It's still no gimmicks.
He once dubbed himself "the well-known asshole." Back when he was an emerging lyricist in Detroit, whose rugged authenticity and impressive vocabulary ultimately captured the attention of one Marshall Mathers. Before long, Obie found himself joining the rapidly-expanding Shady Records movement, moving alongside D12, 50 Cent, and Aftermath ally Dr. Dre. In September of 2003, Obie Trice delivered his debut album Cheers, a project many fans still praise as classic.
Since then, the man who famously created "real name, no gimmicks" has delivered five studio albums, including his most recent: the aptly titled The Fifth. With an upcoming tour planned alongside Snoop Dogg, Warren G, Tha Dogg Pound, and several D12 members, I had the chance to have a conversation with Obie, covering his experiences on the come-up, riding with Eminem and 50 Cent at the height of their beef with Murda Inc, and lessons learned from West Coast legends like Nate Dogg and Dr. Dre
Check out the full transcription below.
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Hey Obie, how you doing? Thanks so much for taking the time. Much appreciated. First off, congrats on The Fifth. How does it feel to look back on another chapter of your discography?
I’ma continue to make music, man. I’m glad I got another album out. It’s a dope album, it sounds dope to me. I’m working on my sixth album as well. I like to put out music and continue my catalog.
You strike me as an artist who really thinks about the arrangement of a project when you’re putting it together. When you go to the studio, do you have a vision of what you want to do, or do you let the process take control?
I kinda do both. I try to put together a project that’s pertaining to a particular style of music. Different sounds coinciding together. Something like The Fifth, I wanted to do a record that moved. The sequence was right. The way the album flows. At times I go in there just making records and picking out which ones feel the best. Scrapping the ones that aren’t too eyebrow-raising. I do both.
You’ve got one of the most unique flows. Your vocabulary, the way you structure your verse with multisyllabic schemes. How did you start developing that style?
You know, I’ve always been in the dictionary since I was little. My father used to have me in the dictionary, reading words and learning words when I was a kid. I’m big on words. I like new words. I get a word a day emailed to me every day. I’m into finessing words and matching them together. It’s always been the way I approach a project.
I was just listening to “Go To Sleep” with you, Em, and DMX -- your verse on that is crazy. You’re laying down threats in an articulate, eloquent fashion. Super dope.
You came up in the Detroit scene. How did you carry yourself when you first decided to take music seriously? When did you realize you were making waves in your local scene?
I had put out some independent music a long time ago, some vinyl records. “Mr. Trice.” “Dope, Job, Homeless,” “Gimmie My DAT Back,” “Well Known Asshole.” All these songs I put out back then kinda gave me a push in Detroit. I was known here in the city. During that time, Marshall was getting on with his career. He got a whiff of me and he got it popping from there. I’ve always been going to the Cyphers, the Hip-Hop Shops, the Lush, St. Andrews. All the spots in Detroit back in the day. That was my thing.
Did you ever do any battle rap?
Not really man. I used to go to the Hip-Hop Shop, and I’d just flow up there. I wasn’t into the whole battle rap thing until later on. When my career was going off, when we was getting into it and had issues with certain cats in the industry. It was later on in life I started getting into the battling. As far as in the Cyphers, in a circle battling other dudes, I never did that.
It all comes back to me, man. I was a really big Shady Records fan, so when you were on the radar I did my best to dive into your catalog back in the day. The first song I ever heard you on was “1x1” with Proof and J. Hill. What was your relationship with Proof like before Shady?
When word was getting around that I might sign with Marshall, me and Proof got real tight. I would be in the studio with Proof all the time. We used to run around with each other a lot. Funny you mention that song “1x1” with J. Hill. We was at a studio at this guy’s house making that. MC Breed was there. The owner of the house, he’s dead now. Proof is dead. Breed is dead. J. Hill, he’s a coach now for a football team I believe. That’s some history right there -- there was a lot of shit going on at that time.
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To me, and I think many people, Cheers is a classic. That just turned fifteen. When you first joined the Shady team and you were piecing the album together, what was the energy at the label like? Like you mentioned before, you guys were all in the middle of some major feuds. Was that reflected in the energy at the label?
The energy from the shit with Marshall was going through, and it definitely had an impact. You gotta remember, when I was making that record, we still was doing shows and getting into situations where shit could have got real bad out there. Getting in fights, traveling everywhere. Getting into situations with different individuals in the industry. There was a lot going on when I was making Cheers.
On top of that, I had lost a lot of people I ran the streets with to gun violence. Muthafuckas was going to prison. It was a whole lotta shit going on. At the same time, I’m trying to maintain. I got a daughter, a little girl. That energy from that album reflected all of that stuff. Definitely a lot was dealing with Shady and what we all was going through. D12, Proof getting in a fight in Miami with the Terror Squad. We rolled to New York and we gotta be super strapped up everywhere we go. It was a mess.
