Posts Tagged ‘Tree’


Kevin Gates “Weight”

If there’s one thing that magazines and online music websites like XXL, Complex, and Spin still seem to do a decent job of it’s creating online debate around the lists that they publish.  That said, there’s one list in particular that garners a ton of attention on an annual basis, partially because it is perceived to be a stepping stone to big things to come in the careers of rappers.  The reality of the annual XXL Freshman 10 is that it’s become one of the safest lists in rap music.  The artists they choose to hold this honor on an annual basis at this point, have usually already reach a modicum of hype, success, and have an engine behind them that ensures that they will – at the very least – continue to maintain the relevance that they had in the year prior, which combined with the increased spotlight they will receive for being on the XXL list, and the label support that they already have (if you think that any artist who makes the XXL Freshman list in 2013 isn’t signed to a label – even if it’s not “official” yet – you’re out of touch with the way things work in the rap industry in this decade).  While not without merit for it’s role as an annual recognition process, the reality is that most of the artists who make the Freshman of 2013 list, will have actually been the freshmen of 2010, 2011, or 2012.  Just taking a look at their list you see a number of great artists, who have been building a rep, and in some cases releasing music on an independent level – or even mainstream level – for a number of years:

The artists who make up the XXL Nominees in 2013:

Chief Keef

Would’ve been a great – visionary – nominee in 2012.  To nominate Keef for a Freshman list in 2013 is basically akin to nominating Jay-Z for a freshman list in ’97 or Biggie in ’95 (not that Keef is Jigga or B.I.G. by any estimation, but he sits atop the game in 2013 – undoubtedly one of rap’s biggest stars at this point).  Keef took the rap world by storm in 2012 and had a much hyped 4th quarter release on a major label by year end, he’s a sophomore if there’s ever been a sophomore.

Gunplay

Again, a great pick if it was 2006 or 2007.  Look I get XXL’s desire to include him in a list like this since Gunplay will finally drop his solo major label debut in 2013, but the reality is that the guy has had half a decade of appearances on major label releases and well promoted mixtapes to build his buzz. To use an NBA reference Gunplay is kind of like the NBA player who doesn’t get drafted, but makes cameo appearances on 1o day contracts with NBA teams on an annual basis – showcasing his skills – and eventually latches on to a viable roster.  However, anybody who had a major label group album in 2009 that was promoted by one of the three biggest rap artists of the last 10 years does not qualify as a Freshman.

A$ap Ferg

He shows potential, but to be honest I think his appeal is limited and the whole A$ap Mob thing fell pretty darn flat after that abortion of a mixtape they put out in 2012.  There’s definitely room for him to continue to approve and he has a solid skill set, but he doesn’t have the appeal that Rocky does, and it seems to me that A$ap Yam has these guys under his thumb a little too much.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m a HUGE proponent of quality control, but if that’s what Yams provides then he did a piss poor job on the A$ap mixtape in 2012.  Maybe the Mob really will shift their attention toward other artists in the collective in 2013, but it remains to be seen whether that attention will achieve the desired results.

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2012 was a really great year for rap producers, probably a better year for producers than rappers, which seems to have been the trend for the last few years.  It is notable that 2012’s list sees the inclusion of several producers who work through primarily sample based means, several who work primarily in the field of original composition, and several who are equally adept in both fields or use interpolation to recreate previous compositions.  This strikes me as notable as I cannot think of a year where there was quite so much balance between the various modes of production.  2012 was also a tough year to select just 10 producers for this honor, as admittedly Roc Marciano, Ka, Harry Fraud, Willie Green, Aesop Rock and others had some very noteworthy production in 2012, but didn’t make the final cut.  As with the rappers, this is in no particular order.

Key Nyata “Suicide Capital” produced by Blue Sky Black Death

Blue Sky Black Death

It’s kind of amazing that it feels like this collective is still “proving themselves” in the industry given the number of years and dope projects they have to their name.  In 2012, BSBD dropped the final two pieces in the trilogy of projects they released with Nacho Picasso over a very tight time frame.  They then quickly retooled and put out projects with the new group Skull & Bones as well as Deniro Farrar before the end of the year.  They’ve got a ton of new material in store for 2013 as well, but it will be interesting to see if they can continue to garner some more major label placements like they did on eXquire’s EP this year.  Perhaps it’s a pipe dream, but it would be amazing to hear BSBD do a full length project with a vocalist who could really float amid the ether of their production the way an Ethelwulf, Future, or Chief Keef could.  Future and Keef seem like a bit of a stretch, but an EP with Wulf seems like it could happen if the two sides came to the table.  Laptop A&Ring aside, there really weren’t many producers who were on BSBD’s level in 2012 so as always it will be interesting to see where they take their game in 2012.

