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Obie Trice 

Second Round's on Me (Shady/Interscope)

The nine gunshot wounds and subsequent bragging rights at Shady still belong to 50 Cent, but Obie Trice now carries in his skull a bullet (from a violent encounter last New Year's Eve) and a memory (of his late labelmate Proof). Unlike the larger-than-life 50, Obie sounds genuinely scarred by his experiences: Most of his sophomore album is as bleak as Eight Mile Road. Yet for the most underrated rhymer in the uninspiring Shady stable, the somber overtones aren't entirely a downer.

Richer and more subtle musically than Trice's 2003 debut, Second Round's on Me finds Eminem and JR Rotem mining minor-key soul to back the star's plainspoken flow; it's effective enough that even Akon's hook on the grim "Snitch" seems sugary by comparison. Aside from his fixation on Superman drawers, Obie's rhymes reflect the serious sounds, tracing Detroit's disintegration and debating whether to stay and fight. "Cry Now" suggests that he will: "The white boy has stepped down," he says of Eminem, "so I'll accept the crown." That's presumptuous on a couple of levels, but Second Round turns Obie's dances with death into something of value, at least.

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