Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
Rapper/producer Tree has been an integral part of the Chicago hip-hop scene for a good while now, and is well-connected throughout the Windy City. His name is known and respected in all parts of the Chi, thanks to his signature Soul Trap production sound, and also his gruff and tough vocals. And Tree’s most recent project, Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out, was met with critical acclaim when it was released earlier this year, giving him a bigger nationwide buzz than ever before. And there are no signs that he plans on slowing up anytime soon. In fact, he’s dropping a brand new solo project on December 10th, which he describes as “one of the most damaging EPs ever,” and has a handful of other Soul Trap collaborations in the works with fellow Chi-Town artists as well.
Being that Tree is so deeply embedded in his local hip-hop scene, we got on the horn with him to find out what five songs by Chicago artists he currently has in Heavy Rotation. And he one-upped us, by not only breaking down his five picks, but also by making sure he selected all exclusive joints to premiere here on NahRight for the first time. Check out a very special Chi-Town Edition of Heavy Rotation with Tree below.
1. Vic Spencer “Know U” (Prod. by Tree)
Tree: “He’s one of those anomalies when it comes to music. He does it differently. He’s pro hip-hop. To me, he’s got like a Redman mixed with Prodigy. He’s real direct, and he says some of the most vulgar shit. [Laughs.] He says that shit that stings, like, ‘Wow, did he really just say that?!’ He’s a really talented lyricist. He’s a phenomenal rapper.
“Vic Spencer’s the reason I know who Chance is. He was the first guy to start working with Chance like two years ago, when no one knew who he was. I heard Chance The Rapper through one of his records, and then I got in touch with Vic, and he gave me Chance’s info, and I sent Chance some material way before he was popular or even known in the city. And I gave him his first single, ‘Hey Ma.’ And he took that, ran with it, and got a lot of good feedback in the city.
“But Vic Spencer, he’s one of those guys that’s in the city that’s well respected by other artists. And I think I’m in that same lane as well, where you get to a certain level where other artists respect you. It’s usually a cutthroat business, but people see you coming, and they show you love. But not everyone gets that, not even the people who you think of as the stars in Chicago. But [Vic Spencer does]. He’s one of the rap Gods in Chicago. He’s in a circle of highly respected artists that even the young guys who have different styles of music look up to. He laid the groundwork, along with artists like Mikkey Halsted, and myself, and so on and so forth. And ‘National Geographical’ is the song that everyone knows Vic by in Chicago, and it’s got Chance on it, too. It’s from like two years ago.
“I’m actually working on a project with him now. He just sent me one of the coldest songs ever [which I included for this called 'Know U']. The project’s probably coming out early next year. I’m doing a slew of EPs with artists in Chicago that everyone loves behind the Soul Trap flag.”
2. Vic Mensa “Hands” (Prod. by Tree)
“Vic Mensa is actually one of the guys who started SAVEMONEY, one of the leaders. And then Chance kind of pulled from up under him like a year or so ago. But he was the actual go-to frontman for the group at one time. And he’s an arsonist when it comes to bars. I respect the brother.
“I worked with him before. I invited him over to the crib one day, before the whole world got to know who these people were. He’s from the better part of the city, and he came to the rough neighborhood where I was at. He showed up, came into my living room, and I got to play him music off of my personal computer. And the man wrote one of the meanest sixteens ever, in maybe an hour. He works fast, and I respect his work ethic. And he’s one of those guys that looks you in the eyes when he talks to you. He gained my respect from that. But other than that, he’s a hell of an MC.
“I lost the actual files for this song ‘Hands,’ so it’s a dirty version. It’s horribly recorded and mixed, but it’s Soul Trap, and one of my harder beats. And Vic Mensa is just going crazy on it.”
3. FatBoi Fresh aka Big Wiz ft. Tree “Bopping” (Prod. by Saba)
“He stands among the elite. He’s a West Side nigga. And he’s been around in the rap game for like ten years. He started early as a youngin’, early, running around with Crucial Conflict and all them cats. Then he started doing his own thing. But he’s a superb rapper above all. He’s one of my favorite rappers, period. And he’s also one of the guys who helped me name my style of music Soul Trap. We’ve got a project we’re working on, too, [but 'Bopping' is just an exclusive I have that I've been listening to a lot].
“He’s a star in his own right. He’s one of those brothers that people respect. And he’s gotta few young cats under his wing, [one of them produced a song on Acid Rap]. His mixtape B.O.W. (Best Out West) is a pure and clear statement of what true lyricism is. You know, there’s different sides of Chicago, and that statement probably still goes unchallenged today. And his music is not like today’s rap music. It’s [reminiscent] of that era when rap music was valuable, when you could appreciate it. It’s classic, not none of this Fruity Loops shit. It has a nostalgic feel to it. It feels like home.”
4. Chris Crack “Where U Are” (Prod. by Cudda)
“He’s one of my little homies. I’m also doing a Soul Trap EP with him, [but 'Where U Are' is an exclusive that will be on one of his other upcoming projects]. By the way, I’m not naming these people because I’ve worked with them. I’ve only worked with them after hearing their work and becoming fans of theirs. I’m vouching for them because they’re good and I wanted to work with them.
“[I like ‘Got My Own’ too, it's] kind of a club, mellow vibe. He’s in a whole stoner, hippie type of scene. But the man got flow. A lot of people can rap, but he can flow. He spits over the beat, backtracks, slows down, all that. He raps a lot about weed and the whole stoner life, but this is one of those songs that he got universal with it. It’s one of those songs that kind of relates to the women, and I think it’s a good song for him also.”
5. Paypa (from Project Mayhem) “Skyline” (Prod. by Tree)
“Paypa’s from Project Mayhem, and he has project as well that’s about to drop. I produced it. He’s one of the premiere stars in Chicago. Him and Project Mayhem helped update the landscape in Chicago, along with The Cool Kids and so forth. These are big, highly respected names inside Chicago. Like the GLCs, and Wildstyles, and so forth. He’s been in the game for a while, too. He’s been in The Source Unsigned Hype and all of that.
“No one ever thought this music shit would pan out. No one ever thought they’d get a deal. The stars from Chicago are few and far between. It was Common, then it was Kanye, and a few others. But it was spanned out. So people did music in Chicago for the love. It was art. It was expression.
“Paypa is a finesse rapper. He hits you with strong bars. This is one of those songs where you get a different side of Paypa, where he’s talking about the Chicago skyline, and the vividness of a day in the life in Chicago. He also has a song called ‘Celebration’ [that people should check for], and that’s where you really get a look at who the Paypa-man is. He delivers those bars. Those pungent statements.”
Previously: Heavy Rotation with Eddie Huang | Heavy Rotation with Doley Bernays | Heavy Rotation with Black Dave | Heavy Rotation with Mistah F.A.B. (Bay Area Edition) | Heavy Rotation with Hannibal Buress | Heavy Rotation with Chuck Strangers | Heavy Rotation with Sean Price | Heavy Rotation with MTV’s Rob Markman