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The Key’s Year-End Mania: Maureen Walsh’s top five life-affirming songs of 2015

Kendrick Lamar in the "Alright" video
Kendrick Lamar in the “Alright” video

Year-End Mania is the Key’s annual survey of the things below the surface that made 2015 incredible. Today, Key contributor Maureen Walsh shares the year’s most life-affirming songs.

2015 has been the year of battling injustices, terrorism, and Trump.  Sometimes you need someone to sing you a song that will get you through the insanity.  Luckily, a group of artists delivered. Continue reading →

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The Key’s Top 15 Albums of 2015

The albums that moved us in 2015
This is the music that moved us in 2015

It was a year of powerful records. Of loud guitars and brazen beats, of electronic tapestries and vocal abandon. It was a year of personal introspection and rallying cries for social change. It was a year when music felt inextricably tied to the world around us. When it felt more important than it had in a long time. Like we’ve said before, to narrow 12 months of incredible music down to a “top 15 albums of 2015” list is to exclude dozens of other worthy releases. This year, we had 26 writers and photographers cite a collective 82 albums as their favorites – you can view everybody’s top fives here, and I know fully well that had I asked The Key crew to give me top tens, I’d be easily looking at quadruple the titles. But we’ll go deep when our annual Year-End Mania roundup launches tomorrow. Today we take the long view and explore what rose to the surface of consensus in 2015, from the expressive moments of Kamasi Washington, Joanna Newsom and Jamie xx, to the pop permutations of Carly Rae Jepsen and Grimes , rock and/or roll from Courtney Barnett and Alabama Shakes, Philly representation from The Districts, Waxahatchee and of course, Hop Along‘s incredible breakout LP Painted Shut, which alongside the great Kendrick Lamar rose right to the top of our voting. Let’s recap the year. 
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Hail to the King: Kendrick Lamar Gets His Groove On at the Troc

Kendrick Lamar | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/
Kendrick Lamar | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/

The Greek philospoher Plato had this idea he called the “Philosopher King.” Essentially, a philosopher would make an ideal ruler because of their commitment to a vision—to a cause. Tuesday night in Chinatown, I hailed my philosopher king. Clad in black sweatpants and sweatshirt rather than a toga, Kendrick Lamar waxed philosophical writ large, performing his stunning 2015 record To Pimp a Butterfly almost in its entirety. Continue reading →

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Spotify study reveals Penn students love Magic Man, hate Kendrick Lamar and sleep late

Kendrick Lamar | Photo by John Vettese
Kendrick Lamar is not a favorite of University of Pennsylvania students, according to Spotify  | Photo by John Vettese

Okay, number nerds, this is pretty interesting: Spotify this week released a study on “the most musical universities in America,” ranking schools based on amount of music listened overall and number of subscriptions at their student rate. The University of Pennsylvania ranked as the 34th most musical school in the country, and the school-specific breakdown provides an interesting snapshot of the West Philly ivy league institution’s listening habits. Continue reading →

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A dynamic duo: Listen to a new Flying Lotus song with Kendrick Lamar

Flying Lotus | Photo by Chris Lotten Photography |https://www.facebook.com/chrislottenphoto
Flying Lotus | Photo by Chris Lotten Photography | facebook.com/chrislottenphoto

Wondering what could top the work that rapper Kendrick Lamar set a high standard with on his last album, good kid, m.A.A.d city? Then look no further than this new Flying Lotus song, featuring Lamar, “Never Catch Me.” It’s from the forthcoming Flying Lotus album, You’re Dead out October 7th (Warp Records). Continue reading →

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Yeezus meets Jesus: Kayne West at Wells Fargo Center

Photo courtesy of Sean Agnew
Photo courtesy of Sean Agnew

Hip-hop superstar Kanye West held high concept court at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night. The tour had been postponed, and several dates were cancelled after a truck accident damaged equipment, but it resumed in Philadelphia to seemingly no problems.

The concert was equal parts performance art and a religiously themed experimental noise rap show. For approximately 2 and 1/2 hours, West was incendiary and powerful, rolling out a solid 28-song set list that mixed all the songs from his recent album, Yeezus, with the hits, four mask changes, and a special appearance by Jesus. The rap firebrand, backed by a three piece “band” (who contributed programming, backing vocals, keyboard and guitar playing), came out on stage after twelve women (his “disciples”) covered in white prayer robes walked in syncopation onto the stage as the noisy intro to “On Sight” began.

Photo courtesy of Sean Agnew
Photo courtesy of Sean Agnew

The stage show was elaborate. A 60 foot high mountain, which towards the end of the show would erupt with fireworks and blasts of fire, looked over a walkway where West performed for most of the evening (save when he climbed the mountain). Hovering over Mount Kanye was a circular screen where closeups of Kanye and the dancers would be projected with pre-recorded scenes of the sky including rushing clouds, a sunset, and snow. It was a breathtaking visual compliment to the new material.

