Violence, says rapper Obie Trice, can happen no matter how many albums you’ve sold or how high the profile of the company you keep.
“Anytime you’re in the heart of Detroit or in the city somewhere,” says Detroiter Trice, “anything can happen. Nobody is invisible to violence. I don’t care if you’re Michael Jackson or Will Smith. Nobody.”
Trice, 28, is speaking about the past year of his life. Inside of a year, he’s experienced a near-fatal drive-by shooting that left a bullet lodged in his skull and the fatal shooting of a good friend and fellow rapper.
It’s time for the violence to stop, Trice says. And it’s time, he says, for urban America to wake up.
On Tuesday, when his delayed sophomore album, “Second Round’s On Me,” is finally released, he’ll share his insider’s view of the carnage that he’s seen growing up and the violent reality of the last year he’s experienced in spite of success and fame.
A near-fatal experience
It was the early morning hours of New Year’s Eve, and Trice and his girlfriend were leaving Envy, a club in downtown Detroit.
They were driving in his white Range Rover — he refuses to tint his windows — heading toward his Farmington Hills home when an unknown shooter tried to take his life on the Lodge Freeway.
He’d just passed the Wyoming Avenue exit when the shots came from behind his truck, with one bullet hitting him in the back of his skull. Amazingly, Trice was able to continue driving and then exit the freeway in Southfield, his girlfriend flagging down police officers when he could drive no farther. She called his brother, Terry Wilson, who was in his car not too far from Trice.
Wilson, who also is Trice’s manager, remembers the night being icy, and he was in such a panic to get to where his brother was that he crashed his car into a tree. He hopped out and ran the rest of the way.
When Wilson got there, he was stunned.
Trice was talking to him and seemed OK despite his head injury.
“Unfortunately, a lot of us grew up in a violent environment. When you’re in the industry, it doesn’t go away,” says Wilson. “Me being a native Detroiter, I’m not shocked that people get shot. But because it’s my brother, I was shocked. We weren’t having problems with people.”
An ambulance took Trice to Providence Hospital in Southfield, where doctors released him hours later, saying that because of the bullet’s positioning, it was too risky to take it out. There it remains. Trice goes to Beaumont Hospital in Troy every six weeks so doctors can make sure the bullet doesn’t move to any potentially dangerous zones.
“As a hip-hop artist, you’d think you’d get into a violent incident outside of your hometown. So I was kind of upset that that type of thing happened to me at home and I’m a representative of Detroit,” Trice says, his Detroit Tigers cap tilted to the side.
“I felt a sense of invincibility at one point. I was scared to death at one point. Paranoia kicked in. I didn’t see anybody for a while. I didn’t leave the house. I felt blessed. I felt I was truly God’s child — it was a lot of different emotions that went on. Not too many people come back from a bullet in the back of their head.”
When Trice was preparing to leave the emergency room at Providence Hospital, a group of about 20 friends, including Detroit rapper Proof, was waiting to take him home.
He was released around 4 in the morning, and he and Proof, a member of D12, talked until around 11 a.m. about Trice’s shooting. They tried to figure out who did it and why; they couldn’t come up with a suspect or a reason. Eight months later, the case remains unsolved.
“The look on Proof’s face was a morbid look. When he saw me released, he was shaking his head in disbelief. He tried to figure out who had done it and we couldn’t come up with no clues. I don’t bother nobody. I take demo tapes, I take demo CDs. I call you back if I’m interested; I call you back if I don’t like it. I tell you the truth, what I feel about your music. That’s what you want me to do anyway,” Trice says. “I don’t tint my windows because I feel like I shouldn’t have to. I’m at home.”
Still, something bothered Trice about the conversation he had with Proof that night, something that he wanted to tell his friend, whom he had known since the late ’90s, when they were undiscovered Detroit MCs. “We talked for hours. I was telling him how I really don’t be in the clubs like that. And look what just happened to me. I said, ‘You be all over Detroit, every club … we just can’t move like that.’ He said, ‘You’re right, you’re right.’ Then like three months later,” Trice says, pausing, his head dropping, “Boom.”
A different approach to recording
Following his own shooting, Trice was traumatized, but he had been prepared to release his sophomore album “Second Round’s on Me,” as it was. He had completed recording it at the end of last year.
The label hadn’t begun pressing the disc, but with a lead-off single, “Snitch,” scheduled to hit radio and music video shows earlier this year, Trice was ready to face the world.
With “Second Round’s on Me,” Trice had wanted to take a much more personal approach. When he first announced himself on 2003’s “Cheers,” which sold more than a million copies worldwide, that album had a poppier, radio-friendly hip-hop edge to it. “Cheers” was more structured, he says, because he wrote down every word before he began the recording.
On “Second,” he rapped whatever was in his mind, eight lines at a time, and then he pasted the pieces together. This time he recorded first, bringing the music to Eminem’s attention afterward. Eminem, the Detroit rapper who heads up Shady Records, had made Trice the first solo artist signed to his label.
“I am the executive producer of the album, but I also produced about half of it,” rapper Eminem says via e-mail. “Obie did a lot on his own, and we just picked the best stuff together, mixed it down and put it with the records I produced. Even with this approach, though, I think it sounds pretty seamless for having multiple producers. That was our intent.”
Certainly, Trice had recorded a few danceable tracks, ready for the clubs and ready to be rattling the doors off someone’s car.
But he opened up a little, revealing more about who he is, where he comes from and what he’s all about.
