Of hip-hop’s millennial crop of self-styled gangsters, Obie Trice made one of the group’s strongest claims to legitimacy. The Detroit-based MC signed to Eminem’s Shady Records in 2000, eventually releasing two albums on that imprint, both of which competed for attention with the pyrotechnic disasters of Trice’s personal life. After the 2005 shooting of label-mate Proof and a subsequent attack on Trice himself (dude still has a bullet lodged in his skull, btw), Trice split with Shady Records, placing blame for the separation on the label’s inadequate promotional efforts. Label-less, Trice has trod a difficult, six-year path to the release of Bottoms Up, his third LP.
Trice’s string of intermittent singles leading up to Bottoms Up have begun feeling ever more like covering fire. The past six years have seen him first produce an LP, then form a label for the purpose of releasing it, then extricate that label from several distribution deals gone sour. Those chores complete, Bottoms Up now sits, primed for consumption, proving itself a more even-handed work than any part of its creation suggests.
In terms of beats, Trice hews close to the mid-tempo model that defined his early career. While this can give the album a dated feel (fun fact: its first single was released via MySpace), Trice’s confidence as a vocalist more than compensates for his aversion to sonic innovation. His paeans to curbside justice and strip club debacles sound like they’re actually holding back on the worst parts. Consider this typically shrugged-off anecdote: “Sorry that my pop wasn’t a man to me /Had to opt for different boyfriends my mammy handed me / Performin’ mammograms on her while I play Atari” (courtesy of “Spill My Drink”).
The comfort with which Trice reveals his vulnerabilities makes his promises of violence that much more chilling. On “Dear Lord” Trice opens with the couplet “Dear Lord, please forgive me, more I live I grow empty / Nothin’ in me, point out my enemy I’ll put somethin’ in him”. The “something” in question is a bullet (it sounds less homoerotic when accompanied by a gunshot sample), and Trice’s history, as well as his comfortable delivery, suggest that he’d be more than willing to live up to his pugnacious promises. Bottoms Up contains plenty of defensive posturing, but with the exception of some late-album threats leveled at the Interscope Records A&R department, Trice makes it all sound like a casual statement of fact. He knows what he can do, and, apparently, what he can do is quite a lot.
In addition to founding the label on which Bottoms Up was released and signing that label to a distribution deal with Universal Records, Trice has undertaken the vast majority of his third album’s vocal duties himself. Of the LP’s 18 tracks, only four credit guest MCs, with Eminem making a solitary, anomalous appearance. For the most part, Trice seems untroubled by the imposing task of recording, promoting and releasing an entire album on his lonesome. Bottoms Up can sound dated, but an anachronism accomplished with such skill is certainly a more welcome specimen than six years’ worth of awkward innovation.
ALBUM RATING: 4 Stars (out of five)