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Music

What the Game’s Been Missing

The Return Of Tim Trees

By Al Shipley | Posted 12/7/2005

Just like singers, many rappers perform in a voice that in no way resembles their speaking voice. Tim Trees, however, talks exactly like he raps—in a loose, creaky drawl, ending most of his statements with an upturned “Nah mean?” Even with a recognizable Baltimore accent, it’s a voice that sounds like it could’ve come from somewhere much further south than Maryland, more like Juvenile or Trick Daddy than the New York voices most Baltimore MCs emulate.

Five years ago, this sticky, slurry voice, over beats by a dance-music producer who had never made hip-hop before, created an infectious sound that became closely associated with Baltimore’s hip-hop scene—a notion of which even Trees himself sounds skeptical. “I’m not gonna say it was ‘the Baltimore sound’ or whatever,” he says. “But that’s how they marketed it.”

At 26, Trees looks like the same kid just out of his teens shown on the cover of his first album, only a little wearier. Meeting him recently on Erdman Avenue in his Northeast Baltimore neighborhood, Trees keeps a low profile while hanging out with his longtime friends and business partners. It’s a humble reality for a local music hero whose songs are still heard on local radio and in clubs on a daily basis. And after some time away from the music grind, Tim Trees is coming back with a new album in 2006. Its first two singles are already getting local airplay. “We gettin’ ready to come back out, man, real strong,” he says.

In the late ’90s Wayne Jones III was a teenager from Baltimore who called himself Tim Trees and started a rap group with his cousin T-Rock. But after T-Rock got locked up in 1997, their group, Bdamore Murdaland, became the namesake for Bdamore Records, the label that would launch Tim Trees’ solo career. Dwight “Manny” Barlow and Andre Williams, two friends who believe in his talent, helped Trees form the foundation for the label. “They just knew that I had it in me to take it to the next level,” Trees says.

Tim Trees began recording his first album in 2000. Then 20, Trees was ready to approach rap professionally, and fatherhood further motivated him to work hard at it. “When I had my first daughter on the way, that solidified that it was time to get serious with it,” he says.

But Barlow, Trees, and Williams didn’t know many hip-hop producers whose beats sounded good enough to release commercially, so Barlow turned to club-music producer Rod Lee. At that time, club music—the aggressive and fiercely local form of house music—had dominated Baltimore’s black clubs and eclipsed local hip-hop in popularity for the better part of a decade. Many rap groups had already attempted club-music fusions, but it was Trees and Lee that struck upon the magic formula.

Lee had never produced hip-hop before, but after Barlow convinced him to try, Lee slowed the club drums that were usually programmed at a frantic 130 beats per minute down to more relaxed 90 BPM patterns over which Tim Trees could flow. Trees was already halfway into the recording of his first album when he and Lee created “Bank Roll,” and the response was immediate when Trees played it for his neighborhood. “When we let ’em hear ‘Bank Roll,’ they went just crazy,” he says. “It was undeniable.”

“Bank Roll” was hardly a pop record, but its crisp drums and stuttering bass line were already a familiar sound to everyone in Baltimore. And with Trees’ deep voice and catchy delivery, it was an instant local hit.

Trees wrote the lyrics in his grandmother’s basement, a sharp contrast to the song’s materialistic boasts and gruff punch lines: “My necklace got me a nickname—treasure chest.” “Bank Roll” took off quickly after Bdamore Records began pushing the single in October 2000. DJ Quicksilva broke the song in the clubs, and DJ K-Swift took it to local radio, where it lit up request lines.

By the time Tim Trees released Dalton, Vol. 1 in February 2001, local stores had been deluged with requests for his album for months. “I figured we might sell like 500” copies, Trees says. The album shattered his humble expectations. “They couldn’t keep enough copies in stores.”

Ultimately, the album sold more than 15,000 copies in stores and by hand-to-hand selling in the streets. It was easily the biggest album that Baltimore hip-hop had ever produced, and remains a high-water mark few have matched. Another track from the album, featuring a Rod Lee beat patterned after Timbaland’s instrumental for Jay-Z’s “It’s Hot (Some Like It Hot),” was as big a hit as “Bank Roll.” “We Don’t Love ’Em,” which Trees had written the lyrics for several years earlier at 16, is better known as “Wayne Jones” for its opening rhymes: “Wayne Jones gettin’ dome in a 500 Benz on chrome/ talkin’ on my flip phone/ gettin’ my dick blown.”

Lee had long been one of the city’s most popular club-music producers, and his association with Tim Trees made him one of its biggest hip-hop producers. “After that, everybody started coppin’ beats from Rod,” Trees says. Lee has since produced more hits for local rappers, including Bossman and Nature’s Problem, and in 2002 and ’03 he asked Trees for guest verses for two young R&B singers he was producing. Davon’s “Be Ya Friend” and Paula Campbell’s “How Does It Feel” each featured 16 bars from Trees and were two of Lee’s biggest radio hits, the latter igniting Campbell’s career, which has since led to a deal with Sony.

Trees released his second album, Dalton, Vol. 2, in 2002,and though it was a solid effort, it failed to match its predecessor’s sales. Trees takes the blame for not promoting it as heavily as Vol. 1, expecting the follow-up to sell itself on name recognition alone. “I was just a little bit too cocky,” he says. But he’s also displayed graciousness and generosity with his fame, supporting the Baltimore hip-hop scene by collaborating with respected locals such as Little Clayway, Tyree Colion, and Skarr Akbar, and bringing up new artists on his own label.

In 2002, Dukeyman, a club-music producer who had contributed a few tracks to Dalton, Vol. 1, took a beat that Trees had passed on and gave it to a rapper named B. Rich, who made the resulting track, “Whoa Now,” into a regional hit. B. Rich signed with Atlantic Records when everyone was expecting Trees to land a major deal, but Trees remained a good sport and congratulated Rich in the liner notes for Dalton, Vol. 2. And while he admits he did open the door for other Baltimore artists, Trees is quick to note that most of the rappers who have found success since him have been on the scene for just as long.

“I ain’t gonna say they came after me, because we all been on the grind,” he says. “Everybody now that you hear is not like an overnight success or nothin’ like that.”

In 2004, Trees released the mix tape Too Gangsta for Radio as an outlet for material rawer than what DJs are willing to play, such as the underground hit “No Club Shit.” His official third album, Wayne Jones: The Business, isn’t due out until next spring, but after the learning experience of watching his underpromoted second album fly under the radar, he’s already pushing his newest project. The catchy new track “Too Cool to Dance” and the first single, “I’ll Make You Feel Good,” have been getting spins on 92Q. Aside from two beats from club producer DJ Debonair Samir, including the mix-tape favorite “Fire,” Trees is keeping most of the production and guest appearances in-house with Bdamore Records talent.

Since his initial wave of success, Trees has taken a slight break from music to focus on raising his children and taking real estate courses at Baltimore County Community College’s Essex campus. But family and music have taken on serendipitous parallels in his life. His two daughters were born around the same time he released his first two albums, and he now has a son on the way on the eve of his third. “Every time I put out an album it’s like one of my kids,” he says.

Most of all, Trees is excited about the leaps and bounds that Baltimore hip-hop has taken since a few short years ago, when he was one of its only promising stars. “I feel like they finally payin’ us some overdue attention,” he says. No matter who is the first artist to hit the national mainstream, “that’ll open the door up for everyone else in Baltimore.” And when the spotlight is ready for him again, Trees says he plans on having his business together. “Back then, I was into rappin’, you feel me? But now it’s like, I’m a businessman.”

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