Spin's Rap Monthly column interviews an artist making waves, reviews\u00a0selections from the past month, and holds some lame shit accountable. Tree knows I have one big question, and he answers before I have the chance to ask. \u201cI\u2019ll give you the whole spiel, and I\u2019ll be completely honest with you,\u201d he says over the phone, a few days after releasing We Grown Now, his first solo album since 2015. \u201cI\u00a0been trying to leave the music. Like the actual participating, I really hated it. I got a love-hate relationship with the music, and it was because I had looked up, five years, I was 31 years old, and I didn\u2019t own shit.\u201d The rapper and producer born Tremaine Johnson, raised in Chicago\u2019s since-demolished Cabrini-Green Homes, started releasing\u00a0music in 2010 as a side-hustle in his mid-20s. He dropped his first mixtape The\u00a03rd\u00a0Floor while working at Nordstrom, at the encouragement of a co-worker, Marco Dane, a member of then-buzzing group Project Mayhem, which adopted Tree as an honorary member. On a series of releases over the following two years, culminating with 2012\u2019s\u00a0Sunday School, Tree perfected a singular lo-fi\u00a0sound he dubbed "soul trap" that combined Lex Luger-era trap drums, jagged soul samples ripped from YouTube, and raspy-voiced, painfully detailed\u00a0stories of drug deals, revelry, and religious anxiety. While remaining independent, he\u00a0earned critical acclaim, blog fame, a spot at 2013's Pitchfork Festival, and the opportunity to tour the world. Tree\u00a0says now that he never wanted all\u00a0the attention. Performing gave him ulcers, the size of his booking fees didn\u2019t justify the stress, and he recognized the danger of rap\u00a0celebrity in a city that has lost several success stories to gun violence. \u201cI didn't necessarily get into the music to be a star. I was just trying to get posted on FakeShoreDrive and get my music played on the Sunday night local ," he says. As he started to outgrow those ambitions, though, \u201cI couldn't advance. I couldn't ever buy a gold grill. Not that I would, but you know, shit, this money didn't cover that.\u201d To the disappointment of his cult following, Tree quietly stepped away from music in 2016. He\u00a0explains, \u201cThe out was when I found how to make money without being famous.\u201d Tree, 36, is a landlord now. He started flipping houses and owns residential buildings in Chicago\u2019s Englewood neighborhood.\u00a0It provides stable income, and just as important, privacy. He talks about property as his legacy, and looks forward to handing some down to his two sons, Allen and Mason. \u201cIn my absence of music, I got my life together,\u201d he says. \u201cI got my kids living on the same block as me in one of my buildings. You know, I collect rent every month. Shit, I don't have to work no more. Life is good. God is good.\u201d His\u00a0return to music reflects that peace of mind.\u00a0Tree says he started collecting beats and "dibbling and dabbling" again last August. A four-day\u00a0marathon session\u00a0in\u00a0his home studio with Vic Spencer late last year\u00a0was the tipping point; the pair released the product, Nothing IS Something,\u00a0in January. His comeback's masterwork, though, is March's\u00a0We Grown Now, a 13-song meditation on parenting, family, and survival that\u00a0centers the love and perseverance of Tree's partners and elders. ("She don\u2019t talk about it, say it\u2019s the past \/\u00a0Never walkin' past the place that he passed \/ The devil humble, handsome, and he can dance.")\u00a0It's a wise, vivid, and frequently heartbreaking memoir, unselfish\u00a0and unrighteous, over a collection of vintage soul-trap beats. Tree says he freestyled the album alone, over\u00a0liquor and weed, at times through tears. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. We Grown Now by TREE You've called\u00a0We Grown Now\u00a0"grown folks music."