Tree “50’s”

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m just catching up on Tree, I just got around to reviewing Sunday School last week and have just begun to do my due diligence on his back catalog of mixtapes and EPs.  However, there is something undeniable about his music, his sound, Soul Trap, and the raw energy and emotion he brings to his music.  There’s no doubt that Tree is an emcee and producer on the rise and he’s got a lot of irons in the fire right now, so I was fortunate enough to catch up with him late last week to talk about the Chicago scene, the upcoming Tree featuring the City album, his forthcoming album Soul Trap, the real story behind his musical influences and inspirations, and why he’s not ready to sign on the dotted line on a major label… yet.

JB: For those that are just catching on, take a moment to let people know about yourself and Gutter City Entertainment


I’m Tree, @MCTREEG on twitter, I’m a producer, I’m a writer, I’m an affiliate of Project Mayhem, Mayhem Music, and Gutter City Entertainment most of all, which is my production company, my publishing company, and I created Soul Trap, which is soul and trap music infused.  At this moment, I got the number three mixtape in the country via MTVHive, I’m one of Complex’s top ten producers to watch for, Spin magazine’s top five new artists of August 2012, and top ten songs in Chicago as of 2012 via I’m an instrumental piece to Chicago’s success, and you know, you can go on and on.  Most importantly I’m Tree – I make good music that people listen to, over and over again, not just for this summer, but classic material, I think, they think, we’re all starting to think so.

JB: You produce for a lot of other artists, but you also do projects where you just rhyme and someone else does the beats for you.  Do you see yourself as a producer first and an emcee second or do you even think in those terms?


I don’t think in those terms, I just do music and try to stay current as much as possible, that’s the reason for the new releases that I have.  I do projects with producers, because I’m still in love with music, it’s a hobby, it’s a love, it’s something that I do.  When I first started doing this, I wasn’t getting paid for it, so it wasn’t for any substantial reason other than to hear great music, make great music, and play it for people, let people hear it, check it out and see what they think.  So I don’t see it in terms of producer or rapper, I’m both, and the fact that I can step away from producing and make a classic EP, which I think I did with The Lit with someone else and their beats and their style is because I still like music and if it sounds good I want to be involved.  Most importantly, as a writer, as a lover of music, I want to be involved with anything that sounds good.  So me stepping out and working with Tony Baines and just rapping over his beats is me as a rapper at my best.  Sunday School, that’s me and my production, and there’s a few other credits, if you ever heard any other Tree product, I try to keep it up to a certain standard of quality.

JB: On Sunday School, obviously you talked about a lot of things in terms of subject matter, but you’ve mentioned that the album felt like coming home and there’s definitely a quality of admiration and respect for Chicago, the city, and the people and friends that you were raised around that comes through in that mixtape.  Did you feel like it was important to show love on that project?


Yeah, but that’s not the reason I do it.  I think I do it because it’s just truly is me and how I feel inside.  It’s how I see life, you know, I am a Chicagoan as with anyone – whether you’re a New Yorker, or from Cali, or an LA cat – you love where you’re from.  It’s the good and bad.  I can name you ten things I hate about Chicago!  But the thing about it is you can find good in the worst place.  You know people go to jail and find God.  Me repping for the city is definitely important, but me speaking what I feel and saying what I really think and I would say to anybody if they asked me is more important than me trying to name drop, or call out a specific side of the City and give recognition to some different area just so I can be affiliated.  So I don’t do it in a false, or negative way, I do it just because that is who I am, that’s what I’m influenced by.  I do think it’s important to speak how you feel and say the truth.  Not to the point where you’re snitching, but speak to what’s real and what’s missing – which is reality in rap, nowadays.

JB: Do you currently live in Chicago or are you in Atlanta right now?  


I’m in Chicago, in Englewood.

JB: But you did live in Atlanta for a while right?


Yes I did.

JB: Did living outside of Chicago for a bit give you an opportunity to really see things from a different perspective, an outside perspective, maybe help you see some things a bit more clearly?


