Artist Spotlight: Oliver Tree goes out on a limb with daring indie-hip-hop hybrid

Oliver Tree performs on the Panhandle Stage during the 2017 Outside Lands Music And Arts Festival at Golden Gate Park on Aug. 11, 2017 in San Francisco. (FilmMagic/FilmMagic)

Brightly dressed in a big, billowy windbreaker patterned with clunky primary colors and bell-bottom jeans, his babyish face festooned with a pair of red, plastic sunglasses you’d expect to find at the checkout counter of a gas station, sitting below a crisp and remarkably well-manicured bowl cut, Oliver Tree makes no attempt to fly under the radar. Known for riding pocket bikes and pulling off crazy scooter stunts around the streets of southern California, Tree is an eccentric character. It is only fitting that his music so accurately reflects the boisterous mentality behind his appearance.

Initially, I was skeptical. He looked like a hipster’s version of a SoundCloud rapper, taking the whole 90s aesthetic to its absurdist extreme much in the same way internet rappers like Lil Pump embraced rap stereotypes so totally as to be laughable. Is he trying to make a statement or does he just want people to look at him? Does he even care about music? Do questions like this even matter if you like listening to his music? I don’t know, and I don’t have an answer. But, for whatever reason, I found myself returning to Oliver Tree’s music.

Atlantic Records took Tree’s act seriously, signing him in late 2017 after his collaboration with producer Whethan “When I’m Down” went viral. It’s viral success seems obvious in retrospect. A peppy, staccato piano melody carried by Tree’s dynamic vocals at the forefront, it’s plainly fun to listen to. Since then, Tree has released only a handful of material with one EP entitled “Alien Boy” and a few singles. While his career is very much in its infancy, people are beginning to appreciate his infectious songwriting ability.

Among the wave of people taking notice of Tree was Apple, where his single “Movement” was featured in a weird live-action animated commercial for the iPhone X. Recognition from a major company like Apple in combination with his “Alien Boy” music video mashup currently sitting at just under 6.5 million views on YouTube has helped garner real attention to Tree’s music. In the music video, Tree seamlessly weaves together two of the stronger tracks on the album, “All That” and “Alien Boy,” in a glossy, action-packed narrative featuring revenge, scooter tricks and monster trucks that reportedly took over nine months to film.

The first track, “All That,” speaks out against arrogance and self-indulgence, specifically people who, as the title would suggest, think they’re all that. Tree makes his point ironically by rapping the exact words and phrases commonly associated with hip-hop culture in a mocking way. “Alien Boy” flows in a similar slam poetry style of verse. Here, Tree expresses his feelings of societal rejection and isolation through surrealist imagery. In the first verse he compares himself to a Seussian character with seven spider eyes, big, sharp teeth like a Great White Shark, an eagle beak and ostrich feet.

With a currently limited discography, Oliver Tree shows great promise in the future, and I am excited to see what he puts out next. Despite appearing childish, simply gallivanting around Hollywood Boulevard for attention, Tree has shown a genuine knack for making serious music.


Mitchell Clark is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at mitchell.clark@uconn.edu.