Local artists inspire Philadelphia’s youth at Aspiring Young Artists

Aspiring Young Artist | photo by Richard Sanders | courtesy of Aspiring Young Artists

The city of Philadelphia has a very incredibly vibrant music scene and a rich music history that spans genres. But imagine if those two intangible things could become more of a direct resource for the adolescents of the city who are in school and have a passion for creating music. That’s where Aspiring Young Artists steps in.

While most schools can only advocate for more funding so they don’t have to make really hard choices, like cutting out art programs because of lack of funds, AYA cuts out the middle man and connects North Philadelphia students from schools like Youth Build Philadelphia, Kensington CAPA and Olney Charter High School with local artists who teach them how to compose their own music and expose them to the beautiful things that are happening in their hometown’s music scene.

Recently I was able to sit with AYA’s founder Ricky Strickler about how the music programs and the local artists that lead them have made an impact on its students. Continue reading →


Grandchildren and Vessna Scheff benefit shows to support Big Picture Alliance and Aspiring Young Artists

Grandchildren | photo courtesy of the artist
Grandchildren | photo courtesy of the artist

Grandchildren‘s Aleks Martray has teamed up with fellow Philly musician Vessna Scheff to put together a short series of benefit shows. In a fundraising effort for local youth film and music programs, the two artists have assembled a variety of local musicians to perform at Boot & Saddle on November 16. The second show, November 17 at Warehouse on Watts, will feature youth films and musical performances. Continue reading →


Inside the Aspiring Young Artists program, a six-week songwriting workshop for high schoolers

Nyjiah Jenkins
Nyjiah Jenkins | photo by Nnamdi Ejim | courtesy of AYA project

Across the street from the Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts, through the rusted blue foundation of the Market-Frankford Line and past the opposing gravel-filled vacant lot, there are murals. On the left is a zoomed-in portrait of a hoodied black teen with the caption, curving around his head, “Trying to be a good person.” To the right, another face, this one anonymous, silhouetted with black paint. Inside the face is an assurance, or maybe even a plea. “Don’t worry I’m not gonna rob you.”

Ricky Strickler, a 27-year-old master’s student at Temple studying Urban Education, sees beyond this stereotype. An experienced worker in Philadelphia schools through programs like AmeriCorps and YouthBuild Philly, a charter school specifically for high school dropouts, he got a firsthand view of a school system that was both broke and failing to recognize its own students’ talents. “It was amazing to see how much incredible music talent was passing through that building, who had been pushed out or had left our regular high schools,” he says. “So that got me thinking about music and how it could be used pedagogically, in education.”

Before grad school, Strickler majored in business and wanted to pursue a job in the music industry. A drummer since age 12 and a member of a multiple bands growing up, it seemed the natural path. Until it wasn’t anymore. “Somewhere along the way, my last couple of years in college,” he says, “I got really interested in education in America and the inequalities that exist, specifically in inner cities.”

Strickler was still passionate about music; he just had to figure out how to combine this with his newfound interest in education. The result is the Aspiring Young Artists program, which piloted this year at KCAPA. Serving also as the capstone project for his Urban Education degree, the program is a six-week songwriting workshop that culminates with students taking their carefully crafted compositions to the studio and turning them into real, tangible songs. Continue reading →


The Skeleton Key: April is for Balkan big bands, hanging guitars, cult movies, so much jazz, and Sheer Mag

Sheer Mag | photo by Yoni Kroll

Wake up, Philadelphia! I know last month was a long one but here we are in April and I have a full plate of shows for you. So full, in fact, that it’s rare there’s a day without two or three can’t miss events. How wild is that? Even if you never even wanted to leave the house once this month – I don’t know, maybe you just broke your leg or something terrible like that – there’s enough new music from Philly bands to keep you occupied for a long time. Don’t worry, we’ll get to that too. Continue reading →


Tonight’s Concert Picks: Downtown Boys at Underground Arts, Grandchildren youth music benefit at Boot & Saddle, Bishop Briggs at The Fillmore, and more

downtown boys
Downtown Boys | photo courtesy of the band


Led by feminist activist and vocalist Emma Goldman, Downtown Boys is a hard-hitting punk-rock group hailing from Providence, Rhode Island. The group controls the stage tonight at Underground Arts for the next stop on tour in support of its 2017 record Cost of Living, released this summer on Sub Pop. Listen to it below and check out the show by picking up tickets here. Continue reading →


Do Philly’s mayoral candidates care about the local music community?

Photo by Abi Reimold |
Kurt Vile performs at Photo by Abi Reimold |

We here at The Key, for a number of reasons, tend to avoid being overtly political. But as our hometown nears tomorrow’s mayoral primary election, we’re compelled to wonder what the new mayor is willing to do for the community which we cover, investigate, support, and celebrate.

It’s not easy to be a musician in any city, and a lot of the support that Philly mayors have offered the music scene has been more symbolic than practical. In other words, Kurt Vile may have been given a city medal and celebrated with Kurt Vile Day, but policies such as musicians-only parking zones adjacent to venues remain in the idea stage. Still, musicians from all backgrounds have been an important part of our city’s national and international branding, and candidates should be paying attention to how to make their world better.