“The album is about me. You get a sense of where Obie Trice comes from, where he’s trying to go,” he says. “I’m not just talking about how much money I got or how much ice I’m wearing. Not to say that there’s nothing wrong with that music, but I got something to say in my songs, something that urban America can feel.”
Tragedy strikes in Detroit
The news came to Detroit hip-hop insiders early on a Tuesday morning, and it quickly traveled around the world. Proof, who many thought of as the godfather of Detroit hip-hop, was dead.The rapper who was born Deshaun Holton was shot to death April 11 at age 32, after shooting 35-year-old Keith Bender Jr. during a dispute at an after-hours club on Detroit’s east side.
It was beyond surreal for Trice and Eminem, who counted Proof as his best friend.
Eminem, whose real name is Marshall Mathers, and Trice went to the hospital, stunned.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I knew it was final. The lieutenant came out and told us it was final, and he was crying, and he said we could go back and see him back there. The room was like getting closer and closer, and it seemed so far away, and when I get in the room, dude is just laying there, like one eye half open, this towel behind his head and a sheet all the way up to his Adam’s apple, and really all you see is his face,” Trice says.
“Marshall is on the ground throwing up, basically. D12 in there crying, I’m touching his face, I’m crying, and his face is freezing. I grab his feet and his feet are barely moving, like rigor mortis is already setting in. This was like a few hours later. And you could see half his eye, and it’s like lifeless. It’s nothing. And I just couldn’t believe it. I just really couldn’t believe it. It was just like unbelievable, for real. I couldn’t even fathom it. Like … come on, man, you’re dead? You’re not dead. I didn’t sleep for weeks after that. For weeks.”
The next week, he was at his friend’s funeral, standing near the coffin, crying and speaking off the top of his head, much like how he designed this new album.
The words were just coming out, and he says he told the thousands who had gathered inside Detroit’s Fellowship Chapel, and the spillover pockets of fans who stood outside listening to audio, what was in his heart.”I want to talk to the black men in here that’s coming up in the hood, coming up in the struggle,” he said through tears back then. “We’re killing each other, dog. And it’s about nothing. Nothing. Nothing. We’re all dying. And we’re leaving our kids. Our mommas. Our grandmas. Over nothing.”
Shortly after the funeral services, just as a scheduled promotional trip was set to begin to push his new album, Trice decided to go back in the studio in Detroit. Eminem, the album’s executive producer, joined him.
Memories from that hospital scene, the funeral and the spiraling details of what happened that fatal night were fresh on his mind.
After being shot in the head and grieving over Proof’s death, Obie Trice shouts down the violence by speaking from the heart
“It took me back to what I went through. It made me mad. I wished I was there. I wished I could have prevented it from happening. I wished he was with me that night,” Trice says.
Additions to the new album
Trice’s life had changed since he’d last been in the studio working on the LP. It included his brush with death and the loss of his friend. He called Interscope Records, the parent label for Shady Records, and said he had a few things to get off his chest.
“Being in the studio and working with me, it’s not hard to get in that place, especially with everything that’s gone on with us,” Eminem says by e-mail. “I’ve always written from personal experience, and some of it naturally rubs off. We can’t always rap about how tough we are or how big our wheels are.”
Trice and Eminem added three new songs to the album: “Cry Now,” which Proof heard before he was killed, “Violent” and “Wake Up.” Originally, the album was scheduled to come out May 30.
“Wake Up,” which was inspired by Proof’s death, is like a lot of the other tracks on the album, largely describing urban blight. It’s one of the best songs on the album, but Eminem and Trice say they don’t plan to release it for the radio.
” ‘Wake Up’ is not really a traditional song at all,” Eminem says by e-mail. “There isn’t even really a chorus, just a long verse and a bridge. It’s not traditional for radio, but if they wanna play it, we won’t complain. It showcases Obie’s natural talent to rap fluidly for a long time with compound rhymes without getting off track at all.”
“Cry Now” deals with black-on-black crime, purportedly talking about how people in Detroit support Eminem, who is white, but someone would try to kill Trice, who is black.
“I made a couple of songs that I feel like us as black men, black youth, black people in general, we need to get past some of the senseless violence,” Trice says.
“I’m just a reporter for what goes on in the neighborhood and where I came from. Those are my roots and that’s what I go through and that’s what I’m going to always stay true to.”
Wilson says that after his brother’s shooting incident, Trice needed a creative release.
“He really had to vent. And as a writer and an artist, that’s how you get a lot of things out. It’s something he needed to do. He didn’t speak on it, he just went and did it. I don’t think he wanted to really deal with the situation, but I think he had to. I don’t think he wanted to put it out there,” Wilson says, “but that was his therapy.”
The death did more than startle Trice and others around him. It woke him up.
“I pray for my family. I pray for the people around me. I pray for the children around me. I pray to be successful at what I do. And I pray for the city. I pray for Detroit.
“I feel like can’t no other city come close to how bad we are right now. Everywhere I go, it’s like, ‘You’re from Detroit?!’ It’s this instant respect. Just because of the violence. It makes me like damn … violence is like everything right now,” Trice says.
“Give me a peace of mind any day. I’m getting older, I got a 7-year-old daughter, and I ain’t got time for that. I’m trying to look at 40. I’m almost 30, and I want to see what 40 and 50 look like. My father is 63.
“I remember having my vision blurred, and I couldn’t see past the hood and didn’t think I was going to make it past 25 or 21. I’m past that. I want to continue to live; have grandchildren.”
Contact KELLEY L. CARTER at 313-222-8854 or firstname.lastname@example.org.