Obie Trice nearly became the latest rapper to be releasing an album posthumously. The Detroit MC and Eminem protégé took a slug in the cranium on New Year’s Eve 2005, and the bullet remains lodged in his brain. Take a second to re-read that sentence and if you didn’t blink or bat an eyelash, you’ve obviously become desensitized to the violence that has almost become almost commonplace in a sector of hip-hop.
Of course, taking two to the head and surviving gives Obie a “credibility” factor (in the eyes of the suits at Interscope, who roll their tinted windows up if they happen to drive through Harlem) that wasn’t readily apparent when his first album, Cheers, was released in the fall of 2003. The album went platinum on the strength of the amiable but jokey first single “Got Some Teeth”. Something like that as your first single does not bode well for a long term career, so on Second Round’s on Me, Obie goes all-the-way gangsta in an attempt to add a minute or two onto his rapidly expiring 15.
In the event that this album defies the odds and becomes successful, it won’t be because there’s anything particularly ear-catching about it. Not that Obie’s a particularly bad MC. Although there are definitely moments where you stop and say “what the HELL did he just say?”, his flow is solid, with the obvious points of reference being the cool-as-ice flow of Jay-Z and the sing song rhymes of 50 Cent (who phones in the chorus on one cut here). The main issues here are the production and the subject matter.
Eminem is behind the boards for about half of this album, and the fact of the matter is that Em’s productions have become agonizingly predictable. Mr. Mathers goes for the same plodding beat on every track he helms, with the occasional string hit to give the songs a bit of drama. Occasionally, he hits on a good idea: “Lay Down” has a menacing, ominous feel combined with a bit of Southern bounce. The beat is hot enough to distract you from the tired, predictable subject matter.
Violence. Drug dealing. No snitching (complete with yet another chorus from Akon, who seems to pop up on every rap and R&B album that comes out despite not being able to sing a lick). Gunshots. Rims. Misogny. Wrap it all up and you basically have Second’s Round on Me in a nutshell. And keep in mind that this is coming from a dude who just took slugs in the head. If you were shot, wouldn’t you at least think about maybe changing your lyrical content just a bit, if not to protect yourself, then at least to make sure that other young kids don’t think that getting shot is cool? Well, given 50’s success after taking nine bullets, I guess not. Any way you swing it, it’s disappointing, not only because it presents the same caricatured one-dimensional view of the hood, but because there’s no sense of maturity on this record—with the exception of the album’s opening track, “Wake Up”, on which Trice at least attempts to add a bit of levelheadedness to the proceedings.
It’s gotta be some form of irony that directly after that track, Obie claims to be “Violent”, pulls out his gun, and heads off to blast “niggas eyeing my figures”. It’s not like I’m some sort of hippie pacifist. But there’s a difference between being a 17- or 18-year-old kid who wants to let off some testosterone and a 30-year-old man that should know the consequences of spitting irresponsible lyrics and hides behind the fallacy that “this is what happens in the hood”. Besides, even some of the most violent hip-hop, (Dre’s Chronic, Cypress Hill, Biggie) has music funky and tight enough that you almost forget what’s being said. Aside from the occasional hot beat (Emile’s sick, cacophonous rock beat for “Wanna Know”, the set’s best track), most of the production here is substandard. And on some of the cuts where they get the beats right (like the soulful “Ghetto”), Trice ruins them with rhymes like “ch-ch-ch-ch, huh-huh-huh-huh/Jason Voorhees/You’re boring me with your story/I’m a Detroit-ee.” It also says a lot that the hottest rhyme on this album is spat by Eminem himself, who shows up for a feverish 16 bars on the otherwise-terrible posse cut “There They Go”. Em sounds energized, however, he’s apparently sucked on some of that gangsta juice as well. His violent rhymes should make hip-hop fans shake their heads in sorrow at the fact that a once talented, original MC has turned into the Elvis of rap, adopting “street” imagery in his rhymes when the whole world knows he was a trailer park kid.
Second Round’s on Me just emphasizes everything that’s wrong with gangsta rap, which started out as admirable street reporting and has regressed into wanton violence which should be viewed as a cartoon, but a generation of urban youth has unfortunately come to accept as gospel. With any sense of justice, this album should be a failure, making Obie’s third round quite unlikely.
// Notes from the Road
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