“Open up that mosh pit!”
Released this past May, KEY! and Kenny Beats' much-overlooked 777 album is the embodiment of its title. Just as you begin to settle into the frenetic energy of Kenny's production, KEY! lobs his riotous ad-lib at you like a grenade.
When we see the numbers 7-7-7 packaged together, two images come to mind. The first is the religious symbolism wrapped up in the numbers, especially in their antithesis to the demonic trifecta 666. The second is the universal symbol of luck drawing avid gamblers to slot machines all over the world. For KEY! and Kenny Beats, 777 is a foundational religious text—the manifesto for an unlikely pairing and a prescription on how to move forward under the direction of this somewhat lucky but most definitely divine union.
Religiously, the number seven, in Judeo-Christian traditions, is a number of perfection and completion. In Genesis, creation was said to have taken place over seven days, the seventh being God’s rest day, and every seventh day is declared the Sabbath, or the day you rest, go to church, and can’t eat Chick-fil-A. The number three symbolizes the perfect union in Christianity, standing for the Holy Trinity: Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit. Combining the numbers seven and three, you end up with 777: the number we associate with positive religious significance.
Coincidentally, seven is also Sin City’s favorite number. Seven is considered lucky in many Western traditions and explains the ubiquity of the number on slot machines all over Las Vegas and the world—lining up three sevens in a slot machine is often the luckiest and best outcome. The only luckier happenstance I can think of is stumbling upon a producer who is willing to match every idea and flow you can dream up, one who is capable of delivering the mesmerizingly pounding trap of “Dig It” or the warbly synths of “Hater.” And this is exactly what 777 is: a combination of personalities, talents, and musical minds that fit together better than too much alcohol on a Friday night and too much coffee and greasy breakfast on a Saturday morning.
KEY! has been a presence in hip-hop, if an underrated one, for the better part of a decade, founding the Two-9 collective in 2009 and releasing solo mixtapes as early as 2012. Since then, KEY! has made standout appearances on various songs and projects, most notably alongside iLoveMakonnen on Father's 2014 cult classic "Look At Wrist," silently littering hip-hop with his flows and infectious ad-libs like the demonstrative “Hello!” he employed early in his career, and eventually touring with A$AP Mob after appearances on Cozy Tapes, Vol. 1: Friends and Cozy Tapes, Vol. 2: Too Cozy.
The next step of KEY!'s career was made possible because of a connection with another hip-hop journeyman: producer Kenny Beats. As revealed in an interview with The FADER, Kenny started making beats in high school, interning with RCA, and ultimately producing for members of TDE, but during college, the lucrative temptation of EDM lured him out of his Kenny Beats persona into a career stint as DJ Loudpvck. Lucky for KEY! (and the rest of the world), Kenny Beats tossed aside the financial security of EDM touring to come back to the sacred temple of hip-hop and hasn’t looked back since.
The return of Kenny Beats has quite literally set the hip-hop world ablaze in 2018. The 27-year-old has produced the most important rap-song-made-by-an-Internet-comedian this year in Zack Fox’s “Square Up,” helped engineer the sound that blew up Rico Nasty’s Nasty, has a vault of 03 Greedo tracks sitting in a hard drive somewhere on Grape St., produced a chunk of Vince Staples’ scorching album FM!, and co-authored five tracks for Freddie Gibbs’ Freddie. Amidst all of this work is the sheer insanity that is 777, an album that embodies the tireless search for completion and frenzied energy at the apex of luck its name suggests.
One second, KEY! is crafting hooks about rocky relationships around Kristi Yamaguchi references. The next, he’s opening tracks with the subtle flex of a “Messi/messy” rhyme. All the while, Kenny Beats matches KEY!’s manic lyricism stride for stride. As Vegas is a city where the chance of a jackpot allows anything to go and unlikely pairings to thrive (like slot machines in fast food joints), 777 is an album where lines are consistently crossed and redrawn as KEY! and Kenny weave their talents in tightly packed songs.
777’s diversity is best exemplified in the way the duo work KEY!’s “Open up that mosh pit” ad-lib. On “Blurry,” Kenny Beats fits the ad-lib as a command in the narrow spaces between blitzing lines of the chorus. A few tracks later, KEY! reminds us on “It Gets Better” to “open up that mosh pit” as a passing reminder to celebrate. The “Kelly Price Freestyle” finds KEY! in better spirits, so he uses the ad-lib as a declaration of his arrival, but on “Dig It” he practically incites a riot by commanding “OPEN UP THAT FUCKING MOSHPIT!” over an instrumental that rumbles past with the force of a Denzel Washington-antagonizing rogue train.
KEY! and Kenny Beats run the gamut of completion that 777 signifies religiously. By successfully checking every expected trap box, and then pushing sonic boundaries to create new boxes and fill them in like a frantically obsessive student on a Scantron, KEY! and Kenny Beats established a cult whose Kool-Aid is begging to be drank. The newly-released deluxe reissue is an opportunity to expand the circle by doing something 777 didn’t: invite guests. Rico Nasty, Skepta, 6LACK, and Jay Critch all appear on the five-track EP, but the addition of new voices projects to only widen the newly minted cult. Apparently, there is more gold to be found, even if KEY! and Kenny won the lottery with their original offering.
777’s 15-track, 35-minute runtime is relatively short—but long by 2018 standards—and never rehashes the same sound. It leaves you wanting more, but feels finished by the time “Squeamish” ends. The album is complete, but it’s the luck of the producer-rapper pairing that drives the project forward at every turn, and there are a lot of them. God may have rested on the seventh day of creation, but KEY! and Kenny Beats did not; on the seventh day they hit the jackpot and founded a cult.