Obie Trice’s third studio album (first since 2006’s Second Round’s on Me), Bottoms Up, brings me back to the good old days of the 00s. Trice is reminiscent of himself, which is both good (coherence) and bad (lack of development). Any artist walks the fine line of evolving versus staying true to their flow and Bottoms Up is just a step in that self-discovery. One can imagine, though, that a project 6+ years in the making can wane on itself, and there are moments where the exhaustion is palpable.
Listeners are hyped immediately from strong key progressions in the Dr. Dre-produced intro “Bottoms Up,” which serves as thank-you to fans who have stuck with Trice through this journey and to those who molded his musical inspirations, including his former label, Shady Records. Trice is multifaceted on this album, moving in between “Dear Lord,” a confessional track of sorts, wherein Trice reconciles his guilt for indulging street life with his faith, to “I Pretend,” as he pines over having a deeper connection with the woman he’s courting, even if that courting is mainly in his mind. The rock-reminiscent chorus here blends fluidly with the sexual innuendos. Statik Selektah produced the reggae-inspired “Richard” which features Eminem. The dynamic between Em and Trice generates an exciting energy that contrasts pleasurably with the mellow beat. “Battle Cry” boasts an emotional chorus and crooning additions from Adrian Rezza, and here Trice addresses the tumultuous nature of the hip-hop industry, being “shot” by critics, and criticisms from fans and peers alike. He similarly addresses this in “Lebron On,” essentially paralleling the disapproval he received from fans upon his departure from Shady Records to the criticism Lebron received for leaving from Cleveland.
“Spill My Drink” stands as one of the strongest tracks on the album, melding NoSpeakerz’s dark piano chords (and the occasional sound of ice clinking against glass) with Trice’s mediations on everyday life struggles that demand inebriation. This emotionally evocative track is the zenith in which production, lyricism, and musicality are all simultaneously on par with Trice’s evolution as an artist. “Ups and Downs” and “My Time” are classic Trice, displaying acute lyrical abilities with an air of playfulness. Trice is again a guilty pleasure – one of those poetic rarities who is able to offer dirty lyrics in sexy and clever ways. On both “Secrets” and “Spend the Day,” his description of messing with women is at times graphic, but his lyricism and precision in building strong imagery enhance the song’s musicality.
There is not much new here: this is a standard album about women, the industry, street struggles, etc. with worthy beat variation and clean production. Multifaceted he is, though there’s no real overarching theme. Even given his former catalogue of work, Trice doesn’t build upon his musical direction in any major way. “Secrets” and “Lebron On,” start with great verse structure, but these tracks, among others, are plagued with straining high-pitched, lackluster choruses. “Going No Where” is lyrically strong, but suffers from an unimaginative beat and a cliché chorus; while “Petty” and “Crazy” seem to clash sonically with the rest of the album.
In fact, the album lacks a bit of creative direction, both in production and theme. But even with its shortcomings, within Bottoms Up there’s a glimmer of passion. Trice’s candid ability to make regular life artistic through lyricism alone stands strong. Wordplay is classic hip-hop, and will sound novel against the backdrop of simple rhyme schemes getting radio play today. And for that, we can thank Trice for sticking to his genuine style that incites not just a head-nod, but a two-step, and maybe a shot or two.
– Sandra Manzanares