Chicago’s new hip-hop wave has put the city back on the rap map, and one of the unsung heroes of that movement is Tree, a grizzled, introspective rapper who prefigures what will probably be a subgenre of its own — “soul trap.” Continuing with his established blues-and-trap theme, Tree’s latest tape is called Trap Genius, and while it leans far too heavily on some tired Southern sounds, there are moments of brilliance here. You can see the fingerprints of Chicago’s other breakouts on the project, like when Tree most clearly interpolates Chance The Rapper’s exuberant squawk on “Betta Than Eva.” But he also has the vision to look outside the sometimes insular scene, enlisting Seattle production duo Blue Sky Black Death to provide the majestic sweep on easy standout track “New Or Leins/Training Day.” Samples of newscasters addressing the atrocious violence that still holds entire neighborhoods of Chicago hostage are sprinkled throughout the record, a chilling reminder of the city’s reality. Tree is at his best when he’s fiddling with sounds that rarely find their way into hip-hop, like “Hunneds And Fifties,” which samples a haunting riff from classical music that I can’t quite place right now. He said he has plenty more music to release this year, and I hope most of it strays away from the worn-out trap sound. I’d rather have more of his soul. Listen below.
Download Trap Genius for free here.