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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 →

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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 →

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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 →

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

Photo by Mark Stehle via http://6abc.com/entertainment/photos-philly-4th-of-july-jam/157734/#gallery-8
Photo by Mark Stehle via http://6abc.com/entertainment/photos-philly-4th-of-july-jam/157734/#gallery-8

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.

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

photo via timothybloom.com
photo via timothybloom.com

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 facebook.com/funkchoyelcaribefunker
El Caribefunk / via facebook.com/funkchoyelcaribefunker

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 →

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Cheers for the Freakin’ Meekend: A triumphant Meek Mill headlines The Met Philly

Meek Mill | photo by Lissa Alicia for WXPN

The King has returned, and he did so with much fanfare. March 15 was the start of the Meekend, and Philly’s favorite rapper, Meek Mill, kicked it off with his first sold-out headlining concert at The Met Philadelphia, his first hometown show since his release from prison last year.

Meek’s welcome home was a rather grandiose experience. Social media was plastered with images of Meek exiting SCI Chester, hopping on a helicopter heading to the Well Fargo Center to catch a Sixers game court-side with his son.

With the support of part-owner of the Sixers, Michael Rubin, as well as District Attorney Larry Krasner, and Jay Z, Meek has become the celebrity face of prison reform. This new role is an interesting juxtaposition for an artist who has been very vocal about his involvement in illegal street activity, though the two are not mutually exclusive. The reason for Meek’s latest incarceration stint was arguably low stakes — a probation violation that stemmed from a guns and drug case that he acquired when he was 19 years old.

For a while, Meek was going through a seemingly never-ending series of L’s, of course significantly less consequential than his incarceration. These losses included a highly publicized beef with Drake, where the Canadian rapper released to back-to-back dis songs, before our local fav could even get a word in edgewise. Meek also found himself single after he and his long-term girlfriend Nicki Minaj broke up. Funny enough, Philly folk did not hesitate to bump any of Drake’s diss tracks. Despite all this Philly still loves them some Meek and it showed during the Meekend. Continue reading →

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10 Years Ago, Meek Mill released Flamers 2, the match that started it all

Meek Mill’s Flamers 2 | via Genius.com

It’s hard to be from Philadelphia and not be proud of Meek Mill.

You don’t have to be a die-hard. You don’t have to agree with every decision that he’s ever made. But it’s pretty difficult not to respect this man’s grind when 15 years ago, rap DVDs like 2 Raw For The Streets could be found in any high school from Philadelphia all the way out to Reading and Willow Grove, and on them you would often see the beginning stages of a young dreamer chasing his dreams. It’s also hard not to salute Meek Mill when 10 years ago, February 24th, 2009, he released what his city would know as the match that started it all…better known as Flamers 2. Continue reading →

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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 →

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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 →