“At this point it is pretty much accepted that I walk both worlds naturally”
“Our ambition was never to just fit into the corporate mind. It was to take it over and remake the world in our image.”
Rapper, Entrepreneur and Music Mogul Jay Z definitely turned Tuna into Lobster through that Made in America venture. This year’s Made in America’s overwhelming success once again demonstrated the genius of using the background of African American architect Julian Abele’s classically designed Philadelphia Museum of Art and the French-inspired Parkway, with the Rodin and Barnes Foundation Museums. It provided not only the kind of cultural ambience found nowhere elsewhere in the USA, but also a marvelous Hip Hop aesthetic that offers the world another look at the City of Philadelphia. With its record-breaking sold out crowds (140,000 tickets were sold and more than 64,000 fans attended each day) is it any wonder that Mayor Nutter called 2015’s Made In America a win-win for both Jay Z’s business activity and the City of Philadelphia? Made in America also benefits from the long history of Unity Day, Odunde and other mass populated cultural events in Philly. Moving from Hip Hop’s Summertime Belmont Plateau to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, 140,000 attendees was modest compared to Unity Day events. However, the range of artists and genres are far more diverse and the amount of capital generated far exceeds previous ventures.
Crystalline effects. How did Hov turn that tuna into lobster? A few years back he was enraged by negative comments cristal execs made about having black Hip Hop consumers, and instead of him just protesting, he brokered a business with Budweiser who was in search of a younger black demographic to market its products. Jay turned that tuna into lobster by brokering an unprecedented, multilevel 10-year agreement that will end in 2018. If the City of Philadelphia earned $10 million in economic impact four years ago, what did they earn in 2015, and how did Roc Nation’s artists benefit from it? If Jay paid Pearl Jam $2 million to back him up in 2012, What was Beyoncé paid for being the main attraction, and what about Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj? It’s hot how both Jay and Meek, Beyoncé and Nicki understand the cross marketing game. And how about Jay himself? What was he paid for his highly valued curatorial services, and as co-owner of the lead marketing firm for the Festival, with brand and marketing innovator and business partner Steve Stoute?
Business aside, Made In America has become an annual celebration that music fans hailing from all over the country have turned into a non-stop, commemorative, immersive experience. 2015 was the first time that the festival took place solely in the City of Brotherly Love, as opposed to in both Philadelphia and Los Angeles, like it did for the three years prior. Philly really has sat as the main site for the production since its inception in 2012, and the on-site experience from the most recent showing, as captured below, is a revelation of what it’s been like.
Walking in I’m swept away by how many more attractions have been added on to this fest since I was last here two years ago. I’m pretty sure Six Flags called asking for their Merry-Go-Round back. And a pop-up bar? Hov playing no games. People are dressed extravagantly from what I can see. I’m feeling this black shirt that has ‘Versace’ in white block letters going from the top to the bottom of it. I see a throwback Jersey for what seems like every NBA player who ever made an All-Star team. Blankets on the ground, close and far from the stages. Tags and Hashtags all around the venue. The tidal insignia is everywhere you look. Dudes out here thirst strapping like it’s their full-time job. I’m feeling like I’m back in the other MIA again, the one that Lebron took his talents to some years back.
I’m already lined up for Meek Mill to come out at the Rocky Stage, the main stage – everybody else is by a tree that ends up becoming somewhat of a check-in point. It’s nearing 6pm. Ever since Drake and Meek had their social media feud, the bias against Meek has become unrealistically strong. Regardless of the perception or reality of how Meek’s brand has been affected, as claimed through social media or otherwise, the crowd standing here for his set is clearly all the way turn’t up. Playing hits like the frequented ‘Ima Boss,’ or ‘The Trillest,’ which hails from his sophomore album Dreams Worth More Than Money, Meek is giving his fans another solid on stage performance. Midway through his set he brings out his son Pappi to join in on this brief Philly homecoming, to which the audience responds with provocative shouts and screams. DJ Bran puts on new hip-hop artist Silento’s ‘Nene,’ and Pappi breaks it down for the crowd. Well, someone’s been practicing in the mirror. The crowd makes noise as Pappi leaves the stage and girlfriend-megastar Nicki Minaj unexpectedly walks out in a long pine green dress — “If you got love for my baby daddy make some noise!” she screams. Long time fans of Meek and Nicki’s careers and music understand perfectly well how natural it is that these two artists came together – musically and romantically — now navigating national and international spaces together. ‘All Eyes On You,’ their mainstream showcase to the world comes on the speakers, and by the time that’s over we know that all eyes are still on each other. Before leaving the stage, it’s only right that Nicki performs ‘Only’ and ‘Truffle Butter,’ the hit records off of her latest album ‘Pinkprint.’ And in classic Dreamchasers style, Meek Mill caps his hour-long set off with ‘Intro.’ On my way to the tree I see on the dirt ground a boy who is noticeably beyond wasted and probably needs to get pumped. Coincidently to my right is a girl in the same situation.
