What kind of hip-hop era are we in? Some say it’s a new Golden Age, supported by a web-like network of young, self-sufficient artists. Others say it’s a barren, boring landscape without anyone that everyone can rally behind or agree on. Here's what we know -- styles are evolving, oldies are falling off, and young'uns are changing our perceptions of what we believe to be rap in the first place.

Wednesday night, Chicago’s Tree took the stage at Brooklyn's Knitting Factory to help the experimental spirit stay alive. While his DJ/hypeman held down the laptop, Tree was accompanied by two backup singers, one male and one female. After one or two songs, Tree implored, “Have you ever seen a rapper with backup singers?” Crowd members shifted their weight without an answer. “That’s what I thought!”

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During his short set, Tree laid out an aesthetic blueprint for his "Soul Trap" sound, softening the edges on the popular stuttering Southern production while adding elements of soul-sampling artists like Kanye and Heatmakerz. His raps carry a snide disregard for doubters yet still echo with a jaded burn, and his raspy voice makes him sound tired but resilient. His beats, most fully developed on his newest project ‘The MCTREEG EP,’ have a buoyancy to them with a bottom-heavy anchor, leaving Tree to float somewhere in the middle. On headphones, it’s one of the most unique sounds in rap right now.

Live, it might need some work. The Brooklyn crowd seemed standoffish as he asked who had heard his latest joint, and they might have been clueless because Tree is yet to release a definitive, flagship song; a ‘Danny Glover’ or ‘Peso,’ for instance. He wasn’t fazed, though, as he often reminded everyone that he was happy to be performing in New York for the first time (the joy was glowing off of his face throughout the show). As he settled into his routine and began performing his newer cuts, the crowd loosened up, and while no one was going nuts, it felt as though everyone had gotten to know him in a short amount of time. Concluding with ‘Probably Nu It,’ he humbly withdrew for the night.

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A quick in-crowd set by DJ GetLive followed, littered with Chief Keef, Young Thug, and Future songs. It felt like the DJ was bracing for the hits that Bodega Bamz is yet to materialize, and soon a group of guys in Tan Boys hoodies took the stage and lined up with their backs to the crowd. Bodega Bamz bounced out shortly after the dramatic introduction, donning a Big Pun shirt and running through cuts from his breakout mixtape ‘Strictly For My P.A.P.I.Z.’ He swigged from a bottle of Hennessy; he solicited Newports from the crowd (and was gifted with thrown cigarettes); He was nothing short of vigorous during every song. Towards the end, he even invited past tour partners Flatbush Zombies onstage to perform a collaborative cut that electrified most of the crowd. He finished with giant, swaying Dominican and Puerto Rican flags flanking him before he thanked Knitting Factory and Scion AV for having him. His energy was infectious, but it seemed to be the polar opposite of Tree’s set: music recognized by the New York crowd but not that distinct from much else being made right now.

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On one hand was a relatively unknown artist from Chicago, introducing a new sound to stiff New Yorkers who like what they like. On the other hand, A$AP-affiliated Bamz already had an in with the crowd and quickly found his groove. Today, hip-hop's terrain seems ripe with enough fertile land to nourish both acts in their respective areas, but one seemed like a more daring direction while the other was a safer bet. In an age where derivatives are celebrated and avant garde artists are always prepared to attack from the fringes, it's hard to gauge just where each guy will land.