There was a loose narrative to the evening’s program. It was divided into five sections, Fighting, Rising, Falling, Searching and Finding. With each new chapter, a female robotic voice would blast through the soundsystem, introducing each section while her description was projected in words on the circular screen above the stage. The dancers appeared throughout the evening. They alternated their robes with see-through flesh-toned head-to-toe body suits, walked slowly and at times creepily, reminiscent of the women in the classic Hammer Horror Dracula movies. Most of the time, the choreography felt stiff and forced, did little to give lift to the emotional intensity of West’s performance and got in the way of the song transitions (which could have given the show a quicker pace).

Throughout the show, West donned four masks, singing underneath them. Perhaps he was quietly making a point about identity and perception, however he reflected on his own self-perception and the media’s perception of him. At one point he delivered a rant, but also a soliloquy, about slavery. As the religious iconography continued, there came a corny yet climactic point in the show when White Jesus appeared, walked up to Black Jesus, held his head and – in a bit of overacting – Kanye rose from his knees and took the last mask off his head. The crowd loved the moment, and erupted in near deafening excitement.

Kanye West wears four masks during Yeezus tour in Seattle. Photo: Splash News/Instagram
Kanye West wears four masks during Yeezus tour in Seattle. Photo: Splash News/Instagram
Photo by Max Warren
Photo by Max Warren

While the staging and story arc were innovative and creative, West ultimately doesn’t need these elements of theater to provide the drama or the story line. On his own, sans Mount Kanye and his follower souls, under the spotlight, West provides enough of his own theater. His performance of both the new material, especially on “New Slaves,” “Blood On The Leaves,” “Black Skinhead,” and the closing “Bound 2,” proved why he’s one of the greatest rappers of our time. Some of the older material, like “Mercy,” and “Clique” were throwaways for the fans. Most of the “hits” came towards the end of the show and these underscored West’s importance as a rapper and songwriter.

Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar opened the show with an explosive set of songs from his recent album Good Kid: M.A.A.D. City, backed by an exceptional live band. Two summers ago, few music fans knew about Lamar, and since then his stature in the hip-hop world has grown to dizzying, well-deserved heights. On Saturday, he came to impress, and treated the them half-filled audience to classics from his recent album like “Backseat Freestyle,” “Poetic Justice,” and the poignant, “Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst.” Continue reading →

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Kendrick Lamar added to Kanye West show at Wells Fargo Center on November 16th

Kendrick Lamar | Photo by John Vettese
Kendrick Lamar at Made In American 2013 | Photo by John Vettese

This is going to be one amazing hip-hop show: Kendrick Lamar has been added as the opener to the Kanye West show on November 16th at the Wells Fargo Center. Go here for tickets. Last night, Lamar was on the BET hip-hop awards with ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, Ab-Soul and Isaiah Rashad. Check out the video below (explicit language alert!)

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Watch Kendrick Lamar at Made In America

Photo by Kendrick Lamar
Photo by Kendrick Lamar
Rapper Kendrick Lamar performed an excellent and enthusiastic half-hour set on Sunday afternoon at Made In America. After a 15 minute set from his Top Dawg Entertainment pals Jay Rock, Black Hippy and Schoolboy Q, Lamar, came out wearing a white t-shirt and a black L.A. Dodgers cap. Backed by an absolutely top notch band, he opened with “Backseat Freestyle,” performed an exuberant version of “F— Problems,” “Money Trees,” “m.a.a.d.city,” and ended with a rousing rendition of “B- Don’t Kill My Vibe.” In the hot and humid mid-day, the crowd gave Lamar a welcome, fanatical reception and were treated one of the many highlights of the weekend. Watch Lamar’s set below. Go here for a complete Made In America recap.

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9 live collaborations we hope will happen at Made in America

collabs

Ahh, music festivals. There are so many reasons to <3 live festivals, from the constant performances all around you, to stumbling upon your new favorite groups, to the energy and vibes of everybody else, excited to be outside, watching their favorite bands.

Yet music festivals aren’t just great places to catch sets—they’re also unique breeding grounds that allow myriad artists, who might not necessarily perform together otherwise, to come together, spurring new or unique collaborations. From Bob Dylan joining Joan Baez at the 1963 Newport Folk Festival—to Bon Iver joining Kanye more recently at Coachella—we love being surprised by artists not afraid to try something new. In honor of the Made in America festival hitting town this weekend—here are 9 dream collaborations we’ve love to see live—and a rough guess at the probability of each. Continue reading →