Dec 29, 2015

Review: 11 - Keys Era (@keysera_); A Niles P. Joint

  Keys Era’s evolution continues.  Hip Hop is littered with the bones of promising emcees who never fulfilled their potential for one reason or another.  But the Chester, PA product has put in enough work in her young ass career to ensure she won’t underachieve.  It all comes to fruition with the release of her long awaited debut EP, 11.  She’s got some freestyles and a loosie to her name thus far, this EP is her first cohesive project.  And while I liked her previous joints, I was curious to see how she’d progress.  And she did pretty damn well, actually.
  The EP format (under 30 minutes) is a good route to take for your first project.  Angel Intro sets everything up with a Tupac vocal sample that mentions how “more kids are being handed crack than they're being handed diplomas.”  This leads into the first actual song, Pressure.  The beat is a breezy DITC-like soundscape, aurally similar to other instrumentals Keys has used before but different enough to not be considered a retread.  Feeling pressure is something every single person alive can relate to, making this song accessible for everyone.  Full of quotables, the one that stands out best is when she calls out dudes “claiming you my brother/playing agent undercover/trying to get me under covers.” It’s an unfortunate situation that many women have to deal with, yet isn’t addressed much.  I’m glad she ties it into the topic. In the second verse, Keys speaks of “lessons learned, watch the bridge burn with no regrets/ I’m at my best/ nothing more and nothing less/ I progress and proceed” signifying growth in matters of crisis and shows her growth as an artist.  The blend of beat, lyrics, and her newfound singsong-y chorus (which uses a simple yet effective decrescendo) makes this perfect for long stress relieving drives at night.
  Speaking of crooning on choruses, Keys makes use of it for Asking Me.  With a slinky bassline over mellow percussion, she laments the questions she gets about her everyday life.  She’d rather just smoke without being asked about anything.  This includes her weed habits, which she enjoys as a stress reliever.  The song sequencing is gorgeous so far.  While I don’t smoke, I’d imagine this could be perfect on any stoner playlist.  Next up is Retros, which isn’t a sneakerhead's anthem, despite the title and use of the sample from the Jordan V commercial.  Instead, Keys examines society’s obsession with kicks, observing that “niggas sell their souls for some souls and it’s pitiful.”  While many songs have been released about overindulgence of material things, this might be the only one I can think of that is shoe-specific and timely.
  The grand finale, Ways, wasn’t even supposed to be on the EP initially.  But when a different planned track didn’t materialize in time, this one was repurposed as the closing track.  It’s crazy because I couldn't imagine 11 without it.  The violins in conjunction with the jazz trumpet is pretty clear bellwether for a love song, which is exactly what we get.  In this case, Keys specifically raps about longing for a phone call from a lover, which will have to suffice in lieu of quality time because said lover is busy.  The strife of getting notifications from everyone but that special person is hilariously discussed between verses.  The second verse takes the form of a bitter voicemail.  It sounds purely angry at first but you can hear the longing through the vitriol.  Keys makes the rookie mistake of occasionally packing one too many syllables in each line, but it doesn’t hurt a stream of consciousness song like this.
  This was the last hip hop release of the year that I was looking forward to.  And Keys Era did a stupendous ass job in playing the role of the closer.  Coming from someone who caught on to her from the beginning, I love how she’s made the transition from freestyles to single to a fluid project.  Being that this is an EP, it feels like it’s over too quickly and will have people wanting more.  But what it lacks in minutes it has in structure and quality.  There are no throwaway songs, and each one bleeds into the next while still sounding unique.  Her ability to craft hooks shines through and will be a valuable skill going forward.  And while her flow is still a work in progress at times, you can see that she’s making strides and coming into her own, experimenting with different areas of her voice with winning results.  The next step for her is a long form mixtape (and arguably a video,) which is coming in 2016.  But for now, enjoy Keys Era’s offering of 11 and keep her on your 2016 watch list.

Rating: 4.65 out of 5.


Multimedia Journalist, Founder and Chief Editor of WTM Host of A-Side B-Side Podcast and more. I like to talk about stuff and write it down. Sometimes to a microphone. Either way, I need you to feel this.

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