Would I say that?  I probably would say that, that it did have something to do with it.  But you know, me going to see other places in general helps you form an opinion of what’s really right and what’s really wrong with that space where you are.  So I’ve been to a lot of places.  Ain’t nothing like Chicago though, it’s where I want to die, it’s where I want to live at.  But there’s other places that are nice, Miami is beautiful, goddamnit Cali is a motherfucker, there’s great things about every place, but you know being in Atlanta probably made me miss Chicago, which made me reflect and write it, so yeah.

JB: You had an interlude on the Tree EP at the end of “Summertime in the City” where there’s a quote that “money was not the end for this man at all, money was a very peripheral thing for him, but beating the odds, winning the game, that was his objective.”  Assuming you still feel that way, why is beat the odds such an important thing to you.


Okay, so this is the real truth.  So when I made the Tree EP there was no Chicago scene, no one had ever heard of Chief Keef, no one had ever heard of King Louie, no one had ever heard of any of these individuals.  I put out a great mixtape that I think shared something then even and it still stands as a testimonial now.  So there’s the easy route that you can take, you can sign your life away.  But one thing that I do have, over these young kids is the knowledge of self, the knowledge of worth, and all of the things that just sort of coming with seeing the world and being in the background of the music business for the last three years and not just being thrown into it.  So money isn’t necessarily the end of all your problems, sometimes it means the beginning of it, and I feel like just point blank, not to ramble, let me get right down to it.  I am the only Chicago artist that is known nationally to some extent, that isn’t signed, isn’t financially backed by individual, but I make the most of it, I get the most posts on big websites – I think I’ve reached every major web channel except Pitchfork, and I think that’s coming next, soon – and I’ve done that basically from my house, via the internet, with no street team, no DJs in my pocket, and I’m just starting to get into performing, because they started offering money for it.  They started offering me money to perform, I just wasn’t into performing, I’d rather be in the studio making more music, I’d rather be doing me, which would really make me happy.  So just in the last month and a half I really started doing performances.

My point in bringing this to you, is I feel I am beating the odds, and I feel like I knew then and I know now that my music is stronger than most, it is definitely different then all, and it’s what the game is missing.  With just the small pocket that it’s penetrating it’s doing dramatic things, it’s like a pinball it hits everything around it.  When one person becomes a Tree fan – like for real, literally – they share it.  It’s not one of those projects where you hear it and you’re like ‘he’s cold,’ and you leave it in your car.  You actually burn copies and give it to your friends like, ‘listen to this guy!’  And I’ve had fans tell me that at the shows.  So with that, you know, I’m content in that.  I’ve spoken with record labels and heard what they had to say.  I’m humble in self, and it’s not about the money really, and I feel like I’m the best.

Tree “Summertime in the City”

JB: Let’s talk about Soul Trap for a minute.  You said that it’s the merging of the soul sample with trap drums, but I don’t always see your drum patterns as trap beat patterns, it seems like you mix it up a lot more than that in terms of the patterns you use.  What are your thoughts on that?


Yeah.  I consider it Trap because of the  components that I use.  I usually use a Trap kit.  You know, these are downloadable.  I always tell people I can make a beat anywhere if you got an internet hook up, a mac with a standard garage band application.  If you got an internet connection and garage band I can make you a million dollar beat in Hawaii on a boat.  I just call it Trap, because it is southern drums and that’s just respect to their craft and what I borrow from them, as well as the Soul, which I borrow from the 70’s and 80’s and 60’s singers that really brought it to the forefront.  It’s just respect where respect is do.  Some people in Chicago, they consider the music that’s popular here Drill music, when in reality it’s just Trap.  I decided to give them respect and not take completely what is there’s.

JB: The way you compose with your sampler as well as your work on the keyboards made me wonder if you have any musical background at all?  Did you play any instruments growing up?


Uh, nah.  (Laughs)  You know it’s just having a keen ear and having the will to make a certain sound.  Get what you’re thinking and hearing in your own head and try to do it.  The technology today enables you to be a great composer so I’ll give all the credit to the great minds that create applications like Pro Tools, so on and so forth.

JB: I’ve read an interview where you were asked you about producers who have influenced you and it seemed like ducked the conversation of influences to your style a little bit.  I understand the importance of the originality of what you do, but where do you derive your inspiration?  