I’m socializing now, occupying time until Beyoncé is set to come out. We end up making our way over a full two hours before, and wait it out like it’s some sort of half-marathon. Some girls to our right start playing ‘never have I ever,’ and every few minutes, a different group of people try pushing through the crowd to find their way closer to the stage. It’s hilarious what people do to try and get their way during parties and concerts, actions that I too am often guilty of.
Most people would probably agree that Beyoncé had the best performance of the festival. We’re standing at a parking lot location called c2. She comes out to an introductory mix that incorporates her typical popular songs, special effects, and some trap backgrounds. I hear records like ‘Crazy In Love,’ and even old-time Destiny’s Child favorites like ‘Jumpin, Jumpin.’ It’s also worth mentioning the impact that Future has been having on every major artist since DS2 has dropped. Beyoncé finds a way to integrate both Future’s ‘commas’ and ‘where ya at’ into her set. I also hear the T-Wayne joint play in the middle of ‘Flawless,’ and ‘Trap Queen’ she adds into the background during ‘Drunken Love.’ Beyoncé is sparkling like she just touched down from another planet. It’s a beige shirt that she has on before changing into a red and black Houston jersey, which if I can recall correctly is from the 2013 NBA All-Star weekend.
Observing the audience, it appears that Beyoncé looks drained and spent. A couple of minutes later she actually asks for water from backstage. She changes into a red sparkly Sixers shirt, and starts up a stripper pole segment. The projector in the back begins playing, and it’s very sensual. A guy behind us screams out, “Oh this that new shit! All that!” The people around are cracking up. ‘Partition’ comes on and Beyoncé starts utilizing the poles on stage. She acknowledges her fans in the front, the familiar faces, many of whom have been out here since the afternoon. This happens right before she plays ‘Halo,’ for which she switches into another sparkling dress, this time in grey. The end of the set approaches and the crowd is going nuts. The audience seems to be in consensus that Beyoncé has put on a hell of a performance.
It just feels like a good day to be alive. The sun is out, and it’s in the high 80’s. Walking on Pennsylvania Avenue towards the venue for a second day is more exciting than the day before, knowing what the lineup is going to be. We continually pass by people wearing Dashiki’s. I knew they were trending, but damn. After I see 4 or 5 people wearing them in the span of 10-15 minutes, I start taking tabs. Suffice it to say, I lose count shortly after, but they were out there throughout the day, mostly short cut in all types of colors. We enter the venue to Fabolous finishing his set on the Liberty stage. He has out with him the Young Gunz, who play their East Coast favorite hit ‘Can’t Stop Won’t Stop,’ and Freeway, who expectedly sustains the crowd’s engagement with ‘What We do,’ ‘Flipside,’ and ‘Roc The Mic.’ Everybody’s going crazy, obviously. Philly loves its own.
We discuss among ourselves how the producers of MIA should have spread out the acts more evenly between the two days, because it’s without question lopsided; the majority of the anticipated acts are placed on today’s list. It’s only 3:30pm when we’re arriving, and it’s clear based on the turn out already that the space will fill out sooner rather than later. We walk over to see Jidenna’s set, which is being held at one of the smaller stages near the entrance, I think the Tidal Stage. I’m curious how he’s going to fill up his 30 minute set since he doesn’t have much music out. But he handles his business. The whole Classic Man brand that Jidenna has been milking since the release of the song ‘Classic Man’ is gonna gradually make him into a global phenom. Towards the end of his short set, which took place in a medium sized lot, he brings out a couple of women to compete by twerking on stage to the hit song ‘Yoga,’ that he has with Janelle Monae. The girl who ends up winning does something like twerk while in a handstand position. It’s pretty out of control in the most incredible way.
