Chicago hip hop artists ProbCause, Tree talk songwriting

Elizabeth Kim, Reporter

Chicago hip-hop artists ProbCause and Tree came to Northwestern on Wednesday to share their passion for songwriting and discuss the city’s rap scene.

About 50 students and community members from the area were present at Annie May Swift Hall for the event, now in its fourth year. The talk was sponsored by the Center for the Writing Arts and the Department of Performance Studies.

“I hope that the words spur action, touch them somehow and affect their lives,” said Stacy Oliver, assistant director of the Center for the Writing Arts. “That behind everything there are words.”

Oliver said the center wanted the pair of artists to introduce students to a different style of writing than they are used to.

“Songwriting is a form of writing,” she said. “We’re always trying to introduce students to all forms of writing. This is just another way of putting words to music. Because the words hold up without music.”

Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot of WBEZ’s “Sound Opinions” hosted the event. The two are nationally acclaimed rock critics and have interviewed numerous musicians, including Yoko Ono, Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie. They moderated a discussion with each artist prior to their performances and the question-and-answer session afterward.

Tree started his songwriting career at the age of 17 and has been in the industry for 11 years as a Chicago rapper who has performed in the Chicago Pitchfork Music Festival. He has produced two mix tapes.

“I just knew that I could do it. I’d never written a rap, but I knew could do it,” he said. “It wasn’t magic science. For me, it was a hobby.”

ProbCause spoke about about his narrative song style, into which he weaves various genres of music. ProbCause is an Evanston rapper who has performed in Chicago’s North Coast Music Festival and toured with DJ Steve Aoki.

“I just loved the whole dynamic,” he said. “I just loved the culture and wanted to be a part of it in any way. It’s such a melting pot. So many artists come through Chicago.”

Although they now produce rap as well, both Tree and ProbCause continue to write. They said they experience writer’s blocks and spiritual moments just like any writer, now under the pressure of deadlines and in the studio. Each spoke about how they are also sensitive to the specific language they use in their rap, with specific attention paid to their own social backgrounds and prospective listeners.

“That’s the Chicago tradition,” Derogatis said. “But rather than posing and pretending and living out gangster fantasies, you’re saying, ‘This is my life, let me tell you about it.'”

To close the event, the hosts lamented that too many young artists are giving up early on, before they even enter the music scene.

“I love hip-hop. I’m from Chicago as well,” Medill junior Jeremy Woo said. “I guess to hear two Chicago artists talk in this kind of setting is always something I’m going to go to if it’s available.”

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