Made In America day one is a soggy spectacle with J. Cole, Solange, Marian Hill, Migos and more

J. Cole | photo by Ben Wong for WXPN |

Okay, yes — it was wet. It was muddy at parts. But though yesterday’s climate conditions during Made In America were less than ideal for a celebratory end-of-summer music festival, as Minneapolis rapper Lizzo pointed out during her early afternoon set, there was no room for us to grumble.

“We have a bit of a rain thing going on,” Lizzo said. “But this doesn’t compare to what’s going on in Houston. I’m from Houston originally, I have friends and family who lost everything.”

She encouraged the crowd to donate to relief efforts, and to do so at at the local level as directly as possible. Then she launched into a knockout performance of “Water Me,” a song she said she felt uncertain about playing in the wake of Harvey — “I’m done with water” — but one her Houston loved ones encouraged her to embrace, saying it uplifts them.

So, let’s not dramatize yesterday’s weather. It was soggy, it was a slog to get from point A to point B (but it usually is during MIA, honestly). But the show went on. Continue reading →


Heavyhitters Jay Z and J. Cole join Solange, Sampha, Lizzo and more at Made In America 2017

Photo by John Vettese

Christmas comes only once a year? False. See: Made in America announcement day. Philadelphia’s Labor Day party is back for another round, and with the announcement of this year’s lineup, we imagine the entire city is excited.

Headlining performances from Jay Z (obviously), J.Cole and The Chainsmokers top of the list of 50+ artists, with featured performances from Run The Jewels, Solange, Lizzo, SamphaMigos, and a heck of a lot more. The local scene is also well represented, as PNB RockBeach Slang, Mannequin Pussy and Queen of Jeans nab some earlier spots.

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The 10th annual Roots Picnic features Pharrell, Solange, Noname, Michael Kiwanuka and more

Pharrell Williams | Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The annual Roots Picnic has been setting up shop along Penn’s Landing for a solid ten years now, and to celebrate the decade mile-marker, the lineup just announced by Black Thought, Questlove and company is indeed a massive throwdown, set to touch down at The Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing on Saturday, June 3rd.

For starters, the coveted headlining slot — a classic artist performing a set with The Roots as their backing band — goes to suave hitmaker Pharrell. Dude has no shortage of jams to incorporate, from his production days in The Neptunes and bandleading days in N.E.R.D., to chart-toping collabs with Daft Punk (“Get Lucky”) and solo jams that’ll have the entire family clapping along (“Happy”).

Also towards the top of the bill is Solange, making her second Roots Picnic appearance; she first played in 2013, with the fantastic True EP recently under her belt, and this year she has the massively acclaimed A Seat At The Table — our number two album of 2016Lil Wayne also tops the bill, and will no doubt throw down in a massive way. Continue reading →


New Music Show Preview with Solange, Darlingside & more!

Darlingside | Photo by Robb Stey | courtesy of the artist |

With the Fall Fund Drive behind us (and a BIG thank you to all our new members!) we turn our attention to all the NEW music that’s come in over the last week. Included in the stacks is a new song from David Gray, something new from Dirty Projectors AND a former member of the Dirty Projectors.  Plus, we’ll hear what Nada Surf sounds like backed by an orchestra and dig into the new Phish record too.  Here are a few more things we’ve got planned for you tonight at 8 o’clock on XPN …

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Macklemore, Solange, Glasper highlights at 6th Annual Roots Picnic

?uestlove | Photo by John Vettese
?uestlove | Photo by John Vettese

The 6th annual Roots Picnic brought its trademark mix of sounds and styles to the Festival Pier on a sunny Saturday this weekend. And though the results were also somewhat mixed, the show had more high points than not.

