For the purpose of full disclosure: I am from Columbus, OH, born and raised. The five members of Tree City, on the other hand, hail from Ann Arbor, Michigan, so there might be some inherent head-clashing. Though, as a critic, I ought to be purely objective, in order for a group from the Wolverines’ stomping grounds to get on my good side they have to be very good–luckily for Tree City, they are.
Only a couple of months ago our head honcho at Rap Reviews, Steve ‘Flash’ Juon, wrote a review that was full of praise for these guys, for a mixtape that was comprised sonically of nothing but previously released beats by fellow Michigan-native and underground hero, Black Milk. Now, we are revisiting Tree City’s debut E.P., originally released in June of 2007, cleverly entitled Tre.E.P., to determine whether the assistance of one of the finest producers in the game may have been the reason for the high quality of the “Black Trees” mixtape.
From the early moments of “Revolution,” it will be painstakingly clear that Tree City is the real deal, with or without recruited production. In fact, the vast majority of the tracks are handled by in-house by member Verseatyle; whereas one other (“Have Mercy”) is the creation of another emcee of the group, Man In Charge, and finally one more (“Worst Case Scenario”) by a non-member in Silas Green.
“Revolution” starts off with a rousing speech before driving into the brooding beat that echoes with dark strings and is further complimented by a slickly implemented Jay-Z vocal sample. Three members attack the beat venomously. Each brings his own character to the table, but there is no real reason to dissect and differentiate them too much, because they are all highly skilled and none of them truly stand out, unlike another well-known Michigan multiple-member group in D-12. With little doubt, they could all drop nice solos, if they so choose.
The following cut, “Discover the Need” truly helps mold the vision of Tree City; “original, honest, dynamic Michigan hip-hop,” as stated on their Myspace page. That is, this track has a very pure hip-hop sound that has one thinking they sound like the theoretical love child of Wu-Tang and Jurassic 5. The chorus opens the song and gets the head nodding along with the distinct keys:
“Tree City here to plant the seed
To show these other rap cats we ahead of the league
Knowledge by the pound never ever deceive
We going to satisfy the urge and discover the need”
It all works wondrously together, right down to the sharp scratches of DJ Cataclysmic as the song fades out.
What is so endearing about this group–I know I’m gushing now–is that they embrace the truly classic material that paved their paths, rather than overstepping their boundaries by trying to redo it. Aside from the previously mentioned Jay-Z sample on “Revolution,” this notion is epitomized by other wisely utilized samples on “Dark Days” and “Have Mercy,” respectively.
The only thing that would be a welcome addition to Tree City would be more concept-driven songs to vary the subject matter a little more. A lot of this seven-track EP relies on purely attacking the mic with lyrics that focus mostly on the pureness of their music. Still, this is not a major concern, especially given that this music is intended more for the backpacker, rather than the club-goer.
There were five great emcees that comprise Tree City at the time of “The Tre.E.P.”: DJ Cataclysmic, Verseatyle, Man In Charge, G.P., and Real Eyez. Apparently, a new member, named Cheeks, has been brought on board for future releases. They all drop knowledge over proper beats. An example of the type of verses they spit can be found on Flash’s review of the “Black Trees” mixtape. My feeling is that it is sufficient to just explain that you will want to check them out if you are into pure, raw, hip-hop music (assumedly you are, given the nature of our website). Surprisingly, on the strength of in-house production, this disc is very much comparable to the Black Milk-infused release, making the listener crave a full-length even more. If the landscape of hip-hop was a playing field, these Ann Arbor-based musicians would be champions. Or, at least, Big Ten Champs.