It’s no secret that over at Scion A/V, the masterminds responsible for rebranding a car company into a DIY arts showcase have been putting together a crazy promotion platform for underground artists. No one seems sure why they’ve done it, but through collaborations with producers like Harry Fraud and Hot Sugar, they’ve certainly won my respect. I returned from a trip through Europe just as they cosigned one of my favorite artists from the past few years – Chicago’s very own @MCTREEG. To make matters even better, I won a Twitter contest, grabbing a smooth free entry to Tree’s first New York performance, as well as a set from buzzing NY rapper Bodega Bamz.
I had first discovered Tree in late 2012, when in the dead of New York winter I had dedicated myself working through all of Noz’s top hip hop releases of the past year. Off I went, Datpiffing Tree’s critically acclaimed Sunday School tape, and inundating myself with the first track: ‘All’. First we get the soulful, looping horns. Then the raspy voice, the call-and-response flow. Then we run smack-dab, unexpectedly, into 808s and hi-hats. It might be at that point – noticing the bizarre production – that we look to the track title… and, oh, that’s Tree too. I have a special soft spot for rapper/producers, when they’re able to pull it off, like El-P or MF Doom. It seems to represent a higher and altogether different artistic approach than the commonplace Pay X Dude for Beat → Rap Over Beat move. ‘All’ still my go-to track when introducing people to the unique splendor of Tree’s Soultrap, where soul samples, unabashedly Kanye-inspired, are melded with newer trap and drill sounds in an unlikely but more than palatable fusion.
Due to my extreme state of unemployment, I arrived to the show unfashionably early. I had hit that point where any task seemed monumentous and worth building the entire day around: the week had seen me on a day-long quest for a new pair of jeans, and on that fateful Wednesday I had gone far out of my way for cheap bodega Mexican food (shoutsout Mexico 2000). With enchiladas in my stomach I made my way to The Knitting Factory, one of the best venues in Brooklyn in terms of cleanliness and professionalism. My past experiences there included watching a misguided youth stagedive face first into the floor during an under-attended dream pop show, or watching @Lakutis pretend to hang himself with his mic cord and start the hip hop equivalent of a circle pit.
The show began with DJ Getlive laying down what was repeatedly referred to as “Old school shit,” apparently meaning anything from Eazy-E to Cam’Ron (Lots of Cam’Ron. No complaints.) to the bouncy Futurism of ‘Move That Dope,’ which just came out last week. Hairsplitting aside, it was a great set, catering to the vibe of the crowd. These were, as corny as it sounds, real hip-hop heads, people who had gone out of their way to enter a contest, and did the usual head bobbing and lip syncing to virtually all the songs Getlive spun. To me, it felt like being among peers, people who share the same intense interest in the art, and are watchful for new talent.
By the time Tree got on stage, everyone was amped to see something happen, but he and his DJ teased us with snippets of older tracks for those who had never heard of the Chicago MC. He performed to a few of these, off Sunday School and Sunday School 2, but the showcase was for his release with Scion, so he quickly launched into the @MCTREEG EP, front to back. Even the guest feature of Lennon was brought on stage, and two Chitown backup singers performed additional vocals and hooks to supplement the backing track. The EP itself only runs about 20 minutes, so the set was short and sweet, not rushed, but focused. With the requisite self-promotion of a hungry up-and-comer, Tree finished strong with ‘Soultrappin’, my favorite off the new EP.
Given how long Getlive had been spinning, I was expecting a bit of a wait between sets, but Bodega Bamz quickly made his entrance. Showier than Tree would be an understatement: dude comes out in all-white, Pun-homage gear, and the rest of the crew facing with their backs silently to the crowd, rocking these joints:
AND they stayed there, unmoving, through the whole first track, like a weird Spanish Harlem version of those British Royal Guards. Not being too familiar with Bamz’s music, I remembered him most from a particularly spirited guest appearance he had made at a Flatbush Zombies show, during which he rapped his verse with even more than the usual amount of aggressive and vaguely spastic hand movements.
Safe to say that the performance – key word being performance, extending far beyond the tracks themselves – made me take notice of Bamz. From the all-white, to the sartorial curating of his crew, eventual waving of massive Puerto Rican and Dominican flags, and just general showmanship and rap chuzpah. He at one point launched into a fierce a capella of what I later came to know as ‘Trap Lords,’ which was even more ferocious than the studio track. At one point someone was jamming on the bongos. He laced the crowd with a song sampling Suavemente. All this within a 30 minute set. Wild fucking ride. The set concluded with Bamz giving all inclusive shoutouts (Spanish Harlem! Queens! Brooklyn! Long Island! All Spanish people! All hip hop fans!) before bringing out none other than the Flatbush Zombies, in all their hazy glory, to perform ‘Thrilla’. As could have been predicted, the Brooklyn crowd ate it up.
Just as quickly as it had begun, the night was over, lights flicked off, and the DJs began to break down. The hip-hop heads seemed sated. I got my iPhone back from the kind barmaid, and headed out into a fucking snowstorm. I ended up as the only white person at a karaoke bar in Clinton Hill singing R. Kelly’s Ignition, but y’all will have to wait for another writeup about that.