You know, when people ask me those questions, it ain’t questions that I’ve thought about before.  Those interviews were some of my first on those topics, so I was just saying what came to mind.  But I was influenced by producers that are unknown pretty much.  You know classic songs like “Hail Mary” by 2pac (Note: Produced by Hurt-M-Badd), that was a great song if you ask me.  The Above the Rim soundtrack – you know I’m a Pac fan.  The No Limit shit was a great, I know they were made by Beats by the Pound, so I can give them some shout-out for respect.  I have no problem giving them props, I listened to them as a youngster.  But you know I as a producer, I just don’t want to be boxed into a category or labeled.  People compared me to Jay Dilla, and all of these people that I just recently found out about over the last year or two.  So what’s funny is I did “Roses” with Chance The Rapper and Vic Spencer on Sunday School and not until maybe a month ago, I was in New York when I was going around meeting people or whatever, and I heard a rendition of the same particular song with Kanye and Jay-Z and I had never heard it.  I had never heard it before, it was the same sample, and it kind of like awed me, like maybe we just have the same ear.  Like maybe it’s something that derived in us from Africa, like the drums and all that, you know.  You know I give respect to all producers who came before me, I don’t want to take nothing away from anybody or not give them their proper respect.  But producers, you didn’t know who the producers were until Kanye came out and producers started to get famous.  That’s when the relevance of a producer and their credit or what they bring to the table actually made sense to me, and was real.  Like this is actually somebody behind the scenes who actually makes the beat.

JB: Yeah I think that’s a valid point.  There’s sometimes a disconnect, between the way the average person listens to music and people on hip hop blogs and websites listen to music.  Bloggers – and I’m guilty of this as well – we’re those people who will delve into the liner notes or the album’s credits and try to figure out who produced everything and where the influences might come from.  The average person just listens to a song from an artist they like, and they like it, and they don’t even think about it that much, they just like it and appreciate what’s going on musically.  But they’re probably not going to dig to find out who actually produced the track.


Right.  So that’s my – you know, sorry to say – excuse.  But like I say, I love music that I don’t know who produced it.  And it’s not just rap.  Even as a youngster I played my father’s tapes and stuff, so I remember finding one of my father’s tapes and it had a song, Mary J. Blige had a remix to “I’m Going Down,” but I actually found a tape, I found the original and I remember telling my dad ‘Hey, this lady, she made a remix to Mary J. Blige’s song,’ he was like ‘Nah, Mary took her’s, this is the original.  This song’s thirty years old.’  So that’s when my fascination with music first started.  So whoever produced that track is a cold motherfucker in my eyes.  I don’t mean to duck that question though. 

JB: You do so much chopping and manipulation of your samples.  Do you lay a sample down first or lay the drums out and then chop the sample over the drums?  How do you put beats together?


It all depends on how I feel at the time.  If you’ve been doing it as long as I’ve been doing it, sometimes I just chop a sample to a BPM, and then I go from there and I add a drum.  That’s the thing, to me the sample – the actual ending result – has to have some type of impact other than you just take a block of someone else’s work.  I try not to do that.  I try to actually make it different then it was, in the same rhythm and all that, but I hope to offer something bigger and better in the actual song.  But to answer your question, it don’t matter, it’s how I feel.  I might do the drums first, I might make a whole drum track and throw some new stuff over it.  It’s however I feel.

JB: I always wonder this for cats who produce and rap.  How do you know if you’re going to use a beat or if you’re going to give it another artist?


Most times I just start writing to it as soon as I make it, but in other occasions it’ll be a beat that I revisit and try to make something happen with.

JB: You produced a whole mixtape for Tone Skeeta this year.  Does your approach to producing change when you’re producing for another rapper versus when you produce for yourself?


