According to an article in HipHopDx around that time, Obie wanted the city to receive government subsidies to fund a youth music program and to “create a community recording studio and soundstage to provide local talent with an outlet to develop their talents”. That conversation never directly affected change in Obie’s eyes, though.
“That meeting ended up turning into something else, the senator ended up getting in trouble with his wife or his girlfriend or something; nothing transpired after that meeting. I don’t know if that meeting sparked something with anybody in the city or not.
“There are a lot of artists in the city in Detroit, Michigan as well, but there are not a lot of outlets for music here. The thing that I was trying to produce with the senator was a certain music district for people that are into the arts. These young kids are killing each other in the music industry. There’s a lot of shit going on with the young crowd in music. Life is a stumbling block for art. You just gotta make it outta the grind first, and then once you get in there, you gotta go.”
These words were made even more poignant as just a few hours after I hung up the phone with Obie, the news broke that South Florida hip hop artist XXXTentacion had been shot dead outside a motorcycle dealership. While he had an unforgivable history of domestic violence, he was just 20 years of age. The very same day rapper Jimmy Wopo was fatally shot in Pittsburgh, an artist on the precipice of signing a major deal.
Perhaps the reason Obie Trice is so outspoken about this is because of his close encounter with death himself. On December 31 2006 Obie was shot in the head while driving through his hometown. He told Chicago Tribune at the time, “I used to be carefree before New Year’s Eve”, but this has made him wiser. He’s learned from the follies of his youth, and we part company he has some final advice for young artists growing up in difficult circumstances.
“Just be you. Actually search within yourself and be who you are as an individual and don’t compromise anything for that. Enjoy yourself, that’s it.”
Obie Trice headlines Bare Festival, Carlow, July 6-7.