Janelle Monae, Nicki Minaj, Meek Mill and Miguel top Made in America lineup

Janelle Monae
Janelle Monae | still from video

The Made in America lineup is finally here, and this year, the highly-anticipated annual festival will bring a diverse, dozens-strong roster of artists to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The festival will take place September 1 and 2 — just about 90 days away, not that we’re counting.

Up in the top headlining slots are rappers Nicki Minaj and Post Malone, but this is the kind of festival lineup that merits more than a glance at the smaller print. Some of the standouts include the eclectic and awesome Janelle Monáe, fresh off the release of her new album Dirty Computer, as well as R&B star Miguel, and pop singer-songwriter Alessia Cara. Meek Mill, who has become somewhat of a hometown hero lately, will also appear for what is sure to be a triumphant set. Continue reading →


All My Friends Are Onstage: Lil Uzi Vert’s hip-hop hit parade brings Pharrell, Nicki Minaj and more to the Liacouras Center

Lil Uzi Vert | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Let’s not sell Lil Uzi Vert short. The Grammy-nominated Philadelphia rapper is a commanding, dynamic performer with incredible charisma, athletic stamina and a daredevil’s drive to completely obliterate the boundary between artist and audience. It was what grabbed us here at The Key when we first encountered him, jumping offstage and climbing on top of food vending trucks at the Roots Picnic, finishing his set perched on high, dancing for an energized audience below.

This was the Lil Uzi that took the stage last night to a sold-out crowd at Temple’s Liacouras Center for his year-end throwdown, A Very Uzi Christmas. The basketball arena was decked out in tune with the rapper’s goth-inspired aesthetic — open caskets on either side of the stage pumping pulsing light and dry ice outward, two LED boards in the shape of inverted crosses — and as Uzi leapt from the upper deck to the front row to the bumping bass of “444+222” from this year’s Luv Is Rage 2, sashaying between pyrotechnic plumes, it was pretty clear: this show could have been Uzi and Uzi alone, and it would have been an incredible night.

But that’s not how it went down. Continue reading →


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Restorations and DRGN King at Spruce Street Harbor, Nicki Minaj and Meek Mill at SBC, Sing Bird of Prey at The Fire, and more

Restorations | Photo via artist's Facebook
Restorations | Photo via artist’s Facebook

Philly rockers Restorations join DRGN King at Spruce Street Harbor tonight — a great chance to enjoy music by two bands that exude Philly pride and musicianship. Restorations most recently completed a tour throughout Europe, and DRGN King spent this past spring touring throughout the U.S. See them together in their home city at tonight’s free performance, and listen to each of their latest releases below. Continue reading →


Watch the Philly 4th of July Jam with The Roots, Aloe Blacc, Nicki Minaj and more

Photo by Mark Stehle via
Photo by Mark Stehle via

Aloe Blacc, Jennifer Hudson, Ed Sheeran, Nicki Minaj and The Roots performed at the Wawa Welcome America on July 4th, hosted by Marlon Wayans. Joining The Roots were Philly R&B singer Bilal and DJ Jazzy Jeff. Earlier last week, Aloe Blacc stopped by WXPN to record a session for an upcoming World Cafe with David Dye.

Below, watch the July 4th Jam in its entirety via VH-1.


Forget Nicki Minaj and Ed Sheeran, check out the real stars of this year’s Philly 4th of July Jam

photo via
photo via

By now, you’ve probably heard about this year’s Wawa Welcome America’s Philly 4th of July Jam on the Parkway. And if you’re like me, you’re less than enthusiastic about the big names performing. The lineup isn’t terrible – it features performances by The Roots, Nicki Minaj, Ed Sheeran and more. It’s alright, for sure, but not super exciting.

But don’t write off the city’s free annual 4th of July concert too fast, because there are some underdogs. Aside from the main stage, there are two smaller stages: Global Music Stage and Questlove Stage. The lineups are made up of lesser-known (but spotlight deserving) artists that many people aren’t even aware are there. Well, I’m going to fix that. Here’s your guide to the real stars of the Philly 4th of July Jam:

Global Music Stage

El Caribefunk / via
El Caribefunk / via

As a Latin powerhouse, El Caribefunk will bring some reggae funk to the Global Music Stage. The Colombian band is spending its summer touring around the Philly area and filling the air with Afro-Caribbean music. El Caribefunk has a ton of energy and spirit not only in its music, but it’s stage presence. The band will have you up and moving when it takes the stage at 3:30 p.m. Take some time to listen to the band’s song, “San Antonio,” below. Continue reading →


The Key’s Top 15 Albums of 2018

This is the music that moved us in 2018

In her review of Lucy Dacus’ Historian, Key writer Sarah Hojsak uses a vivid phrase that sums up both the record, as well as the emotional landscape of 2018: “desperately sad but never hopeless.”