I was on the D12 album before that. 50 was moving with Get Rich Or Die Tryin. That whole [Invasion] mixtape run, you know, it was all of us. We was all on these tours, we was all going through shit. It definitely came as a reflection of what’s going on with Cheers.
On that note, one of the best songs from Shady’s dominant run was “We All Die One Day.” What was the studio session like for that track?
Oh yeah! That track, we had Tony Yayo in the studio. Lloyd Banks was there. 50. Bunch of D12 cats was there. We was all getting to know each other. We was vibing off each other’s energy. Like, my n***a Lloyd Banks! Yayo hyping shit up there, 50 talking that shit. It was one of those things, we all had to get to know each other real fast. They was from New York. We were from Detroit. They would fly into Michigan and we’d all be in the studio, learning different things from each other.
The vibe was tough, man. It was like, we was all in there vibing. 50 would lay a verse, Banks laid a verse, I laid my verse. We played it all fuckin’ night, over and over again, tweaking it with Marshall. It was one of those things. Let’s wrap this shit up. Cause I came late. Cheers was supposed to come out before 50, but he had so much momentum with the whole mixtape run, he put Get Rich Or Die Tryin together so fast, we had so many songs done. He kinda jumped before me and came out.
When we were making those records on my album, the posse cuts, we was just ready to go. Let’s get Obie out. It’s time to drop that shit now. I was on the label at least two and a half years at that point.
Word, I remember seeing “Rap Name” on BET.
Right. And the D12 album as well, I did the “Obie Trice” skit. It was a long time coming.
How long did you work on Cheers altogether?
Shit, I still got songs from Cheers I didn’t use. Unreleased music I didn’t even use. It was a lot of songs we did, man. I really got a budget open, probably about six months before I had a release date — maybe a year before I had an actual date. We probably worked on that shit about a good year strong.
Any particular stories that stand out from the making of? Any particular sessions or advice that stuck with you?
One time, with Nate Dogg. I was supposed to go to California and fuck with Nate Dogg. I went out, went to the club. I was always hearing that back in the day, 2Pac used to go to the club and then go to the studio for the rest of the night. That’s what I was on. I went to go party for a minute, then I’ma be in the studio all night. But Nate Dogg called me like, ‘Yo Obie, this is a business man! Fuck the club, we got a session, let’s do it!’ [Laughs]
I end up staying at the club anyway, went up to the studio later and we worked it out. But I wish I never would have done that. I wish I would have went straight to the studio off the plane. Handled my business and did what I’m supposed to do. Even though we knocked the records out. It was just the point that he said ‘this is a business.’ I was just in L.A. trying to party at the clubs, and go to the studio after. That stuck with me. Rest in peace Nate Dogg.
Rest in peace Nate Dogg. Looking back, you can say you have a Nate Dogg collaboration produced by Dr. Dre. That’s incredible.
What was it like working with Dre?
Dre is a cool dude, man. He’s a laid back, chill, to his business type of guy. Get in there, make song bangin’ ass shit, play a bunch of records, see what you feeling. Tell you ‘I was working on one for you’ and give you that special feeling inside. Like damn, Dr. Dre actually made one for me specifically! Not just a bunch of beats on a CD. He was making beats specifically for my sound. Dre was cool man, I had the best time working with Dre. I’m definitely going to do that again before I’m up out of here. Before the music stops.
As far as I’m concerned, you got one of Dre’s best beats of all time with “Oh.” There’s a new element every verse. The second has the harpsichord, the third has the strings. Crazy.
[Hums “Oh” melody] Yeah that’s crazy. Exactly.
What would you say is the biggest difference between Cheers and The Fifth?
It’s a different day in music. Different styles, the kids like different shit. Music I tend to like to make is old school, basically. I came out in 2003. It’s 2020 now. I’m an OG in the game. It’s a different genre of music. I kinda stick to my guns and I don’t try and be doing shit I ain’t necessarily used to. I might have a sound particular to today, but I’ma definitely keep my swag on it. I definitely want the kids to listen to some of the music Idrop, so I do use some of the newer style beats sometimes. Just to play around with it and see how I feel. My core fans like me to stick to what I’m used to, but I don’t mind switching it sometimes. Playing with the new wave.
Looking at your catalog now, five albums in. Which one do you hold the closest to your heart?
Definitely Cheers is my favorite. I had the best time, and it’s my favorite album. I like Bottoms Up as well. The one I like the least would probably be The Hangover. I was going through a lot at that time. If I want to say the best one is definitely Cheers, I’ma say TheFifth is maybe second. Second Round’s On Me is third. Bottom’s Up would be the fourth.
Nice. Are you looking forward to the upcoming tour with Snoop Dogg?
Oh yeah, man. We going to Canada soon, I got a Canadian tour coming up. Australia, the U.K. We gon’ tear that down with Snoop. I’m looking forward to getting out there man, and doing this album. The guy I had doing the majority of the beats, Magnedo7, he worked with Marshall a lot in the past. I can’t wait to get on stage and see how these sounds resonate through these speakers on these stages.