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There have never been more divergent definitions for what makes a rapper good at rapping than there have been in 2012.   HB’s formula is made up primarily of technique (originality as well as execution), writing (complexity as well as relatability), and the degree to which a rapper can draw you into his or her own world.  None of this is a science, but there’s no doubt that the work of these 10 individuals stood out in 2012 (in no definite order).  Happy New Year.

Roc Marciano “76”

Roc Marciano

Roc Marcy’s ascension from the trenches to the parapets was pretty meteoric.  In hindsight, the ease with which he executed this transition over just a two year period has to have a lot to do with the decade plus he had in the game before   he really blessed the world at large with a proper solo debut.  Training alongside the likes of Busta Rhymes & Flipmode, developing his craft with the U.N. & Pete Rock, and polishing his solo skills for a few years before releasing Marcberg had a huge impact on his end game.  Roc’s and partner Ka’s journeys are the type that makes one chuckle at the plight of young rappers who have been at it for 12-18 months and complain that they are being slept on.  Come back and say that in a decade or two.  Regardless of the journey, Roc’s craft is just on a different level than all of his contemporaries at this stage.  He unloads vivid imagery and slick talk at a pace that even makes Ka seems a bit out of place alongside him at times.  In some ways it’s easier to compare Roc at this point in his career to Iceberg Slim or Donald Goines than it is to compare him to Meek Mill, Future, or Chief Keef.  It ain’t checkers it’s chess.

Emeralds,” “76,” “My Persona,” “We Ill

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2012 has been an exceptional year for rap music.  It’s hard to think of a year over the course of the last half a decade that saw the release of so many excellent rap albums.  Remarkably ten of the albums that made the Hardwood Blacktop Top Fifteen for 2012 were produced by just one producer, in three cases (Grief Pedigree, Mista Thug Isolation, and Skelethon) the albums were entirely self-produced by the artist.  Also of note, only two of the top fifteen this year were released by Major Labels, granted there were a few major label releases that were on the cusp of this list (Live From The Underground, The Game’s Jesus Piece, Big Boi’s Vicious Lies & Dangerous Rumors, Nas’s Life Is Good, and Mr. MFN eXquire’s Power & Passion), a few others of some note (2Chainz, Rick Ross, Meek Mill, Self Made Vol. 2, Cruel Summer), and there’s still major label releases from TI and Chief Keef to contend with before the year is out.  That said, at this point we can be reasonably confident by the sheer excellence of these fifteen albums and by the recent batting averages of the two remaining contenders that in all likelihood this list will stand-up as HB’s Best of 2012 even after the release of Trouble Man, and Finally Rich.  What this tells us more than ever is that some of the best rap music these days is released for free (six of the list’s fifteen albums were at least at one point available at no cost), without major label financial or promotional backing (thirteen of fifteen), and that nothing beats the artistic clarity and vision of a rapper sitting down with one producer (or all by himself) and pouring his heart and soul into a project.  May 2012 bless us with as many substantial rap albums as 2012 did.

15 Most Noteworthy Rap Albums of 2012:

Ka “Vessel”

