Hip-hop group Tree City brings it home

BY SHARON JACOBS
Managing Arts Editor
Published June 10, 2010

The members of Tree City are about as Ann Arbor local as possible — the mere name of their hip-hop group is proof enough.

Tree City CD Release Party


Saturday at 9:00 p.m.
Blind Pig
$10

“We were never really like, ‘Go Blue’,” confessed Jacoby Simmons, a.k.a. DJ Cataclysmic, in a recent group interview with the Daily. “But, you know, we’re from here, (so) we like to let people know, represent where we’re from.”

As Tree City prepares for a release party at the Blind Pig on June 12th celebrating its new album, Thus Far, its members recalled the group’s rise to prominence in the local scene.

“Macpodz really helped us out, they got us our first big gig at the Blind Pig,” said Kyle Hunter, nicknamed GP in the group. “My Dear Disco has let us rock with them a few times … (there were) a number of local artists who were big and established and allowed us to kind of get our feet wet at larger venues.”

The genre-meshing that occurred in these early collaborations is one thing that distinguishes the A2 scene, according to Hunter.

“I don’t know how unique it is to really have a teen hip-hop group working with a jazz-funk-fusion jam band. (But) I think that’s what makes Ann Arbor’s scene unique … just the flow of different ideas, constantly.”

As teenagers, the future Tree City members first started collaborating at the Neutral Zone, a youth-run Ann Arbor hangout.

“It was a really, really dope spot (in its original location) on Main St.,” Hunter said. “Not to say it’s not on Washington, but just like, my nostalgia makes it a lot more —”

“So homey! Really lived in,” Simmons added.

And while both its lineup and its music have gone through many changes since 2006 (the year Tree City got its formal start and the majority of its members graduated from Huron High), the group retains a distinctive balance between the different schools of hip hop.

“(Our music is) a mix of the classic boom-bop mid-’90s sound, but at the same time we incorporate elements of current electronic trends,” said Charles “Cheeks” Cheek, “even certain beat-chopping techniques that have only really come into play in the last couple of years.”

Simmons agreed about the wide-ranging quality of the group’s work.

“I’ve met some people who don’t even listen to hip hop who are like, ‘Yeah, you guys are pretty good, I like your stuff.’ It’s kind of crazy to know how many different types of people like our stuff, not even hip-hop heads all the time. It’s wild,” he said.

Following tomorrow’s Blind Pig show, Thus Far will be released for local audiences only. Eventually, though, Tree City has plans to break into iTunes, Amazon and other national music retailer chains.

But the group’s roots will always remain an integral part of its identity. Unlike Detroit, which is a big enough city to have self-contained musical communities, Tree City members see Ann Arbor as a place where every artist is distinctive.

“I don’t think people in Ann Arbor have two artists that really sound the same,” Hunter said. So those going to the Blind Pig tomorrow are in for an inimitable treat.