The producer is one of the most crucial yet anonymous figures in all of music. Every other week, with Beat Construction, an extension of our column in the magazine, we aim to illuminate the role producers are playing in creating some of our favorite music. This week we talk to Chicagoan rapper/producer Tree, whose slept-on Sunday School might just be the most fascinating sample-oriented hip-hop album to see a release this year.
When did you first get into production? I got into production when I first started rapping. People I was around were making all of the beats and I didn't really care for them. Well, [I cared for] some of them, but not all of them. I always knew I could rap and produce before I ever did it. And I just taught myself how to do it and created my own style from there. I've listened to music since birth and started tinkering with it with my friends. I saw what they was making, I heard what was going on in the rest of the world and I just always wanted to sound different. That's pretty much the whole of it, I just wanted to be different. And I knew I could make a sample do what I want it to do.
I like how you'll take a really recognizable voice like Etta James or Curtis Mayfield and chop it up so it sounds completely alien. Yeah, that's what we call Soul Trap. That's my style of music, I invented it. They got trap music, they got crunk, they got drill music on the East Side of Chicago. Now it's Soul Trap, the merging of a soul sample with trap drums. The whole trap sound I wasn't really crazy about it when I first started hearing it. I felt like every trap beat sounds the same. And they mostly do. But with the combination of trap drums with the sample, I can never go wrong. That addition of the trap drums makes the samples sound so different, even if it's been used a hundred times. That's what I'm doing, that's what we're running with. Soul Trap, infinity and beyond. We copywriting it as we speak. I am the innovator, the creator, the founder of Soul Trap. I am the curator, I am the chairman. Anybody who tries to do what I'm doing is gonna have to pay homage. And I still think my sound is gonna be distinctive.
How do you go about finding samples? I'll hear stuff that I like when I'm in the car and I'll Google it or ask somebody who sings it. Then I'll get home and find it on YouTube and download it. As of now, most of the samples come from songs that I come across on YouTube. You'll go on YouTube and look up Patti LaBelle and then on the right hand side of her song there's a whole list of different artists. I'm trying to get away from sampling anything that's noticeable at this point, I'm trying to avoid hits totally. I'm getting samples from over in the UK, from their stars that we've never heard of. I'm bringing new quality music to the atmosphere.
Yeah, as your career progresses, I imagine you'll hit a point when you won't be able to sample known acts like Amy Winehouse. Right, right. But I make original beats too. I will say that I'm an excellent keyboardist. And with samples I don't think it'll ever run out, especially the way that I do them. I'll go back and sample something that's been sampled 10 times and it'll sound totally different. I got a beat that I'm gonna get a few people on, with Al Green's "Love and Happiness." That's been sampled a million times, by all the greats, but [those don't] sound like what I got sitting in my hard drive right now.
What are you using as far as gear? I use the simplest stuff at this point. Drum machines and that stuff, I got all that. But it's funny—I still make my beats in Garage Band. It's the most simple platform you can use to create music. It's just something I got comfortable using. I got Pro Tools, I got other programs, I can make a beat on a drum machine just as easily, but I'm just used to Garage Band. I know it like the back my hand, it just works for me.
Are there any any producers that you look to for inspiration? Who?
Uh… are there any other producers who inspire you? Who?! [Laughs] You know what? I will say I do still enjoy Timbaland beats.
Did you ever check for J. Dilla? I feel like your stuff has some similarities to his as far as chopping samples in to such minute fragments. You know what? I've heard of J Dilla but I wasn't aware of him until recently. Maybe last summer when Drake made a statement [about him] in one of his songs and I heard that Busta Rhymes made a tape with all of his beats. That made me Google and find out who this guy was. Come to find out, I have heard his music but I just didn't know who produced it. So I do like some of his music, but no, I wasn't influenced by him.
So what is it then that drives you to manipulate samples so elaborately? I usually just go with what my ear wants to hear. I try not to just sample like everybody else does. Using [an unedited] sample is like the laziest thing you can do as a producer, so I go that extra mile. Chop that sample up, put some effects on it and make it sound different. Really listen to the sample and then pace it with the drums. It's a relieving feeling after it's done, when you sit back and listen to what you created. I'm just happy if people are as excited about hearing it as I was when I created it.