So, do Philly’s seven main mayoral candidates (six Democrats in Tuesday’s primary and one Republican) care about our city’s scrappy, diverse, tight-knit and generally excellent (though we’re clearly biased) music community? Continue reading →


The High Key Portrait Series: Raj Haldar of Lushlife and The Skull Eclipses

Raj Haldar | photo by Josh Pelta-Heller for WXPN

High Key” is a series of profiles conceived with the intent to tell the story of Philly’s diverse musical legacy by spotlighting individual artists in portrait photography, as well as with an interview focusing on the artist’s experience living, creating, and performing in this city. “High Key” will be featured in biweekly installments, as the series seeks to spotlight artists both individually and within the context of his or her respective group or artistic collective.

At last September’s Philly Music and Arts Fest, Philly rapper Raj Haldar and Austin-based producer Botany debuted material as The Skull Eclipses. Haldar brought some fire that night, piquing interest for his new project, though to be fair current fans of his other nom de plume Lushlife were already plenty familiar with the level of focused intensity and urgency in Haldar’s lyrical delivery, and all the thoughtfulness with which he crafts a verse.

In the below interview, conducted later that evening, Haldar seemed more than satisfied with their first outing. He was just a bit opaque about this project back then, by necessity, but at the same time you could see him wrestling a bit to keep his exuberance for it pent up. He talked openly about his work as Lushlife, and about what he described as an organic transition from being a recording auteur to now entrusting the beats to the capable hands of a skilled producer. Haldar shared his thoughts on Philly, too, from the perspective of an artist who’s spent significant amounts of his life and recording career in London, New York, and Los Angeles as well, and the unique position to be able to comment on the pros and cons of life both as an aspiring and professional recording artist informed and impacted by those communities.

Prior to their stage premiere at World Cafe last Fall, The Skull Eclipses had issued their first single, “Totality Piece,” featuring Philly native Mary Lattimore on harp, having timed it as a soundtrack for viewing the solar eclipse in August. This year, they’ve lined up international tour dates in support their upcoming record release, including a performance at Johnny Brenda’s on Friday, March 9th. More information can be found here. Continue reading →


Items Tagged Philadelphia: From the crib to the club to the chamber strings

The Private Sector | via

Here at The Key, we spend a lot of time each week digging through every new release from Philadelphia that shows up on Bandcamp. At the end of each week, we present you with the most interesting, most unusual and overall best of the bunch: this is Items Tagged Philadelphia.

The first time we had a snowstorm this year, I saw a flurry (hah) of activity when searching for Philadelphia artists on Bandcamp. That was, like, barely two inches of snow. This time, we got enough that the region went into full-on shut down mode, and once again the Philly tag is poppin’.

I don’t know that the two are entirely related — I do know that at least one local singer-songwriter, Michael Youngkin, used the day to write, record and mix an entire multi-instrumental ten-song album, and while some points of it definitely sound like an album written/recorded/mixed in a day, other parts of it are actually quite fantastic, and it’s an impressive project in any case. Other artists, it seems, dug into their vaults of yesteryear and dusted off unreleased projects for a digital / streaming era. And others still were probably planning on releasing their jams regardless, and the day off was coincidental. Continue reading →


Hope Thru Hip-Hop: A fresh after-school program for Philly’s youth

Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist
Photo by Michael Boyle | courtesy of the artist

When I was in high school, there were no hip-hop oriented after school programs to help cultivate my talent. All I had since I started rapping at age fourteen were whatever beats I could steal from random tapes, a notebook and my own brain to learn as much as I could about the craft I was beginning to pursue. I would have loved to have an organized group of mentors and peers to share in my love of hip-hop and to help develop what I wanted to do within the culture. Fortunately for the hip-hop inclined youth of Philadelphia, there is such a program: Hip-Hop Heritage, meeting at The Academy at Palumbo in South Philly.

When Aaron Sarkar, the Youth Programs Director for Hip-Hop Heritage, asked me to come perform for the kids and to speak about my own experiences as a hip-hop artist, I immediately obliged. I’ve never had the opportunity to speak to young aspiring hip-hop artists and enthusiasts like I wish someone had done for me, so this was something I was anxious to check off my bucket list. Continue reading →


16 albums you shouldn’t overlook in 2016

DONTOVERLOOK2016The thing about year-end lists, though. Stuff gets left out. Incredible records are forgotten, or simply don’t make the cut when ranking around consensus. Sure, consensus can be a powerful tool in uncovering the things that your trusted sources can agree upon, framing these things as, definitively, “the best.”

But the idea of hierarchy is in itself exclusionary. “Best” does not equal “only.” We brought you our 15 best albums of the year earlier today, but by no means are these the sole albums that are impressive or important or worthy of your ears in 2016. They’re more of a starting point.

In a lot of ways, I’m more excited about this list: 16 albums that you should not overlook in 2016. These are releases that didn’t appear on more than a single list turned in by The Key’s contributing staff – most of them aren’t ranking on year-end lists elsewhere – but they were obviously striking enough to that person that they made their personal cut. So we asked them why.

These are all excellent records. Many of them are very important records, in the same way that Chance and Solange and Tribe and Beyonce are important. And they’re not getting talked about enough, by any stretch. Start listening, start talking. – John Vettese
Continue reading →