1. Ka – Grief Pedigree

It’s hard not to root for the underdog and Ka certainly qualifies as that given his interesting, but unheralded career as a non-central member of 90’s NYC underground favorites Natural Elements, and as a solo artist with a sparse guest spot discography, and one promising, but underdeveloped solo album.  It seems that he must have been galvanized by the success of close friend and collaborator Roc Marciano, who took him under his wing a bit on the production tip a bit during the creation of Grief Pedigree.  Interestingly enough though as we look back at the year, Ka championed the nearly drumless gritty sample without the boom-bap production aesthetic at a time when Roc reportedly told him “you might be in for some quiet shows,” and yet Roc ended the year by releasing an album where his own utilization of that rebellious percussion technique stands as the lone criticism from many purists on his excellent Reloaded.  Although Reloaded may have been a more polished and ultimately more musically stunning album, like good kid, m.A.A.d cityGrief Pedigree earns some points for it’s unusual vantage point.  Ka provides the unique perspective of an aging rapper, a veteran of the drug war’s trenches during the NY crack era, but who never made enough as a rapper or through other means to move out of Brownsville.  With Grief Pedigree, Ka combines Rakim’s approach to rhyming by using his words to craft complete rhythmic structures and patterns that you can almost visualize – like architectural designs or seismograph print-outs – with Nasty Nas’s ability to describe his surroundings so intricately that the listener begins to feel and smell the world being narrated around them.  The whole album is connects with the senses in a way so little music manages to do these days.  And then there are the bars.  A lot of rappers claim to be lyricists, and a lot of critics spend times trying to debate the merits of certain types of lyrics or punchlines over others.  That said, those who invest an engaged listen are rewarded with lyrical gemstones:

“I own the night, the heat’s my receipt”

“Stayed in hell all my life, I need heaven’s visa / Know it’s right, but can’t change over night, like Ebenezer”

In Kings county where the Queen never faked a jack/  the mac-10, and a 9, and my Ace is strapped”

In case you missed it: Here are the two pieces of the interview I did with Ka this year on the making of Grief Pedigree (Part 1: Track-by-Track, Part 2: Additional words)

And here is the entire album in video form in one place, like the rhymes and production, all of the videos are directed by Ka himself.

Ka – Grief Pedigree (the complete video collection in long form)

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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

TREE:

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 Fakeshoredrive.com. 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?

TREE:

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.

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Sometimes when an artist does something dramatically original it polarizes the listening populace, some shy away from it, because it shocks their senses and their understanding of the confines of their genre, others flock to it merely because it is different without taking the time to investigate whether there is any depth behind the exploration.  When an artist’s originality is subtler – perhaps an unusual combination of existing and previous aesthetics – a lot of times people miss the boat entirely, writing it off as derivative, uninteresting, or uninspiring.  The reason for my delay in reviewing Sunday School is that I simply missed the boat the first few times I gave Tree a listen.  For those that follow the rap world closely, Tree’s buzz has been unavoidable this year.  Often falsely set up as an underground more artistic and cultured foil to Chief Keef and the explosion of the drill scene in Chicago this year, Tree is far from some hyper-conscious coffee shop friendly rap artist.  I came upon Sunday School back in March when I started this site up and began to look around for the best releases of the first quarter to begin putting together some reviews for the site.  Against the unusually stellar first quarter canvass of Ka’s devout lyrical calisthenics and complex patterns, ScHoolboy Q’s rubbery vocal inflected Oxycontin misadventures, Lil Ugly Mane’s otherworldly dedication to a dark Memphis revivalism, Blue Sky Black Death’s stylized soundscapes the psychedelic self-absorbed deity Nacho Picasso, or Big K.R.I.T.’s mainstream ready country rap gospel spitting stripper solicitations – Tree’s album somehow seemed less alluring and noteworthy to me.  Recently I heard The Lit EP and enjoyed it enough that it caught my attention again.  As time has gone on, the year has slowed down, and in the midst of a particularly slow third quarter I went back to give Sunday School another shot.  S/O to my man Alex over at steadybloggin.com for insisting to me that I was missing out on something special.  

Tree “All”

Although he’s been around for a minute on the Chicago scene, Tree has become known this year as the creator of soul trap music, a style he invented by slicing and chopping up samples – often, though not always, familiar soul and R&B samples from the 70’s – into the rhythms of trap beat patterns.  The production style he’s created is a welcome innovation given one the relative lack of sample based music in the trap beat dominated circles and the lack of quality drum work – not to mention soul samples – in the sample friendly cloud rap circles.  While longevity will undoubtedly prove to be an important factor it’s quite arguable that Tree may have fostered the most important movement in sample based production since Kanye and Just Blaze unleashed The Blueprint.  While the cloud/aquatic rap innovators may have their own case to make along those lines, there’s no doubt that nobody has brought new life to soul samples in the same way over the last decade.

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