Hip-hop and live instrumentation have never exactly gone hand-in-hand. Instead, the genre has based itself around samples and produced tracks that often took a backseat to powerful lyrics and flow. Yet in recent years, MCs have begun embracing live instruments, and in the case of Chicago’s Treehouse, it has put everything into making those elements merge.
The group formed after MC Rico Sisney and drummer Aunnoy Badruzzaman met at Columbia College-Chicago. The two began shooting around the idea of starting a new project and began looking for bass players to round out the group’s sound, “We had jammed with a few other people, but we stopped jamming with people as soon as we jammed with Mike [Ruby, bass]. It was just instant,” Badruzzaman said.
Once Sisney and Badruzzaman found Ruby, the trio quickly started finding its footing by melding hip-hop with a jazzier backing band. “The first time we played together as a trio, it kind of clicked. There really wasn’t much of a period of us getting used to each other’s styles; we just got together and fuckin’ played music,” Ruby said.
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What helped make Treehouse stand out from the rest of Chicago’s hip-hop scene was the diversity in its approach. “We don’t have ‘Chicago’ written all over us. We could be from anywhere,” Ruby said. This is a point that Badruzzaman is quick to qualify: “[Sisney]’s from Atlanta, I was born on the East Coast before moving to the [California] Bay Area, and [Ruby]’s from the Bay Area, but we all met in Chicago. We’re Chicago transplants.”
It is this wealth of experience and influence that has helped Treehouse find an audience. The trio can easily find itself playing a hip-hop show or being thrown on a bill with bands from genres as diverse as jazz or indie rock. This adventurous nature is even more noticeable when listening to the group’s studio recordings.
Treehouse may only be comprised of three people, but it is currently at work on an album of dense, multifaceted hip-hop. “We’re trying to create something that unites people,” Badruzzaman said, a statement he acknowledges as being rather bold.
Yet it is this energy that makes Treehouse such a unique entity. Few hip-hop artists would include instruments such as the harp or the didgeridoo on tracks if they were just aspiring to be palatable. “I want to play a part in the way music progresses, and I can’t tell you what way that will be, but I want to make a footprint,” Ruby said. This footprint has yet to be impacted, but Treehouse’s offerings show that this could be achieved.
At Rax Trax, a recording studio in Chicago, the group listens to rough mixes of songs they’ve been recording. As they come through the speakers, it is apparent that Treehouse’s diverse musical background is what has led it to becoming such a powerful entity. With Badruzzaman’s experience playing in post-hardcore and metal acts, he propels the group with challenging rhythms while Ruby locks in with him, creating a solid groove upon which Sisney can eloquently deliver his rhymes.
But as the recordings prove, this simple combination of drums, bass and vocals is not all Treehouse has to offer. “Treehouse is kind of the canvas on which other musicians have space to work. But the three of us create the canvas,” Ruby said. This is not to say that the group’s core trio is lacking, but Treehouse leaves room for other musicians to contribute in meaningful ways. “The core will always be the three of us, but we’ll maybe feature other artists. That’s kind of always been the plan,” Badruzzaman said.
As those rough mixes proved, Treehouse is capable of complex songwriting while simultaneously dipping its toe into as many different genres as possible. Even with all the work already spent recording, the group’s debut album is still a ways off from seeing a release. Treehouse aims to release its full-length in September 2012, with an EP and a mixtape to be released leading up to the album.
Aside from mixing the record, the group is putting a focus on finding ways to translate the record’s dense instrumentation into a live setting. “It’s great to have all that other instrumentation, but at any given moment, we should be able to bust out a version of the song just the three of us,” Ruby said. For its upcoming performance at Pop ‘stache’s first ‘Stache Bash, the group will be joined by multiple instrumentalists to help bring the trio’s vision to a live setting.
Treehouse has big plans for its future, and if the few songs that Ruby and Badruzzamen shared were any indication, its forthcoming releases will help push them into even new territories. “I’ll be happy when we make a footprint in the evolution of the genre, then I’ll be a happy man,” Ruby said.
For Treehouse, leaving behind just a footprint won’t be a problem.