"Eminem was a good producer to work with, a brilliant dude. He ain't a producer that doesn't let you be your own individual and say, Make this kind of record,' or, Do this type of song.' It was all on me. I enjoyed it," says the 25-year-old Obie Trice (his real name). "He worked with me, but he let me go wherever it took me. He was hands-on, but he let you basically be free as an artist with your lyrics."
Free he was -- free from the bottomless pit of being a hustler, a drug dealer. As he raps on Cheers' violent thriller "Average Man," he rose "from zero to O." He fully admits that Eminem saved his life.
"My mother, she smiles when I come around now. My daughter's [Kobie] eatin' decent meals and she's in private school," Trice says. "She's 4 years old. She started school. It's a beautiful thing."
A graduate of Detroit's Cooley High School, Trice began rapping at age 11. When he wasn't rapping, he sure wasn't in school, he says. He spent his time selling drugs, partaking in petty crimes and doing whatever he had to do to survive.
Part of the education of Obie Trice included battle rapping at the Hip-Hop Shop, the Detroit record store that was the basis for the Eminem semi-biopic 8 Mile. The battles were hosted by Proof, of Eminem's six-man crew D-12.
"It's great to see somebody come from the Hip-Hop Shop base and do the same thing as we did," says Proof. "It's like an all-star team. It's like the Hip-Hop Shop has produced some of the most prominent and most dominant figures in this rap game -- Slum Village to Eminem to D-12 and now to Obie Trice. He's carrying a little legacy there, you know what I'm sayin'?"
Trice inked a deal with Em's vanity label, Shady Records, several years ago. However, Trice had to be patient. Although he was the first artist signed to the Interscope affiliate, Eminem's other projects -- D-12's album, the 8 Mile soundtrack, 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' -- all took priority.
Trice had opportunities to plug himself, however. He dueted with Eminem on The Eminem Show's VD rap "Drips" (a snippet of Obie's outro to the song appears at the beginning of the single "Without Me").
He was the most visible rapper that nobody had heard of outside of Detroit.
Trice said when his number came up earlier this year, it was well worth the wait. An all-star cast of beatmakers manned the production: Eminem, Dr. Dre, Timbaland, and D-12's Kon Artis. Eminem produced nine of the songs, including the hilarious, bongo-driven ode to drunken sex "Got Some Teeth" and the title track. Dr. Dre produced four tunes, including "Shit Hits the Fan" and "Look In My Eyes."
"Going to L.A. with Dre was a learning experience, just seeing how the dude works and being up-close and personal with a dude whose music I appreciated growing up," Obie says. "I definitely like his work ethic. I can see where Eminem got his from. Dre is the father of work ethic."
Trice prides himself on being able to write in the studio "fresh off hand." "I run away with it like that," he says. "Pressure, I love pressure. I love it down to the wire. That's easier for me to go to the studio and make a fresh song. Some days I got out a couple hours, some days it take longer. That's how I work."
"Obie, he is a vibe person. [If] he feelin' it, he gonna say it," says Proof. "That's Obie. He gonna do it and say whatever the fuck he feels. To the human psyche, that's what we consider to be real."