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Most artists set out with the goal of staking out a claim to a style that’s uniquely theirs, but few do so quite as adamantly as Tree, the Chicago rapper who’s been gathering accolades over the past two years with the signature musical blend he calls “soul trap.” It’s pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Production that offers the steady comfort of old classics, chopping up familiar soul samples or incorporating orchestral stabs, and warm, sympathetic lyrical takes on the struggles and successes that characterize life in his home city. Tree’s voice is uniquely gravelly, and he raps, sings, croaks and growls his way through tracks in a way that’s immediately recognizable. His approach is the rare case of someone making hip-hop that fits a classic boom-bap sonic mold but also feels like it’s pushing the genre forward.

That distinctiveness has helped him become one of the most closely watched and critically acclaimed rappers to emerge in the midst of Chicago’s recent hip-hop boom. He had been releasing great music steadily since teaming up with local group Project Mayhem in 2009—he met one of the group’s members, Marco Dane, and traded demo CDs when the two used to work at Nordstrom—but he vaulted onto a national stage with his 2012 mixtape SundaySchool. A gritty, alternately heartbreaking and jubilant release, it earned high praise from publications around the country and positioned Tree as the thoughtful conscience of a city whose hip-hop scene was otherwise making headlines for its violent lyrics.


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