By Matthew Bu
When Kanye West claimed that everyone from Chicago wanted to make soul beats just like him on his song Homecoming, he probably wasn’t expecting MC Tree. Tree is the latest rapper/producer to rise in the booming Chicago hip-hop scene. Along with other Chicago natives such as Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, he is helping put Chicago hip-hop back on the map. While he is inspired by the soul production that both Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa follow, MC Tree stays clear of that lane and, instead, fashions his own style. He is the self-declared pioneer of soul trap (check his Twitter): trap beats with a soft touch of a soul twang. You can hear this in his songs. Classic trap trademarks such as 16th high hats and heavy drum-beats are copious, but they build upon one another to create a soulful aura. Even MC Tree’s singing adds to the soul aesthetics – but his singing voice is not as tame as R&B legends or even Drake’s. He sounds like Tom Waits trying to impersonate Lil’ Wayne after doing too many drugs. This is not something you often hear in hip-hop. Recently, Tree released his latest EP titled THE @MCTREE EP through Scion AV for free. How does this EP stand?
The EP opens with the infectious Probably Nu It. The song is stripped to its trap essentials: staccato clicks, melodic bass drums, and 16th high hats. Sonically, it’s bare bones. When listening to Tree, don’t expect any grand production you might hear on a No. ID or Just Blaze record. Tree, however, is the master of soul trap; if anything else was tacked on to the production, the beat may have sounded a bit over-bearing. Even with the lack of instrumentation, the beat manages to get your head bobbing. It’s the kind of sound you play at three in the morning in the car with no clue where you are heading. Vocally, Tree raps with his trademark damaged voice, and although this sounds like it would be polarizing to the aural senses, it does complement his beat well. Plus, his flow makes him sound like a lethargic drunkard wandering empty Chicago alleyways. It’s both dark and humorous, and a commendable unique style that only Tree offers. Like the opening track, on Stay Away, the husky and emotive wails on the hook meld nicely with the trap beat. There’s a palpable sense of damage that stems from his singing. On tracks like Soultrappin/I Believe and Grace, Tree switches up the production, throwing a couple of curveballs. On these tracks, in the typical pink polo rocking Kanye West manner, he chipmunks some soul samples and lays over some drum beats. It sounds refreshing when played right after his bare-bone tracks, and brings a luminous quality when juxtaposed to Tree’s dark and tarnished voice. The closing track, God Like, has a smoky jazz club atmosphere. There’s a delicate trumpet and light piano, which is an interesting supplement, given the other tracks on the EP. The beat, however, starts to get bump when the high hats jump in. The ad-lib overdubs that are tucked within the background of the songs are a nice addition to the already drugged up soundscape that occupies all the tracks. Lyrically, Tree does touch upon typical rap topics such as self-adulation, but his rhymes are not grounded within these shallow realms. On Soultrappin/I Believe and Grace, he paints Chicago as a grimy, gang-affiliated city copious with crime and trouble. Uh Million showcases Tree’s lyrical abilities. He describes every characteristic of this girl who he believes is one out of a million through various facets. Taylor Outlaw’s verse shows us the girl’s perspective in the song, and although she doesn’t suit the beat as well as MC Tree, she gets her job done eloquently.
While MC Tree may not be the most accomplished rapper right now, it will be interesting to see where he ends up, considering his unorthodox sound. Will he be a lucrative flagship artist, or will he just be another rapper off the block? Only time can tell, but from this EP, I can tell that I am interested to hear some more MC Tree in the future.
Stream the EP here: https://soundcloud.com/scionav/probably-nu-it?in=scionav/sets/tree