Fresh Fish: Tree City – Definement

21 01 2011

One of the biggest current Hip Hop crews in Ann Arbor, Tree City just dropped their new track, “Definement” last weekend: A chilled cocktail of organic, atmospheric beats served up by Melbourne, Australia’s own ARKiV, with some very smart, contemplative lyrics from the Tree City crew about the hustle of life and how they see it.  Their first release of 2011 and their first song recorded in Clavius Crates’s new studio, “Definement” is a great start to a new year for this up-and-coming group, a strong display of musical creativity and intellectual cunning.


Bandcamp page


The Squeezebox: Cheeks – The Potential EP

19 01 2011

Southeast Michigan Hip Hop just keeps the reppin strong with the latest from Tree City‘s Cheeks, the smiley third of the Ann Arbor-based team.  After killin it on Black Trees and Thus Far with the rest of Tree City, Cheeks drops The Potential, featuring some hot production by various Ann Arbor-area friends, including L05 of Celcius Electronics, Mason’s Motif and Man In Charge.  “The Wiz,” The Potential‘s hottest single, brings in a sample from MJ’s perennial Wizard of Oz remake and mixes it with some great vocalizations from K-mass and Dominick from Breathe Easy Music.  The result is priceless: an uplifting anthemic crowd-mover that’ll have all the kids bopping their heads.

Like the album’s title, all the tracks on this release really show Cheeks’ lyrical and creative potential.  Embedded rhymes, clever meter change-ups, intelligent and contemplative lyrics, all of it portrays Cheeks’ prowess.  In The Potential, Cheeks gives off an aura of solid, if slightly narcissistic confidence and pride for his home and his people.  But the best part about it is that it doesn’t feel aggressive or ostracizing; you don’t have to be a poor black guy from the ghetto to appreciate Cheeks’s music.  You just gotta appreciate good Hip Hop.  Is that you?

A great start for yet another great emcee from SE Michigan.  Looking forward to more.  91/100 A-


Cop The Potential here

Cheeks – The WIZ feat. K-mass and Dominick from Breathe Easy Music

Fresh Fish: Cheeks – The Wiz

14 12 2010

Charles Cheeks, of Ann Arbor’s Tree City, released this new single yesterday off his upcoming debut solo project, The Potential EP.  With such a creative title, one may be surprised to find out that the featured sample is in fact from Michael Jackson’s The Wiz, one of Motown’s greatest films.  But all sarcasm aside, this track is pretty damn hot.  Cheeks, like the rest of Tree City, has always shown a heightened propensity for lyrical dexterity, and “The Wiz” follows nicely in suit.  The synths, samples and breaks bring a crisp, fresh, uplifting feeling to the beat, kicking it up to the next level.  What’s the theory of freshness?  Welcome to The Wiz.

Artist Profile – Man In Charge (of Celcius Electronics)

12 12 2010

There’s plenty of hype surrounding the Detroit Hip-Hop scene these days.  What with Big Sean, Slum Village, Guilty Simpson and the like garnering plenty of national focus with big album releases this year, the D-Town scene is blowing up in ways it hasn’t done since the J Dilla days.  With all this attention focused on the 313, it becomes easy to overlook all the other great hip-hop coming out of SE Michigan.  But we here at Balafonic will hold the banner high for any good music that comes out of our hometowns, and to be honest, a lot of the independent hip hop coming out of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti area these days is some of the best I’ve heard.

The collaborative atmosphere in the Ace Deuce, a popular local pseudonym for Ann Arbor, is one of its strongest points.  Emcees and producers from the area, including the popular electro-rap duo Celsius Electronics and Ann Arbor heavyweights Tree City have recently created the Branch Out Collective, a space where these Hip Hop artists and others can work together, promote each other and share their work with the world.

Man In Charge, one half of the tag-team combo Celcius Electronics with producer/emcee L05, has been featured on the Branch Out show since October, with the free online release of his debut solo album, Pentelligent (download here), 16 tracks of Man In Charge and friends rhyming, flowing and grooving to some of the sickest beats to come out of the Deuce this year.

I’ll just say this.  I’ve downloaded a fair number of free mixtapes and albums over the past year, mostly from emcees in the SE Michigan area, but Pentelligent, in my opinion, blows them all away.

As anyone who listens to good music knows, without Dope Beats a hip hop album would be nothing.  Man In Charge drops them in spades.  He keeps them interesting by bringing in so many outside producers that, for at least the first half of the album, there’s a new producer and a new feel to every track.  Grimy, Daft Punk-esque electro-beats wash in and out, pan left and right and layer all over each other in Mikey Digital, produced by Eric Garcia.  Then Doc Illingsworth comes in on Ode to the Pen and brings out the string, horn and live drum samples to give us that vintage feel reminiscent of Madlib’s Shades of Blue.

The second half features productions mostly by Man In Charge himself, but fear not, citizens.  Man In Charge knows his way around all the standard production tools and his beats can stand up to the best of ’em.  But where Man In Charge really shines is in his flow.

I will admit I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to flow.  You can come up with the greatest rhymes in the world, but if it doesn’t come out good, if the flow doesn’t gel with the song, it’s just not worth it.  For this reason I find it very difficult to get into guys like Gucci Mane, Styles P, Danny Brown and the like.  Gangsta rap just doesn’t do it for me.  But Man In Charge’s flow is right on point, his rhymes are tight and his style is sick.  It just sounds right.

Pentelligent is a great introduction for what looks to be a new star rising out of the Ann Arbor nebula, and I can’t wait to watch its shine grow.


%d bloggers like this: