Chicago’s Tree may seem like a man in the right place at the wrong time. As the drill scene exploded onto the internet earlier this year, making dark, pent-up fight music, Tree was making music on the other side of the Chicago coin: drawling, soulful, and open gangsta rap that he has coined to be the new micro-genre of soultrap. With this year’s Sunday School mixtape and the earlier Tree EP, he sketched the outlines of a new kind of gangsta sing-rap in the sloppy, gravelly flow of an angry Louis Armstrong.
Being a unique voice in an otherwise very singular scene would be one thing, but his tapes have also been defined by incredibly adventurous production choices, often done by Tree himself. From purposefully chunky and awkward samples on “Amy” and “Texas Tea” or the smooth and heavy soul of “Pride”, his sounds are always full of personality and more than a little bit raw. Unfortunately, it was almost always a little bit overcooked, more interesting to listen to than constantly enjoyable.
Fans of the rapper still had a right to be fearful when they heard that his next tape would be completely produced fellow Chicago producer 110% Pure. Luckily, the team turns out to be a very productive one, and have produced his most compelling and listenable release to date. The songs on Trillin are a distillation of previous Tree sounds into a much more direct, digestible format. Tree has toned down his cries and chosen production that, while still adventurous, is usually based around a single interesting concept. “Karl Malone”, for example, is based around a purposefully awkward loop that Tree skillfully winds his flow around. It builds loads of tension and makes everything sound very, very urgent.
Lyrically, Tree is still somewhere between a cliche and refreshingly honest. While his subjects aren’t anything new, songs, for instance, about diamonds, wood, and designer clothes or a simple rags to riches story, it’s hard not to see his stories as sincere. The sheer amount of raw emotion in his voice makes it hard not to take him seriously. Tree’s is a type of passion that I would like to see much more of in the game right now.