Everywhere is crowded. Dust is consuming the air from all the feet kicking back and forth on the ground. There’s a make up stand where some women are stationed at, and I’m confused why this even exists in the middle of a music festival, but hey. To the left of it is a smoothie kiosk where some ladies are serving raspberry and I believe mango smoothie samples in small plastic cups. I’m feeling the vibe of all this. It’s real chill. If the day stayed at this capacity it would probably be ideal, but we know people are really just starting to cycle in. At this point, we decide between walking over for Post Malone and Santigold’s set, and camping out for Future Hendrix. Predictably, we begin walking over to fall-in-line with the Future Hive that has probably already been out there at the liberty stage for hours. We wait the full 90 minutes for him to come out with DJ Esco, which turns out to be a lot less frustrating than waiting out for Beyonce. I don’t know, I feel like the Future Hive might be a little less stiff than the Beyhive.
Waiting for Future to come out is an experience in itself. There are three dudes behind me with red T.H.O.T shirts on, playing off of Dr. Seuss’s Thing 1, 2, and 3. The long wait encourages a lot of discussion among the crowd. There’s a group of 3 girls to my right all wearing blue who are clearly from Carolina, which I should have picked up on, but I ask if they are from Atlanta. I get a few premature apologies from people around who expect to kick dust in the faces of everyone around them – out of excitement — and let all hell break loose when Future comes out. This suddenly reminds me of being at MIA two years ago when they started shooting, but I got superpowers so…
DJ Esco comes out with his trademark black bandana and sonic the hedgehog hair to hype up the crowd. The turnout is just as great as it has been for the Rocky stage, probably even greater. I hear people saying that Future should be on the main stage – which I cant really argue with. He comes out with an orange and brown Dashiki. What is it with all these Dashiki’s though? It goes without saying that the rest is history. ‘March Madness’… ‘Stick Talk’… ‘Commas’… ‘Real Sistas’… Or if we go back in time a little bit, ‘Turn On The Lights’… ‘Magic’… ‘Same Damn Time.’ And we ain’t even mention DS1. Future got hits for days. He’s way ahead of his time in a number of regards and the populace is just beginning to catch up. When he went back to the basics of who Future is and what Future does with his latest album, DS2 — which was preceded ingeniously with the release of three fire mixtapes – he entered a public echelon occupied by few artists. If there’s anything to learn from the 2014-2015 Hip Hop year, it’s the notion that people will always connect to sincerity, to a person being who he or she actually is. A string of artists this year have taken the risk — now turned to trend — of disregarding the major labels suggestions and business model, instead creating the music that is most true to them.
Future is one of those artists. His music creation process is unlike any other high profile artist currently celebrated, and it’s what allows him to effortlessly come out with hit after hit. But there’s a science to the madness. There’s a reason why the general public reacts. It’s the snakes and the snare drums in the production, and his delivery of the lyrical compositions. Future himself describes what it is about his music creation process that sets him apart from artists in 2015: “I just studied the game for so long. People don’t be knowing snares, they don’t know how to dig through the crates no more. They make everything in the computer. It’s technology now, but at the end of the day, my snares gonna be real, my kick’s gonna be a real kick. It’s gonna come from a basement, from a weird-ass dude that nobody know about, he got them records put up. I learned that shit digging through the crates with Rico Wade, and I attach it to the new, modern way of how they use it. But people don’t understand where it’s giving that extra feel, because we going back in on the production side and just make that shit extra tight.”
I’m pretty spent after the Future set, and so are many others. My plan is to take it easy for the rest of the festival. It’s 6:00pm now and Big Sean is coming on at the Rocky stage. It’s moderately difficult to move at this point so it doesn’t even feel worth it to try and walk over there. I end up back at the landmark tree after a couple of brief run-ins, as Big Sean is leaving off and J. Cole is coming on. I spend the next two hours sitting by the tree and chillen out. Cole is a hell of a performer. Hearing and watching him perform in person adds a whole different dimension to his music and makes it easier to accept his bodies of work for how great people say they are. He asks the audience if he can perform his album in its entirety, and it ends up being virtually the same set as what he did at Madison Square a couple of weeks back.
