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Sunny Ali and the Kid talk scene politics, The Kominas, and the last Rockers! show of the year

Photo courtesy of artist
Photo courtesy of artist

Amongst punk-leaning and DIY-defined artists in this city, Sunny Ali and the Kid are virtually peerless. Singer/guitarist Hassan Malik and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Abdullah Saeed took their music through an evolution from cheeky rockabilly and minimalist garage rock to a newer sound that incorporates electronics and ethereal soundscapes – all the while vaguely repurposing South Asian musical themes and punk urgency in punchy songs that defy easy categorization.

The band took a significant break through a roughly year-and-a-half-long period that saw Saeed’s journalism work flourish (he works with several publications and writes a popular VICE column on marijuana) and both his and Malik’s ongoing work with The Kominas, a punk band known for songs that similarly play with South Asian and Islamic musical tropes while incorporating lyrics that involve jabs at Western misconceptions of Muslim belief.

As men of Pakistani descent with a comprehensive and intuitive understanding of why their music and livelihoods defy racial stereotyping, Sunny Ali and the Kid personify the mission that the folks behind Rockers! (whose events highlight artists who otherwise don’t fit into the white-male-heterosexual-dominated rock world) take into every show. This is probably why Malik and Saeed are playing their first show in two years by headlining the last Rockers! show of 2014 at West Philly Ethiopian spot Dahlak Paradise.

We caught up with Malik and asked him about their return, race and class in scene politics, handling geographical divides and making music with a mission. Continue reading →

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Halfro releases Squalor, gets funky at album release show this Saturday

Photo by Dan Lidon
Halfro | Photo by Dan Lidon

To see Philly-based hip-hop quartet Halfro play live is to partake in one of the most fun and rare experiences a live show-lover can have: a young band with impeccable execution that gives its always-eclectic audience a raucous party while showing no sign of stagnation.  When the band drops their debut self-released EP Squalor at Saturday’s album release show at 3rd and Girard, audiences will get to hear that energy dropped straight into a lively, sometimes-existential-always-rollicking record that successfully captures a great deal of their live show’s immense power. Continue reading →

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Check out photos and video from Boyz II Men’s intimate SiriusXM Taping at CAPA

Boyz II Men at CAPA | Photo by Sameer Rao
Boyz II Men at CAPA | Photo by Sameer Rao

The thought, 20 years ago, of Boyz II Men and Nirvana having anything to do with one another might have paralyzed the pop world with fear and anger. But in front of a small audience at Philadelphia’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (where the RnB legends famously formed while students), members Shawn Stockman and Wanya Morris felt no hesitation or weight of historical genre divides when they ripped into an impromptu, largely comical version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. Continue reading →

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Flying Lotus ventures into the great unknown on Tuesday at the Tower Theater

Photo by Timothy Saccenti

To describe Steven Ellison, better known as the Los Angeles-bred Flying Lotus, with traditional signifiers is a pretty difficult endeavor. He’s not quite a jazz artist, although his pieces smack of the heavy-concept, free-form complexity that defines that genre in the 21st century. He’s not quite a hip-hop producer, although his rhythms derive from the canon of that world’s sonic tapestry and ground performances from superstar luminaries like Kendrick Lamar. And he’s not even an electronic artist, despite his heavy use of blippy synths and membership on the genre-defining (and -redefining) Warp Records label. Continue reading →

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Calle 13 make Philly debut (and history) this Saturday at the Merriam Theater, and we all should be paying attention

Calle 13 | Photo courtesy of Kimmel Center Presents
Calle 13 | Photo courtesy of Kimmel Center Presents

With more than enough English-language music flooding American airwaves to make even the most eclectic music-lover’s heads spin, a group like Puerto Rico’s Calle 13 might easily fall under the radar. Maybe you were lucky enough to hear their eccentric mid-2000s breakout hits “Atréve te-te” and “La Jirafa” at a college- or work-sponsored Latin music night and thought “Hey, this is a pretty cool beat,” before shimmying your hips off-rhythm for the next few hours. Continue reading →

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What’s ‘What Scene?’ trying to do with Foxtail Fest?

Noah Breakfast will perform at Foxtail Fest | Photo via thefader.com
Noah Breakfast will perform at Foxtail Fest | Photo via thefader.com

Given Philadelphia’s recent penchant for high-profile festivals whose acts carry the torch for pop’s evolutionary bent – a wordy way of saying that the festivals “aren’t lame or played out” -  Saturday’s Foxtail Fest has remained conspicuously under-the-radar. This isn’t for lack of star-billing by any means – Saturday’s all-day electronic- and hip-hop-focused festival features a headlining set from SZA, a buzzed-about downbeat RnB singer whose evocative vocals and lush instrumentals led to her 2014 EP Z receiving tremendous acclaim. Sets from A$AP Mob upstart A$AP Ant and Philly’s own master-producer DJ Noah Breakfast (a.k.a. Xaphoon Jones of Chiddy Bang), among others, promise to bring large audiences of their own. So why is this festival so comparatively hushed? Continue reading →

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The Obscura showcase gives hip-hop and indie a new voice in West Philly

Photo courtesy of Kieko Photography

For many local music fans, “West Philadelphia” is synonymous with DIY ethics and dingy basements, guitar howls and lost hearing. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, those whose predilections lean towards hip-hop and breathing room might feel short-changed.

Obscura creates a space for those others, building off of the Cedar Park neighborhood’s rich diversity and deep-rooted progressivism to create a space where incendiary hip-hop and indie music can find a home. Continue reading →

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Jonathan Pfeffer’s “Bodega”, featuring a cast of Philadelphia rappers and musicians, comes to ballet-dancing life in Atlanta this Friday

Jonathan Pfeffer | photo via www.soundcloud.com/jpfeffer

Although The Key normally doesn’t publish the artistic goings-on of other cities, the use of local artists’ work in boundary-pushing art is certainly worth celebrating.

It has been roughly a year since former Capillary Action frontman and composer/multimedia artist Jonathan Pfeffer premiered “Bodega”, an avant-garde piece that employed a cavalcade of local musician collaborators including emcees Lushlife and Yikes the Zero, drummers Eric Slick (Dr. Dog) and Ricardo Lagomasino (Many Arms/Deleted Scenes) and Uniform Recordings’s Jeff Zeigler in the service of abrasive and entrancing aesthetics. On Friday, the piece will take on new life further south as the Atlanta Ballet features it in the new work showcase “Yours is Mine”. Continue reading →

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Listen to local emcee MilLionZ’s “No Tomorrow” and join him for Saturday’s video shoot in response to violence in Ferguson

Photo by Kate McCann | www.katemccannphotography.com

As the country and world turn their attention to the turmoil that has engulfed Ferguson, MO, in the wake of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police, the music world has responded in its own way. Unforgiving and stark musical messages from respected hip-hop artists like J.Cole and Ms. Lauryn Hill contribute to a conversation that also sees Killer Mike, Talib Kweli, Frank Ocean, and St. Louis native Nelly taking to social media and the press, attempting to address a community and nation at odds with how to handle the violence. The responses bare some similarity to the ways in which hip-hop addressed the post-Rodney King verdict violence in Los Angeles almost two decades ago, providing the rest of the country with a sobering look into the realities of violence and racism in the American inner city.

Gifted Overbrook Park-based rapper and singer MilLionZ, who burst onto our radar last year with a searing guest verse during singer-songwriter Ryan Tennis’s “Fight Song” (check out Tennis’s Key Studio Session to listen to the track), is adding his unique voice to that conversation. Continue reading →