\u00a0How do you define that? I am so proud of that. I'm glad you brought that up. I'm trying to establish this as a zone or a mode within trap and soul trap. I don't want to go off and be cliche and give it a whole 'nother, you know, genre or nothing. But grown folks music, this here is the green light and the ability to be an adult in this music game. This is the ability to tell the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and stand on it. This is a place in music where you can stand up and say, I take care of my kids, I sacrifice my life to give them more than my father gave me. It wasn't with trapping and moving keys. It wasn't cause I was Big Meech. It was just my hard work and great investments. It's an understanding and an economic literacy. It was also a reflection on the mistakes I made and what I'ma have to go through with my kids. Running away from home to sell drugs as a 14-year-old, 15-year-old, and my father coming through the projects looking for me, asking the big guys, you seen my son? You know my son, the one with the birthmark. And my friends would have me out and I would sell drugs. I would skip school to sell drugs, make me a hundred dollars, and it was all about Jordans then, and getting fast food from the corner store, chicken wings and pizza puffs and shit, and having the big bankroll full of 1s and 5s. That's what it was about. Now I got to worry about that with my kids, but the difference is I got some help for my kids.\u00a0I got a summer job for \u2018em. Come around and clean up some of these properties, keep this shit clean. This ours. I'm showing them integrity about, you know, what we own. That's what grown folks music is. How has your perspective on family changed since you were a kid? It was always a tight-knit group. There's a documentary about the death of Dantrell Davis in Chicago. I gave my spiel about it, my experiences, and so on and so forth. I asked the young lady , had she gotten any of the mothers' takes on being a mother in that time, and seeing these little boys being shot in the head with a high-powered rifle from a high-rise in front of school, while he was entering school? They were getting my take on it because I was at that age at the time, but there were mothers out there that were walking their kids to school, so I gave her that. She's like, that's interesting.\u00a0So I invited her to my family's house and we all ordered chicken, my auntie cooked, and it was maybe 10, 11 of us, and we just met there to talk to her and tell our stories. That's my family. That's really my family in Chicago. When I dropped off back at where she stayed, she said, I just can't believe how, that's so much love that I've never seen. I love my family, but it's not like you guys. You just love each other. And I told her, we was always broke. All we had was love and god. So to answer your question, family is all that there is to me now. We Grown Now by TREEHave you received feedback on your new music from your sons or anyone else in the family? That's funny. I don't come around and say, I want you to hear my music. I just kinda put it out and then, people that talk about it, I'm like, blushing and shit. My family, they do hear about it, they do see the posts, and they do say, I like this, I like that. But I don't force it on them. It's not a thing. We don't play my music at family reunions, none of that. We don't talk about music. My brothers don't even know I put out an album. My kids, Mason, he listens to XXXTentacion and Kodak Black. The conversation that came up was, I like the picture you put up on Instagram and Twitter. And my auntie commented on it. The album cover is her in her twenties or thirties or something, and my cousins, and the resilience in their photo. They're all in their Easter's best, Easter Sunday in Cabrini-Green. They're all happy and they look good, you know what I'm saying? The fact of it is, everybody on that poster, everybody on that album cover is grown now. One of them is a minister. One of them is a regional for Foot Locker. We're all doing something. We're alive. We're from Chicago. We're from Cabrini-Green. You close the album with a letter addressed to Project Mayhem.