As the sky begins to dim, and a breeze begins to develop, the aura around MIA begins to slightly shift. The boundaries of The Parkway are packed. I begin wandering a bit, observing the people around me sitting on blankets and beach chairs, and then come back around to chill out until the Week
nd shows up, at which point we walk over to stand for his set.
I don’t know what it is about the Weeknd, his crooning voice, and his music’s mysterious, slightly dark production, but these songs are having me all up in my feelings right now. It’s like whatever emotions I’m feeling at the moment are becoming accentuated and sensitized by these orchestral-like, siren arrangements, and the multi-colored lights beaming from the stage. They’re like strobe lights that make you feel like you are in the midst of some sort of imaginary blown-up contraption, maybe a combination of a haunted house and an amusement park. A friend would tell me following the set, which closed out the concert, that the festival in general seemed like being part of some sort of big production wheel, like a Willy Wonka factory or something.
There is nowhere in Philly that for the last 10 hours has generated this level of energy, and has encouraged such full, uninhibited expression, the way the Ben Franklin Parkway has. We’re standing moderately far back from where the Weeknd is on stage – thankfully so – because moving up any closer would mean me having to tolerate my body rubbing up against the bodies of way too many unfamiliar faces. Everybody is now out here dancing and just letting loose to the passionate and provocative words of the Weeknd.
Thousands of people are in the crowd. Large trees spaced out, compartmentalizing the varying experiences distributed across the festival land and the multiple stages. All eyes are either on the main stage itself or the screens spread out everywhere else. The audience hears song like ‘The Hills,’ ‘Often,’ and ‘Real Life’ come on. The sky is black now, contributing to the curious, mystical, complicated and intricate mood encouraged by the Weeknd and his performance. I eventually find myself back at the tree. Those last 90 minutes – an experience, a rollercoaster, Beauty Behind The Madness. It appears that people are feeling like they have made it in America this weekend. What better place to realize this than in Philly.
Postscript: Made in America, J’Empire and Hov’s Hejira from Marcy to Philadelphia’s Parkway
When you think about what you’ve just witnessed at the 2015 Made in America Festival on Philly’s legendary Parkway and consider for a moment the imminent arrival of Pope Francis and His Holiness The Dalai Lama, you are obliged to consider the fact that these figures are blessing the MIC in the cultural and the religious capital of the United States. These men have come a long way. You may ask, what enabled Jay Z’s move to the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Le Parkway? Jay Z has carried the idea of thinking strategically to a whole nother level in Hip Hop. He is always moving beyond the competitive edge, always on to the next one. In the Jazz Era, Harlem’s own Promoter, Mr. Powell, spawned The Newport Jazz Festival with the help of African American jazz promoters and entrepreneurs. But it became a challenge to maintain a competitive edge. What makes Jay Z able to maintain a competitive edge in festival ventures like Made in America? He has a keen sense of how and when to explore possibilities and to end ventures when they do not pan out. Jay had to avoid high losses when starting a high end, high-risk business venture like 40-40, especially when his premium led Bill Gates and Microsoft to invest one million dollars to market his combined autobiographical narrative and his plan to engage in Empire Building. And we are not talking about Empire State Building.
Finally, in addition to parlaying his wealth and brand building in the music industry, Jay is in high demand, or what one may call a black blue chip Partner, in a variety of new ventures. The fact that he is in high demand enables him to structure business from an advantage point. To acquire Jay Z’s curatorial services and brand name, Budweiser was obliged to use a very different route through Marketing and Brand Guru, Steve Stoute, who used to manage Nas and Mary J. Blige. Budweiser executive Paul Childs sought a way to elevate the company’s role in 21st century festivals as they had done through Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones, but this time the stakes were higher and Jigga was wider. Childs went to the man with the championship gold ring in this game, Steve Stoute, and Stoute knew that Jay Z had the street and business acumen to program postmodern festivals for diverse populations, in a browning American cityscape. And so, we witness Made in America.
© Copyright James G. Spady and Akinyemi Bajulaiye 2015