Chicago rapper Brian Fresco extends Save Money and Tree's winning streaks with SoulMoney

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By now local MC-producer Tree has established a reputation as someone who can steadily push out great tunes. Actually his track record this year sets the bar even higher, as the series of EPs he's had his hands on the past year include some of the best hip-hop songs of 2014—both in this city and beyond its borders. Tree's stepped away from the mike on most of these EPs and instead focused on producing for other local rappers (though he does drop some verses on a track here and there), and his peculiar, earthy, and engrossing "soul trap" sound has brought out the best in his collaborators. Just last week he dropped SoulMoney, a collaboration with local MC Brian Fresco.

The "money" part of the EP's title comes from Save Money, the shit-hot collective that counts Fresco as a member. Save Money's also garnered a reputation for releasing inventive and accessible music thanks to a growing roster that includes Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Caleb James, and Joey Purple and Kami de Chukwu (both solo and as Leather Corduroys). With SoulMoney Fresco's earned his place on a list of talented youngsters, whether involved in Save Money or existing outside its periphery. The MC's scuffed-up voice adds to the worn-in grit of Tree's artfully minimal beats and mutated soul sound, which in turn lends a gravity to Fresco's ripped-from-the-street raps.

Some of SoulMoney's best moments happen when Fresco and Tree add more dimensions to their sounds. On "On My Soul" Fresco slips into some bristling AutoTune that sounds like it could've been recorded in the wee hours of the morning after a night spent sitting in the darkest corners of the city's nightclubs. Tree's production on "My Niggas" features what sounds like a couple samples of strings and vocals played in reverse at varying speeds, and it drives the compellingly bittersweet number. I just wish there was more of SoulMoney—clocking in at ten tracks it's long for an "EP," but it ends all too quickly.

Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.

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