The standout set of the day came from independent rapper / viral sensation Macklemore, who took the stage at the peak of the afternoon’s 90-degree heat. The crowd was at capacity, water was at a premium, and yet it was impossible not to groove to the dude’s lively and charismatic stage show. He was funny (quipping that he and DJ Ryan Lewis “just flew in from Egypt. Or maybe Seattle…” and snatching a fur vest from the crowd for his signature song “Thrift Shop”), he was poignant (introducing “Same Love” with remarks about marriage equality) and most importantly, he was entertaining.

Earlier in the day, fantastic performances were also turned in by pop singer Solange – sister to Beyonce Knowles, who was lively, stylish, and rocked a great cover of Dirty Projectors’ “Stillness Is The Move” – and Robert Glasper – who embarked on a wild space-jazz jam to a modest crowd as attendees were just beginning to filter in.

The pier’s tent stage housed more of the hard-hitting hip-hop and DJ names on the bill. Philly’s Lushlife played a tremendous set early on. I feel like, for whatever reason, I always wind up seeing the producer / MC (offstage name: Raj Halder) on lineups where he’s playing to indifferent, aloof indie audiences, so it was a treat seeing him rock a packed room of rap fans who were vibing off his delivery, waving their hands and pumping their fists. You could tell Haldar was feeding off their enthusiasm – he fell to his knees atop a stage monitor during a closing performance of “Big Sur” and sounded like he was beginning to lose his voice. I’m sure it was worth it.

Also in the tent,  Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ played a hyper set to a hyper crowd, bouncing between beats and tracks with an almost ADD rhythm. Whatever it lacked in focus, it had in energy. Raucous rapper Trinidad James rocked a riled-up crowd early in the day, while Canadian EDM artist A-Trak closed the tent by spinning a winning set to an audience that was waving cardboard cutouts of his cartooney, pixelated likeness.

Only two acts on the lineup were out-and-out disappointments. The set from blues-rock luminary Gary Clark Jr. was hookless and meandering. After a decent start, it devolved into a show of “hey, look how good I am at guitar,” and you could see its dullness reflected in the crowd’s exhausted faces. Likewise, indie electronic goddess Grimes made a solid effort at showmanship by bounding around the stage and bringing out backup dancers, but the music simply didn’t translate live – its repetitiveness and reliance on echoey effects really showed through. Indie R&B act How To Dress Well and rapper Hitboy also made forgettable appearances.

The Roots themselves capped the night with their trademark good-time, fast-motion set, bouncing seamlessly between something like a half-dozen songs in the first six minutes. It was strikingly similar to the set they play on the Parkway each year for Welcome America Festival; these guys are total pros, down to guitarist “Captain Kirk” Douglas and sousaphonist Tuba Gooding Jr. racing laps around the stage and leaping in time to the beat. But the band had a surprise or two up its many sleeves, like bringing breakout Philly rapper Meek Mill out for a cameo appearance at the end of the night and (more exciting to this reviewer) inviting Marsha Ambrosius of under-appreciated soul combo Floetry out to sing the hook on “You Got Me.”

And this year’s “classic hip-hop” headliner, Naughty By Nature, didn’t disappoint either, rocking their lively 90s radio-rap and marking the 20th birthday of “Hip Hop Hooray” with a sea of waving hands and shouting voices as a cool breeze blew in off the Delaware. Conclusion: even when it fell short, The Roots are masters of the mix – classic and emerging, rap to jazz to electronic and rock, all ages, all energized, all wondering what’s to come next year. See photos from the day after the jump.

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A Few Familiar Faces: Catching up with local artists at SXSW

Cold Fronts at SXSW | photo by Rachel Del Sordo for WXPN |


Back in March, I hopped into a van with Vita and the Woolf and headed down to SXSW for the very first time. I had no idea what to expect. It was loud, crowded chaotic and confusing. The beauty of it all lied it everyone coming together to support music and support each other. Amit the clutter and chaos I met up with eight Philadelphia artists who also made the journey to Austin. We talked in all types of spots, from chilling poolside with Caracara to sneaking around a fancy hotel with Vita and The Woolf to tracking down Speedy Ortiz after their showcase’s venue had to get moved in the middle of the show. Music was literally everywhere and I couldn’t wait to dive in.