\u00a0What inspired that song? Marco and Lennon, you know, they were my support system, my entire backing through my entire run. They are the reason I felt that I had to continue on doing the music. They bought me outfits to look good at Pitchfork. They gave me money to go to South by Southwest. They booked me rooms and condominiums so I could look like I was a star. They spent their own money on me because this is one of ours. compared me to fucking Young Thug and Future and Rick Ross. These mother fuckers got on diamonds and shit. You know what I'm saying, I got to have on RSVP shirts, and I got\u00a0to have on Just Don hats and shit. Them shits six-, eight-hundred dollars. They would spend their own money to make me look good. So I couldn't stop. I owed it to them to get some fucking money, bring some money, and make us a star. The real reason behind that song is they Vice Lords, and I come from a GD hood, and necessarily in Chicago we not supposed to get along. But in the song, I tell you how I'm loyal to my family and my neighborhood, but when it come to them, well shit, all that shit go out the window, especially if you're in my circle, you know? That was just a letter of loyalty and commitment to the goal, even now. I feel good being able to write that and put that into words, and for it to come off so raw, for it to fall into place like that. If you in Chicago, it was tasteful and it was respectful and it was tolerable. Ain't nobody giving it no feathers, it's just speaking facts from a grown man point of view, and people take it like butter on toast. What are your goals for music going forward? I wanna push this grown folks music. I want to push this reality rap. I want my fanbase to gather and reassemble. I want to sell some soul trap t-shirts, soul trap merch. I want to reestablish my lane in music on my terms. I don't want to be Chance. I don't want to be Wiz Khalifa. I want to be Tree. I want to do small sets, 100 people who are gonna pay $50 each to see me, who really are fans and know my words, and I kinda just want to take it slow. I'm not trying to get a record deal. I'm not trying to be 6ix9ine. I don't want porcelain teeth. I don't want new teeth. I just want to make a stream of money, better my life, cushion my future a little bit more, and I kinda want to use my music to do that. Really utilize the resources that I have now to, like I said, make a little money off of this rap. Because when I put out Sunday School, I didn't have a t-shirt, and I was getting all this attention. I didn't have a plan. Is there anything you\u2019d like to add? Man, I'm just giggly. This last week, man. I accept and absorb it differently. The first time I was kinda shocked and amazed or whatever. Now I\u2019m just giggly. https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/zzYSMnuFaTs Look Back At It Over the past month, Spin enjoyed rap music that mourned, meow'd, and quoted 17th century samurai. These and other recommendations below. Top Spin: Chief Keef and Zaytoven \u2013 GloToven Listening to any recent Chief Keef mixtape feels like taking a tour through both street rap\u2019s past and future. \u201cLife is fabulooouss,\u201d Keef sneers on the first track of his\u00a0recent collaborative tape with Zaytoven, GloToven, and his raspy extension of the final vowel recalls Gucci Mane\u2019s \u201cyeaaa, boyyyy\u201d ad-lib, made famous on the Atlanta legend\u2019s indefatigable mixtape run of the late 2000s. Many of Gucci\u2019s projects at the time, of course,\u00a0contained beats\u00a0by Zaytoven, and, frankly, the release of a collaborative tape between Keef and Zay\u2014already a trap music veteran when Keef emerged nearly eight years ago\u2014should have happened back in 2013. At that time, the pair released a few exciting standalone singles, officially and unofficially, with the promise of a complete project that never came. At the point, those songs, which were destined to be left floating in the YouTube and Worldstar ether, demonstrated that Chief Keef was not content to rest on his laurels as a stylist. Instead, he insisted on continuing to\u00a0move into more unusual and less compromising musical territory, and away from mainstream acceptance. Now, finally, an official project featuring Zay and Keef has arrived, and the chemistry is still there, if hearing a synthesis of their trademark styles feels much less surprising that it was six years ago. Both parties\u2019 