Me and Tree (How Grown Are We?)
Tree is back. Tremaine Johnson, also known as Mc Tree G, is a staple of Chicago hip-hop with a proudly old-school mentality. Largely missing from local music - or at least from releasing any - since about 2015, Tree’s absence was noticeable, especially to his diehard fans, myself included.
In many ways, he’s the reason that I’m involved in writing about music today.
Though he returned in earnest earlier this year, with an impressive joint project created in collaboration with Vic Spencer, entitled Nothing IS Something - the just-released We Grown Now is the Tree solo album fans have been waiting for. The album appropriately finds the artist reflecting on the passage of time, on how people change (or stay the same). Listening to it brings to mind my early interactions with Tree - where we were then, and where we are now.
I moved to Chicago knowing very little about myself besides that I had a slightly unhealthy obsession with music. It was 2013, and like many Chicago outsiders, my curiosity was piqued by the red hot drill movement. Hours were spent scouring FakeShoreDrive and Twitter, hunting down the latest releases in local hip-hop. I saw a post about this guy Tree, and his project Sunday School 2. Once I started listening, I couldn’t stop. If you haven’t heard, Sunday School 2 is a damn masterpiece.
Tree’s gravel voice, relatable content, humble message, and impeccable ear for music had me hooked immediately. When it clicked that this was someone I could see perform live easily - maybe even know - I began my plunge into the local music scene. I can’t tell you the first time I saw Tree, but there were a lot of shows in those early years. Smoke-filled basements, dingy bars, spacious venues, Tree was there, I was there. Eventually I worked up the nerve to introduce myself and he was an undeniably nice guy. At that point I was going around to other shows as well. Chris Crack, Hurt Everybody, Logan, etc. But Tree was my guy.
I bought a shirt from him online and it took like two months to arrive. Tree’s response, when I mentioned the wait to him, was to drive to my work and hand-deliver signed Vinyl and CD copies of Sunday School 2 and his Scion A/V EP. I really couldn’t believe it. After that, it seemed it like we were always bumping into each other around town. Tree was always in a good mood.
He released a project in 2014 or 2015 experimenting with a grittier sound. Amazing cover art - but it didn’t quite stick the landing, and is no longer listed among his official releases on Spotify. By that point, I didn’t see Tree around too much anymore. Meanwhile, I got more and more into Chicago music. I began my work with These Days. I pulled myself out of the nightlife. I don’t rage now, I’m not cool, but my life is full. I wonder if he’d recognize me?
We Grown Now is a return to the sound turned heads on Sunday School 2, but his mentality has changed since then some - matured, maybe. Sunday School 2’s golden age of hip-hop, retro sound contrasted youthful boasting. Four years in and he’s more interested in humility. “Did you listen to Sunday School 2 / I don’t see none of them now”. Tree’s not perfect, and he’s not trying to be the man.
“I did drop out of school. I smoke weed and cigarettes every day. I’m 35 years old. Epic did sign Bobby Shmurda over me. My credit ok.”
And that forthrightness makes Tree seem to currently be his best self. We Grown Now is the spiritual successor to Sunday School 2, not because they’re interchangeable but because WGN succeeds it, a step forward, maybe his best project yet. We’re seeing the method to his madness, the benefits of allowing your roots to grow. I want to know what he was up to these last few years. That’s the next article.
However minor our passing friendship was, becoming acquaintances with an artist I was a genuine fan of taught me an invaluable lesson. In Chicago, music is a community, existing outside of the realms of feeds and playlists. When I learned I could interact with it, I absolutely had to be a part of it. Soon, I had reached out to a blog called Go ILL about writing opportunities. I had never really written before, but always wanted to. That transitioned to a site called These Days. And now, it’s 2019 and I don’t know where the time went. A lot has happened since then. We grown!