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The Key’s Top 15 Albums of 2017

This is the music that moved us this year

As far as years go, 2017 was…complicated. And so it stands to reason that The Key’s annual go at determining the top 15 albums of the year — the records that resonated the most with us, the collections of songs that best captured the spirit of the past twelve months — was no straightforward affair.

In 2017, we thrilled to the reflective psych-rock sprawl of Philly’s The War on Drugs, a seasoned band delivering its most confident and refined artistic statement to date. We also heard the hushed introspection of Big Thief‘s sophomore album, which transformed trauma and pain into beautiful atmospheric folk. Artists looked deeply inward to discover raw personal truths, whether we’re talking about U.K. singer-songwriter Sampha, Philly newcomers Katie Ellen or hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, sounding more down to earth and honest than he has in years (decades?). They refused, as Lorde and (Sandy) Alex G did, to be confined by boxed-in preconceptions of their work, and pushed their chops into new territories, whether they be on album three (The Districts) or nine (Spoon).

A common thread was embracing vulnerability, practicing self-reflection and finding inner strength. That’s the story of albums by Waxahatchee and Harmony Woods, Cayetana and Kelela. It’s also an undercurrent to Kendrick Lamar‘s remarkable DAMN., which The Key’s contributors rallied around to vote it number one album of the year. Our John Morrison does a deep dive on the record, dissecting its nuanced pairing of hard-hitting hip-hop production with complex themes about fear and internal conflict, virtue and vice, weakness and wickedness and whether those traits make us flawed.

Last year, you’ll recall, was also a complicated year. It left many in artistic circles revving up to fight and affect change…and some, like Hurray for the Riff Raff, chased that impulse with thrilling results. But it seems that the records that stuck with us the most at year’s end are all saying, in one way or another, that before we go out to better the world, we need to look within and (to borrow a phrase from Adam Granduciel and co.) gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. – John Vettese Continue reading →


Now Hear This: New songs by Kelela, Parquet Courts, Fever Ray, Alvarius B., Special Request, Circuit Des Yeux and more

Fever Ray | via

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

Much as I may pride myself on keeping my ears as wide open and omnivorous as possible, I’m often struck, as the time of reckoning draws nigh, that so much of the music that really affects me from any given year tends to fall into a few relatively narrow categories.  Looking back on the 2017 releases that I’ve spent the most time with and returned to most consistently, most of them can be sorted into two general buckets: emotionally resonant electronic pop made by (relatively young) women – Lorde, MUNA, Sylvan Esso, Kelly Lee Owens – or wordy, wide-ranging critical statements made by opinionated and perhaps over-analytical old (or at least aging) men: Randy Newman, Jens Lekman, LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, Stephin Merritt of The Magnetic Fields.

Is there a throughline there?  I tend to think of it in terms of personality: if there’s one thing most likely to pique my interest in a new artist, or keep me engaged with a familiar one, it’s in their music’s ability to serve as a tool for human expression, straightforward or otherwise; a means of telegraphing a vivid and recognizable individual identity – whether that individual be a quote-unquote “real person,” a constructed persona or, as it surely is in the vast majority of cases, some ambiguous, unparseable intertwining of the two.  Perhaps that quality is more readily apparent in the second group of aforementioned artists.  It’s not that those verbose songmen are single-mindedly preoccupied with age and mortality – though it’s clearly on their minds (see: Newman’s heartwrenching “Lost Without You”; Murphy’s “tonite”; Lekman’s bouncy but pensive “Wedding in Finistère”; the entire conceit of Merritt’s 50 Song Memoir) but it certainly informs their outlook, helping to distill a clarity of perspective (and tendency toward warts-and-all honesty) translating into albums that function as poignant, if sometimes roundabout self-portraits.   Continue reading →