inventiveness and sense of how to use negative space in on full display across its 12 tracks, so\u00a0GloToven offers more variety in terms of dynamics and flow than a garden-variety project by one of Keef\u2019s many younger imitators. (Lil Pump shows up on track 2 to throw the disparity between Keef\u2019s pliability and humor and the default gestures\u00a0of the least exciting new school trap-and-drill-influenced rap music into stark relief.) There are plenty of beats here\u00a0for which only Zaytoven could have reasonably been responsible. For instance, the New Age piano undulations in \u201cAin\u2019t Gonna Happen\u201d inspire Keef to lapse into ballad mode, mourning lost friends and his broken childhood. Elsewhere, he adopts more playful modes: Young-Thug-like singsong, translated here into a more carefully regulated flow (\u201cSpy Kid\u201d) and Playboi Carti\u2019s slipped, syllabic delivery, but more virtuosic and full of cogent one-liners (\u201cSix still in the box, I'm damn near all he got \/ All this cash and sauce, need me a broom and a mop\u201d). Modern, rock-and-emo-enamoured Soundcloud-rap stylists may be slowly moving away from some of the styles and textures evidenced on GloToven, but Keef and Zaytoven still make clear the way in which they influenced the shape of street rap to come.\u2014Winston Cook-Wilson https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/qBg5A30DhVI Burna Boy and DJDS \u2013 Steel & Copper Nigerian Afrobeats star Burna Boy has formed an unexpectedly alchemic musical relationship with the L.A. production team DJDS (formerly known as DJ Dodger Stadium). The fruits of their partnership comes in the form of a surprise 4-track EP, titled Steel & Copper, that transitions Burna Boy's deep and grisly melodic raps to a somewhat more traditional 808-heavy sound. On its surface, this may sound unappealing to Burna Boy's fans but really it serves him well. He has a natural groove and charisma that comes through\u00a0on his\u00a0flows, which slip and slither across the tracks here, worming its way into your brain permanently. Only a year from the release of his last album, the phenomenal Outside, Burna Boy is in top form, rapping in an off-kilter, whimsical style but with fierce abandon, breathing vibrant life into DJDS' cold, trunk-rattling production. DJDS' tracks are stylized and funky, but Burna Boy's star power elevates them.\u00a0Listening to him\u00a0morph\u00a0into something between Busta Rhymes and Young Thug over the ominous pianos of "Innocent Man" is enough to be entranced into his cult of personality alone. Steel & Copper in a short amount of time provides a tempting sketch of Burna Boy's potential. \u2014Israel Daramola https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/xOF8AtTvqSk DJ Muggs and Mach Hommy \u2013 Tuez-Les Tous Among the legion of post-Roc Marciano shit-talkers from Buffalo to Newark, Mach Hommy is by far the most strange. He masks his face,\u00a0keeps\u00a0his thousand-dollar\u00a0mixtapes\u00a0off streaming, and explains himself in rare interviews in\u00a0true lol-wut fashion. Somehow, Cypress Hill\u2019s longtime producer DJ Muggs, currently in the midst of his own renaissance, convinced Mach to join forces on an actual commercial release, Tuez-les Tous. (That\u2019s French, one of Mach\u2019s several languages, for \u201ckill them all.\u201d) It\u2019s an eccentric set of violent digressions and philosophical musings over\u00a0ghoulish saloon piano loops, as likely to be interrupted by\u00a0ripped interludes from black nationalists as quack epigeneticists, with the\u00a0ire\u2019s aim alternating between the music industry and stray chumps. On \u201cWet Bally,\u201d Mach cites a Killamanjaro sound clash from 1997 and Lord of the Rings. The next song references Martin and an Ivory Coast political dispute. Miyamoto Musashi, George Orwell, Wim Hof, and Ray Lewis\u2019 cream suit all receive shout-outs. Mach might be the\u00a0YouTube generation's GZA: the smartest person in the dojo, increasingly entertaining\u00a0as his coherence strains.