Trap Genius’s title isn’t just a play on words. It’s also an indication of a new stylistic direction for Tree. The husky-voiced Chicago rapper and producer has spent his career honing his “soul-trap” sound, and now he’s more or less thrown out half of the equation. There are just a few soul samples on this street album, as Tree now favors trap’s melodic immediacy and booming drums above all. The craftsmanship that went into his previous projects might be less apparent, but what he’s got going is still a good fit.
When Tree flipped Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love” on 2013’s “The King”, it not only worked as a sample; it also magnified his own melodic sense, as his “the king is back” hook proved to be an earworm as potent as anything the chipmunk-voiced Elvis was singing. Trap Genius shows off that ability again and again. It’s Tree’s catchiest project to date, with the choruses of “Hold Up”, “Look at Me Now”, and “Don’t Een Kare” sticking thanks to his singing voice (comparable to Houston rapper Z-Ro’s). Tree’s implied that he’s looking to get more popular with this album (or at least become more club-friendly); these songs just might do the job.
Beyond the memorable hooks and the steely infrastructure of the beats, Tree shapes the album with his lyrics. His storytelling was more prominent on his Sunday School mixtapes, but there are still themes here, the biggest of which is probably the comfort that money offers (from “Hold Up”: “All I want’s a yellow Vette … AC blowin’, windows down”). Tree splices news reports of gun violence into the album to add a daunting sense of realism to Trap Genius’ setting: a Chicago where gun violence among young people in poverty remains a very serious issue. Even in his more party-oriented verses, Tree maintains a sensitivity to the struggle around him. Coming from a relative elder statesman — he’s 31 — Trap Genius has both the wisdom and the immediacy to appeal to a broader audience than he’s ever known before.
Essential Tracks: “Better Than Eva”, “Don’t Een Kare”, and “Trappers Delight”