The cover art for Soul Trap. Credit: Courtesy the Artist

In the past decade, Chicago hip-hop has elevated many talented acts to the national stage, among them rapper-producer Tremaine Johnson, better known as Tree—and his wildly idiosyncratic sounds set him apart from most of those newly minted stars. The Cabrini-Green native specializes in calamitous productions whose tough-as-nails percussion frames honeyed vocal samples warped till they sound ghostly; it’s a style Tree calls “soul trap.” This sound enriches his storytelling, giving his worldly-wise perspective more heft and making the detailed snapshots from his youth feel as tangible as flesh. Tree’s new Soul Trap (self-released via Soul Trap Music) takes a more restrained, minimal approach to this aesthetic, to excellent effect; the sparse arrangement of “Scared of Airplanes,” with its acerbic electronic claps, rubber-band bass, and sproinging synths, enlivens Tree’s reflective, searching verses about his role as a mentor and the choices he’s made in life. Respected veterans Roc Marciano and King Louie are among the guests dropping verses on Soul Trap, which gives me hope that more people will be introduced to one of Chicago’s most gripping and underappreciated artists.   v