Oh, wait, I’m sorry…would you describe your year as happy? That must be nice, good on you. For many of us, it’s not as straightforward: the toxicity of the country at this moment in history, and the various players that fuel that toxicity, has a draining effect, whether you’re a marginalized person who is in the line of fire or an empathetic soul who is distressed from afar. There’s also the let-down: the pouring of our energies into something to watch it fail, whether personal or public.

And yet we experience moments of joy throughout it all: weddings are had, families are started, a breathtaking sunset is observed from the westbound platform of the Berks Avenue el stop. And there’s music, a constant source of joy and comfort that centers our lives. Continue reading →


Now Hear This: New songs from Cat Power, Elvis Costello, Matthew Dear, Half Waif, Richard Swift, Spiritualized and more

Half Waif | photo by Tonje Thilesen | courtesy of the artist
Half Waif | photo by Tonje Thilesen | courtesy of the artist

Every month, noted song expert K. Ross Hoffman presents Now Hear This, a sampling of fresh specimens for your consideration.

This past Saturday was my 36th birthday, and, as it happens, this is my 36th Now Hear This column.  (I’ve been secretly keeping track: the first fifteen installments ran weekly over at Philly Voice during the fall of 2016; the monthly columns for The Key started in February 2017).  Thirty-six feels like a significant year – more so than 35 in many ways (especially considering what’s been happening to the institution of the presidency).  It’s divisible by more numbers, even if five isn’t one of them.  As one friend pointed out, it means I’m now old enough to vote twice! And, more notably, it means that I’ve been a quote-unquote “adult” for fully half of my life; that the time since I left my parents’ house now equals the time that I lived there.

So it’s afforded a nice opportunity to reflect back on the time around my 18th year – an age perhaps less overtly mythologized in song than sixteen or seventeen, but probably even more transformative in real (contemporary) life – which in my case was also the era of Y2K.  I’d reckon that nobody felt the cultural and historical shift from the 20th to the 21st century, from the 1990s to the still-nameless-after-all-these-years 2000s, more acutely than those of us for whom it paralleled the end of high school and the start of what-comes-next; i.e. me and my fellow circa-1982 babies: the oldest, truest millennials.  Conveniently, just two days before my birthday, September Now Hear This boy-toy Troye Sivan joined up with plasticwave popgenius (and certified ‘90s bitchCharli XCX to drop a video memorializing and celebrating the pop culture of that period – specifically 1999, although the references span roughly 1997-2000 – when, as many have mentioned, its creators were still in single digits, if not diapers.  It represents exactly, and in exquisitely realized detail, the “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered (late) ‘90s” that I have been ambivalently anticipating for quite some time now.

Continue reading →


A Very Gritty Playlist: What is Philadelphia’s favorite freak listening to?

Gritty the young bul

In an incredible dose of irony, the most unifying thing to emerge from this dumpster fire of a week is something that looks like it crawled out of an actual dumpster fire.

Gritty, the googley eyed dust mop you see above, went from being universally mocked upon his debut as the newest mascot in the NHL, to being universally memed by thousands of folks with Photoshop and free time, all the way to universally beloved — at least in his home city. I mean, the best donut shop in Philly is selling a limited edition Gritty glazed today, and a Bristol brewpub reportedly already has Gritty beer on tap (although, those familiar with the lengthy brewing process realize this is either opportunistic marketing of a beer already in the works, or something coordinated with the Flyers long before the announcement).

So many questions about this character. What is he, exactly? What are his recreational drug preferences? Does he have a good relationship with the city’s other dayglo colored fuzzy sports freak, the Phanatic? And here at The Key, we’ve been pondering a big one all week — what music does Gritty rock to? Continue reading →


Did you know Childish Gambino’s “Feels Like Summer” video is the product of Philly animator Justin Richburg?

Childish Gambino’s “Feels Like Summer” video | still from video

Justin Richburg is the 29-year-old, Philadelphia-based animator behind the video of Childish Gambino’s “Feels Like Summer.” Richburg is credited for the character designs, and collaborated with co-director Ivan Dixon for the animation work. Directed by Donald Glover, the video is coated in the balmy haze of summertime and depicts Childish Gambino strolling down a suburban neighborhood street beneath rosy-tinted skies. There are cameo appearances of hip hop artists and icons such as Drake and Future, Nicki Minaj and Travis Scott, Solange and The Weekend, but the most talked-about scene was that of a crying Kanye West in a Make America Great hat being hugged by Michelle Obama.

Despite his rising fame, Richburg remains draped in privacy and anonymity. In interviews he appears nonchalant and shruggingly perfunctory in responses to questions, never diving too deeply to reveal his own motives. Perhaps the statement on his website captures his attitude best: “What can I say about my art is that it’s inspired by life, the media, New Jack Swing and to kill the game point blank.” Continue reading →