Stories of old gigs from The Roots are the stuff of legend around Philadelphia. Throw a stone and you’re bound to hit a Gen-X music lover with memories (perhaps false ones) of surprise shows at now-defunct Old City venues and happenstance Questlove sightings at Northern Liberties brunch spots. These stories might be all that is left of a bygone era in which The Roots helped shape the sonic and ideological imprint of left-of-center hip-hop culture, all the while centering it in a series of extinct local hot spots.
Well, not all that’s left. They may have abandoned a rigorous touring regimen for late night glory, but Quest and co. remain committed to creating awesome moments of cross-genre delight and enlightenment for Philadelphians of all stripes. The clearest definition of this mission statement – one which has followed them into numerous genre-bending albums and collaborations – is the annual Roots Picnic, the 7th installment of which goes down at Festival Pier this Saturday. Few festivals pack such an eclectic and kinetic punch in a small, relatively inexpensive experience. While this year’s lineup is one of its strongest yet, we here at The Key have our eye on a few artists (including some lesser-known ones) who have had especially fascinating years and promise tremendous sets on Saturday.
At the risk of sounding obvious, we’ll say that any set from The Roots is bound to set the mood for a day of gleeful head-nodding. Their reputation as a live act, honed through nearly two decades of constant touring and five years of sequence-scoring for Jimmy Fallon, is well-established. With the recent release of the excellent …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, the band also promises to deliver some searing live renditions of their epic new material.
The first Made in America festival got a lot of mixed reviews from local concertgoers who were mired in large-scale and largely acceptable skepticism about how a festival of that scale would play out on the Parkway. Unanimous praise was saved, however, for Janelle Monáe’s classic soul-rooted, futuristically-oriented brand of music. After near-unanimous praise for her latest album, 2013’s The Electric Lady, the aptly named Electric Lady promises a solid set of fanciful festivity.
The War on Drugs
At least one prominent Roots Picnic slot is reserved for a buzzworthy indie act who, like The Roots, looks to bridge aesthetic boundaries instead of reinforcing them. Philly’s own The War on Drugs, riding on the success of this year’s acclaimed and dreamscape-y Lost in the Dream, fill big shoes left by genre benders like Vampire Weekend and TV on the Radio. But if their unique take on shoegaze-meets-Americana has a perfect home anywhere, it’s at an open air concert along their hometown’s emblematic waterfront.
As we’re getting our sunscreen and stamina ready for The Roots Picnic on May 31st, we’re also gearing up for the release of …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin, the legendary Philly hip-hop band’s eleventh studio album. The record is out Tuesday, but you can get a sneak preview between now and then by checking out the album streaming in full over at Pitchfork Advance. We’re taking our first spin through right now, and it sounds like the album elegantly recorded and evocatively structured, with hints of everything from 20th century classical (atonal Philip Glass crescendos, what?) to trip-hop (Massive Attack moments) and dubstep (of the Deadmau5 sort) – and of course ?uestlove’s trademark big drum sound. Cousin boasts a freaking cavalcade of people who worked on it, too, including Philly crew The Wurxs, Dice Raw and Greg Porn (check out the full credit list here). The Roots Picnic – featuring The War on Drugs, Janelle Monae, Snoop Dogg and more – happens all day on May 31st at the Festival Pier at Penn’s landing, and tickets / info can be found at the XPN Concert Calendar. Below, check out the lyric video for “When The People Cheer.”
With his appearance at this year’s Roots Picnic just a few weeks away, it’s only right for Chill Moody to drop some fresh new fire. His new single “Concrete Jungle” features R&B singer/actor Mack Wilds on the chorus and it’s the perfect centerpiece that compliments Chill’s hard-hitting rhymes over the pulsating beat. You have to believe him when he raps: “I’m from the concrete you’ll find me right where talent and grind meet, ahead of the class with no assigned seats.” His work ethic, flow, and lyrical dexterity set him apart from the crowd on one of his best showings to date. Check it out below (see if you can catch the Freeway reference) and get tickets to Roots Picnic here.
In conjunction with this year’s Roots Picnic on May 31st, Roots member Black Thought has announced his second annual Roots Rock Run 5k to take place that morning. The community event will support GrassROOTS in its efforts to aid community health programs across the city. For more information and to register for the 5k go here. More information on the Roots Picnic, featuring The War on Drugs, Snoop Dogg, Janelle Monae and more can be found here.
To celebrate her 26th birthday, Jhene Aiko shared a video for the understated melodic beauty of a new song, “My Afternoon Dream.” Much like her friend and collaborator Drake, she too learned that working with the negatives (literally) can make for better pictures. Filmed on a beach in Maui, the negative color muting effect is used in the entire clip where we see waves bathing the shores as Aiko’s daughter – the subject of the song – frolics through the sand while her mother softly sings: “Don’t wake me up ’cause I’m in love with all that you are / You make me see the truth in things, I think that you are / The remedy for everything it seems that you are”. With a successful EP under her belt, Jhene Aiko is set to release her debut album Souled Out later this year and perform at this year’s Roots Picnic on May 31st alongside Snoop Dogg, Janelle Monae, Chill Moody and many more. Get tickets here.