Nah, I’m not really a babysitting-ass type of producer.  Because I’ve actually had a run-in with one or two producers, maybe not even a run-in, but just a straightening out of what’s going to happen while I’m here.  Every time I go in the studio, I tell them put the beat on.  Play a few beats.  It takes me five or ten seconds to know if I like a beat or not.  Don’t keep playing it so I can hear the drum break, and how… I don’t care, I don’t like the beat so let’s go to the next one.  Some people might think I’m an asshole, but I’m dedicated to music and I know what I like at this point, at my age I’m not still trying to find myself.  So play the music, ‘OK, I like that one, play it, I’ll start writing.  Get out of my way.  Play the beat, loop the beat, and give me thirty minutes to an hour, let me write a song for you.’  Real simple.  Some producers might say ‘So where do you think you want to go on it, show me what you got.’  I’m like ‘Nah, I don’t really need that.  Let me just go in here and do what I’ve got to do and I’ll knock it out.’

So when it comes to me [producing for other artists], I play them beats and I do what I like.  If you like them, then okay, I’ll loop that one, you write to that one.  We’re gonna smoke weed with you.  I’m gonna sit and chat with you in between while you write.  And when you’re done, ‘You’re done?  OK.  Let’s record it.’  That’s how you record with me.  So I’ve got some tracks that I’ve got a hook already.  So, I play it, ‘Oh, that’s the hit man right there.  OK, I want that one,’ I’m like, ‘OK, you can have that one. Write two or three verses and we’re good.’  You know what I mean, I gave you subject matter to rap about, I gave you a great beat, there’s nothing to it, but to do it.  This is not a game.  I’ve been doing this too long.  I’ve written thousands of raps, recorded hundreds of songs.  It’s not even a game no more.  It’s not even a task, it’s just check marks, it’s a check.

JB: What’s your writing process when you go to put a song together on the MC side of things, once you have the beat you’re gonna use?


Whatever comes first.  I might come up with the hook first and lay that.  I might start writing some bars, then make a hook around that.  Pretty much, real short and sweet, simple.  Come up with a hook or start writing how I feel and then build the hook around that, that’s the easiest way for me.  Get right into writing.  Whatever happens I just start writing and my first four or eight bars may be the hook, or it may turn out to be the verse.  It depends on how I deliver it vocally, which would make the difference.

JB: I saw you just released the “Damn Near” remix with Mikkey Halsted yesterday, what’s it like for you working with Mikkey?


Shout out to Mikkey Halsted.  You know I’ve been hearing about Mikkey for years.  He’s been like an underground legend in Chicago for years, and I’ve also ran into him every once in a while.  And there was a time when he didn’t know me.  Maybe even a year ago.  He didn’t even know me and I would see him and I’m not like the starstruck kind of individual, because I’ve worked in retail and I’ve helped numerous athletes and so on and so forth.  So you know, not being a dickriding ass nigga or nothing, I’m not riding his dick and shit you know, but he sent a message to me through my homies Project Mayhem how he fucked with me and how he wanted to do music with me one day or whatever.  And he was always too busy, you know he was working with No ID and Pusha T and all these cats.  And I figured that he was just too busy.  Like I said I do music that I like, I don’t really need any individual to give me my credibility.  I created a genre, I’m my own man, and like I said it goes back to beating the odds.  I will succeed, I will be known as damn near a classic act.  But he reached out, I reached out to him, my manager reached out to him, and he finally got some time after he dropped his mixtape and got done doing a few things.  I sent him the track, he sent it back, and you can look forward to us doing more work in the future, that’s what I can say.  So you know he gave me a great blessing on the track and I appreciate him for it.

JB: You were quoted the other day on as saying “in this wave of label interest in our region the few great MCs have been overshadowed by label interest in younger more abrasive brands such as Chief Keef.”  Talk a little bit about the label attention that’s going on in Chicago right now and what that climate is like.


OK, there’s the Chicago scene and then there’s the national Chicago scene.  There’s the Chicago scene where you have the accredited real rappers, that used to battle rap, used to do conventions, and they earned their stripes to be known as the great emcees of Chicago.  Then there’s the new wave that gained fame through internet sensation and they were plucked out of the barrel, some people are made about it, some people are glad.   Like me, I’m glad, I don’t want that to be misconstrued at all, I’m glad that those brothers brought attention to Chicago.  There was no Chicago scene, that’s the reason I went to Atlanta.  So in Chicago, you know who the best are, and then if you’re outside looking in, you listen to what people tell you.  So that’s just to break that down in a nutshell without hurting anyone’s feelings.

