From the StreetWise exuberance of Save Money to the fuck-all nihilism of the drill scene, contemporary Chicago hip-hop is widely considered to be a young man’s game. Despite that eagerness and energy associated with youth, however, a kid still rocking peach fuzz lacks the sort of wisdom and self-assuredness that comes with having grown several decades. The next big thing doesn’t need a prodigious web presence or a 7-figure contract at 17, and that’s why 1833 is proud to present Tremaine “Tree” Johnson, the Soultrap Reverend.
Raised in the notorious Cabrini-Green projects, Tree is no stranger to Chicago’s crime side though he hardly seems interested in positioning himself as OG or dangerous. Instead, he openly admits to having spent most of his adult life fitting women’s shoes at the Michigan Ave Nordstrom’s – a piece of trivia that is somewhat irrelevant, but quoted in almost every single one of Tree’s interviews on account of it being the perfect example of his humility, honesty and general groundedness. Besides holding that unglamorous but straightforward and high paying position, he spent his free time attending Sunday service and working hip-hop production. Despite a decade plus worth of experience in the industry, Tree didn’t actually release a proper record until his late 20s, which is why the strength and cohesiveness of his first Sunday School mixtape caught a lot of attention.
Part of what put MTV and The Fader on to Sunday School was how definitive Tree already seemed to be – with 15 tracks off an entirely selfmade release, he effectively established a genre. Instead of letting bloggers squabble over whether his sound should be defined as “post-drill” or “Nordstrom’s-shoe-salesman-wave”, he decided on “soultrap”, a self-created label that refers to the ways he mixes gospel, r’n’b and southern hip-hop, flipping old school soul samples over skittering hi hats and 808 kicks. Besides that, his deep, affected delivery and consideration of subject matter such as personal sin and redemption is decidedly spiritual – a type of ghetto gospel equally indebted to Pac and the Salem Missionary Baptist Church.
If the first Sunday School served as the soultrap mission statement, then this year’s Sunday School II: When Church Lets Out represents a solid effort to push that style forward. With more finely polished production, as well as some great hooks and sung choruses, Sunday School II is perhaps a bit more accessible than the first while still maintaining Tree’s characteristic personality. A couple relatively high profile features (Danny Brown, Roc Marciano) and a co-sign from the Chicago rap mainstays over at Closed Sessions ensured the tape got some greater visibility, but Tremaine Johnson’s commitment to a unique brand of hip-hop is what’s got everyone excited.
Tree is opening for Flatbush Zombies October 13, 2013 at Reggie’s. You can grab tickets here.