\u2014Tosten Burks https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/MChxAqsQlFk Doja Cat\u00a0\u2013\u00a0Amala\u00a0(Deluxe Edition) Doja Cat's\u00a0March reissue is\u00a0a cynical-ish ploy to\u00a0juice\u00a0album streams from "Mooo!" and "Tia Tamera" listeners, but it's\u00a0also\u00a0a useful opportunity to\u00a0reflect on her\u00a0studio debut, which came and went last year\u00a0without much fanfare. "Mooo!"\u2014Doja's after-the-fact meme sensation\u2014was an\u00a0off-the-cuff throwaway that went viral on\u00a0the strength of its perfectly goofy video and preposterous swagger, both of which anticipated our present yeehaw craze. It also made clear her ability\u00a0to at once execute\u00a0absurd concepts\u00a0with sticky melodies and a straight face.\u00a0Amala succeeds when it creates space for that silliness,\u00a0something that unfortunately doesn't happen enough. Middle-ground R&B cuts like "Roll With Us" and "Morning Light," while executed proficiently, could be anyone's records,\u00a0but the "meow, meow, meow" backing vocals\u00a0on "Wild Beach" and extended oral sex\/baked goods metaphor on "Cookie Jar" are memorably wacky\u00a0bits\u00a0of pure Doja\u2014as\u00a0is\u00a0comparing her breasts to grown-up child stars on the newly added Rico Nasty collab. Alas, her label, Dr. Luke's Kemosabe, still seems resistant to letting her comic sensibility\u00a0run wild. How else to explain the\u00a0absence on this\u00a0edition of\u00a0Doja's gorgeous a\u00a0capella hot take,\u00a0"Waffles Are Better Than Pancakes?"\u2014Tosten Burks https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/C_yI2959DYU Lil Skies - Shelby Roughly one year since studio debut,\u00a0Lil\u00a0Skies\u00a0is a bona-fide star. With more than a few breakout hits to his name ("Red Roses," "Nowadays," "Welcome to the Rodeo"), the Pennsylvania rapper has emerged as a major player in the teenage SoundCloud scene's maturation into full-on celebrity, in no small part thanks to his warbling R&B vocals and\u00a0impressive sense of melody. On his sophomore effort\u00a0Shelby,\u00a0Skies doubles down on his early affinity for pop. Tracks like "Breathe," "Blue Strips," and "Through The Motions" weave the sonic claustrophobia of his\u00a0early mixtape standouts\u00a0into icy trap-pop collages with better beats, tighter hooks, and a\u00a0conscious understanding of what works for him. Such is the nature of artistic growth, which for\u00a0Skies\u00a0resembles a sort of clarifying process, refining what's been there since the beginning.\u2014Rob Arcand https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/pINeqsH000I Plus:\u00a0Billy\u00a0Woods and Kenny Segal's\u00a0Hiding Places\u00a0is the year's\u00a0sharpest\u00a0anti-capitalist dark comedy;\u00a0Tisakorean's A Guide to Being a Partying Freshman stretches Texas\u00a0dance-rap in goofy new directions;\u00a0Maxo's LIL BIG MAN articulates intergenerational depression with\u00a0stunning\u00a0narrative clarity; and Judah's\u00a0called by name\u00a0introduces a\u00a0thoughtful new character in\u00a0the New York\u00a0sLUms crew's cinematic\u00a0universe. Get Out\u00a0the Way One of the funniest moments on Nav\u2019s sophomore album Bad Habits comes on the third song, \u201cTaking Chances,\u201d which is actually a song about how he doesn\u2019t like taking chances, in case you were wondering. During the second verse, the Weeknd hanger-on, confident that freestyling songs bit-by-bit is the proper path to inspiration, tosses out the line, \u201cWalk in my closet, I can\u2019t tell you my favorite, I got plenty clothes.\u201d To his credit, it\u2019s true to character. As hard as Nav tries, he can\u2019t describe, explain, or justify himself. \u201cAll my haters keep getting madder, as they should \/ That's a good indication that I'm doing good,\u201d he closes the verse, as the off-brand Wheezy beat mists into the chorus. At the risk of providing further validation, I\u2019d like to clarify that I\u2019m not mad. When I hear Nav\u00a0sing the\u00a0hook, \u201cSee them XO boys like, \u2018There they go\u2019 \/ The money goin' where they go,\u201d like he's a\u00a0mere admirer, I\u2019m\u00a0actually quite sad. \u2014Tosten Burks https:\/\/www.youtube.com\/embed\/8j3tgpcCJ60 This has been April's installment of Rap Monthly. Revisit past editions here.