JB: How’s the Tree Featuring The City project going and who do you have confirmed on that piece so we can give people a little idea of what to expect?


OK, I’m working on a project called Tree Featuring the City, which is basically Sunday School – actually I’m not going to even say Sunday School, because I got a few pop records that are going to really fuck the game up I think but it’s going to really open the eyes to what is real music – but anyway, not to flabbergast the whole situation it’s Tree featuring the City which is basically going to be about sixteen tracks. What it will contain is my mastery sampling production, blessed, brazened, and polished with my hooks and great artists from the city.  What I can confirm now, I can confirm Project Mayhem – that’s Ish, that’s Paypa, that’s Lennon – I can confirm Vic Mentha from Kids These Days, I can confirm Phil G, I can confirm Jig Dolla, I got Blanco Caine, I have Tone Skeeta, and I’m just really diving into trying to get around people’s schedules.

But you know, I’m hoping to get everybody, aside from the people who are signed and feel like they’re too big for the Chicago shit, and you know there’s a lot of them that have that attitude now, so we let them be.  We let them do what they do.  But like I said, I make the better music in the shadows, and people will eventually hear and learn and respect.  You know there’s always a turnover, there’s always a reality in music that happens.  When Ja Rule blew up, 50 came and took him down, so you know, there’s the reality in music that will happen, that will occur and Soul Trap will win in the end, it’s just the new wave of music, the new.  It’s the new.  I think I did less than 20 thousand downloads of Sunday School, so there’s millions of people that don’t know about it.

JB: So you got that coming out.  Is there anything else that you’ve got cooking right now?


I’ve got a few projects that I’m cooking up right now.  I have an itunes album that I’m dropping in November, in that you will receive production from myself, you will receive production from Frank Dukes who does a lot of work with Ghostface, Wu-Tang, so on and so forth, I’ve got a beat by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, I’ve got a beat by S1 (Symbolyc One) – the guy that made “Power,” I’ve got a beat by Hit-Boy, so you know.  It’s called Soul Trap and it’ll be available on itunes in late November.

JB: I know you’ve been taking some meetings with labels recently, are you feeling like you’re going to make the move to a major label soon or stay independent for a while longer?


This is the thing with the labels, it’s always more of a situation where they’re trying to stay close.  They want to stay close enough to say live with us, we did this, we flew you here, we did that, give us first pick at you when you actually get bigger.  I’ve had a few things that weren’t to my liking and I’m wise enough to know that I could do better and I know that my worth could double, triple, quadruple in the next month.  For me to tie myself down to something that could eventually hurt me in the end would be in unwise and I’m not in a situation like some of these kids where I’m without, and in dire need.  And that’s just the reality of young brothers in the ghetto, in the hood, we all hurting.  Some can sustain the pressures, and some are going to go for that one gold piece.

JB: Are there any important sticking points for you?  Things that have to be right in a contract in order for you to sign on the dotted line?


I think that more importantly it’s about me pushing my music more, actually swallowing my pride and having to sign with someone that can actually give that promo money and actually put this project out to the masses like it needs to be.  I think it’s more up to me, whether I’m willing to bend, like with me I’m content with my buzz growing on my own.  So there’s people that I could work with – managers and so forth – that could walk me into certain doors that right now are closed to me.  And for me to do that, I have to sign away a part of me, which is more than I can bear or even think of.  It’s probably worth the risk, but like I said, if I hold out for six months and have a hundred thousand followers and all my videos have a hundred thousand views, how much more am I worth?  To myself even?  I can definitely go to anybody’s table and demand what I want.  So the situation has to wait to be perfect and I’m willing to strive to make it to where I can make it on my own terms, as opposed to signing away my publishing and signing to a 360 deal and having them enslave me to an album that they can drag out for as long as I’m alive.  I think for my, more than anyone else, other than maybe a Drake or someone like that, I definitely need 100% of my publishing.

  1. […] case you missed it, here was Hardwood Blacktop’s interview with Tree.  Of course, you can also download Sunday School free of […]

  2. […] to feature production by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, S-1, and others did not hit itunes last October, as he originally stated so hopefully that will land in 2013 and build on the success of Sunday School and Tree Featuring […]

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