Review: Tre Mission showcases vocal versatility on third LP 'Orphan Black'

Canada's Tre Mission has always had an appetite for longer projects. The Don Mills MC's debut album Malmaison, released for free download in 2013, weighed in at a whopping sixteen tracks. Its 2014 follow-up, Stigmata, was signed to Big Dada and featured high-profile appearances from the likes of Wiley, Jme and Skepta. The title track eventually ended up in an episode of the hugely popular HBO series POWER. Both projects were predominantly self-produced, and featured a balance of rap and grime songs. On new long-player Orphan Black, released via Last Gang Records, Tre continues to excel at sombre, piano-led cuts, but showcases several more catchy songs including more singing than he's ever done before.

Striking sepia visuals for the album's final single, opener and title track "Orphan Black", were unleashed on the same day as the album. Opening with an emotional piano arrangement as a rolling bassline creeps in and Tre candidly discusses his anti-establishment outlook, it sets the tone for the tracks to come. Die-hard fans will recognise some of its lyrics from Tre's radio sets; parts of "The Lobby Pt. 1" toward the end of the album may be equally familiar.

Orphan Black has been teased for years now, previously under the working title of Samsara. Ethereal lead single "Hockey" has been doing bits since last year, with DJ Argue looping the instrumental repeatedly for ten minutes to close a Keep Hush event while the likes of Ten Dixon, Razor, Lost Souljah and Renz touched mic. A breezy number centred around an ethos of minding one's own business, the track finds music box melodies blended with intricate, clicking two-step percussion, and includes some more light-hearted lyrics like a nod to the Mario universe's Yoshi and Kylie Koopa. A minimal, all-blue music video (below) was also released. 

A string of 2019 singles followed: "You Can Have", "Make a Move" and "Hennessy Pool". Each of these revolve around catchy choruses reminiscent of those sung by contemporary American rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, but their accompanying trap instrumentals have an undeniably grimy undercurrent. Not all the album tracks are self-produced; fellow Toronto beat-makers K-Notes and Tay Lewis lend a hand, as does man of the moment Nyge (known for his work with Smoke Boys and AJ Tracey), who's behind the shimmering synths and hi-hat sprinklings on "Cheque".

In an April interview with Push The Wall, Tre described Orphan Black as "the first project that I've done where I've literally just made what I wanna listen to". He's been adapting to life as a new father since the release of Stigmata, and some of the choruses on the project almost sound like lullabies – except they grapple with much darker themes, combined with his trademark wit. On "You Can Have", he sings: "You can have all my love all the time / But you cannot have all my trust, girl, it's mine / I might give you half, hold my grub, hold my nine".

The second half of the album is more lyrically dense. On trap and drill-tinged album standout "Sim Simma", Tre is joined by his Tizzy Gang colleague and frequent collaborator Merky ACE as the two MCs each claim a 32-bar verse. The Lewisham barrer draws from the Headie One playbook: "I'm with shh and he's mashing the works". The project's only other feature comes from Badside member Ellz, who sings a lightly autotuned verse to complement Tre's own vocals on "Plus": "We just threw a slug and they never threw it back / I pull up on your block and I will double back if I hear wass".

Tre lays out a vision for providing for his toddler on the stripped-back and cinematic "Blue Water": "I just wanna take this world by storm / Then give it to my son when he turns fifteen". Meanwhile, the all-too-short "Free GS9 Interlude" sees him adopt a much more lax flow while he raps over a bold production akin to a faulty arcade machine, dominated by distorted, plucked synths.

"Babe Mansion" is a thumping celebration of sex and intoxication, with a chorus anchored on a reference to hip hop heavyweight Metro Boomin. This offers an insight into some of the non-grime influences on the album; in his aforementioned Push The Wall interview, he also cites American rapper Polo G ("bare melodies, but hella bars"), dancehall artist Rygin King, and Torontonian lyricists Jason Packs and Houdini among his favourite artists at the moment.

Closing the album on a high, Tre deftly switches between singing and rapping on "The Lobby Pt. 1" and "I, The Chosen", managing to weave in niche references to both his hometown and the grime scene on the former track. These include a nod to Ghetts' rooftop clash with Bashy ("N****s heard Tre did pull up and crash / And they wanna know where like Carlos") and an acknowledgement of the genre's self-proclaimed godfather ("Woke up feeling like Wiley"). In keeping with the previous tracks, he continues to question his opps' road credentials, and condemns their over-reliance on social media ("Who did the work? It was my G / You put in work for the IG").

The album's closer finds Tre celebrating his relationships; condemning those who've betrayed him or slept on his music; reflecting on how everything is temporary; and considering his own mortality ("When Tre dies, don't cry and hide / Think about this song when it's time to ride"). A fitting end to the project, and a much-needed exhibition of his lyrical prowess – which listeners could be forgiven for forgetting about, given the sheer amount of ballads about trapping on Orphan Black.

Listen to Orphan Black in full below, and find Tre Mission on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for more updates.