10 hours by bus from Toronto, myself and fellow friend that I only reconnected with a few months ago (Amara) were headed to Philadelphia for a weekend of live music from some of the biggest names in music from all parts of the globe, but mainly from North America. Hip Hop, Rock, Electronic, Indie, R&B, Pop; there really was a diverse range of musical acts that were featured at the 1st Annual ‘Made In America’ Festival hosted by the one and only Shawn ‘Jay-Z’ Carter and sponsored by Budweiser (Ya, so I threw in some advertisement, sue me).
Philadelphia is a historic city, as it served as the key areas in American history. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were signed by the “founding fathers” and that’s kind of like a big deal. I was in Philadelphia with my aunt Tanya & her friend Althea in 2009 (I got to see my Eagles play – Top 5 moment of my life so far), so I was pretty excited to be back in the great city almost 3 years later. The fact that ‘Made In America’ was being held in a city that was responsible for ‘making America’ (I see what you did there, Shawn), it felt inspiring already. The world flags around the area, and the historical statues & buildings on the outside got us pretty excited to get inside the venue.
Before we get into the details of the first day, let me just say this right now – IT WAS HOT! Hot & Humid is what I’m used to in Toronto, that’s whatever, but it was HOT in Philadelphia, which I guess was an omen of some sort that it was going to be a crazy day. People were walking around with water bottles, visors, hats, umbrellas, and pretty much anything that could keep them cool and out of the sun for the time being.
We arrived at around 1pm since we had to leave a little earlier because our hotel was by the airport (it’s not as far as it sounds, trust me). We needed some directions, so one of the locals working at the train station on 30th Street was nice enough to direct us, and he already knew where we were going, so that was cool. Already it was pretty organized as we walked closer to Benjamin Franklin Parkway. I thought it would be in a park, but really it was in a section of Philadelphia that had pretty much the most popular landmark in Philadelphia (or perhaps maybe the entire state of Pennsylvania), the Rocky Steps, and it’s funny because 3 years ago when I was in Philly, I never got to see it, so it was cool that I’d come full circle and get to “see them” in a sense, because there was a stage right in front of it; the main stage you could say. Walking in the venue, we just browsed around to see what was happening. There were areas for merchandise, tents to charge your phone (SMART! SMART! SMART! SMARRRRT!), a lot of food vendors, Budweiser tents for food and, of course, beer, and even Misting stations that blew misty air to keep you cool (which we didn’t discover until the end of the day, unfortunately). Pretty much, we were amazed by the amount of things already available and we only walked about 20-50 feet inside of the park.
Aside from the music, this festival had a bunch of art stuff that was displayed, which was entitled the ‘R/W/B Project’ and it featured pieces that were inspired by the American Flag and the heritage of the country. There were some really moving pieces (I wish I got some photos, but I was really caught up in what was going on), plus people were making a collage of the American Flag using photos from Instagram.
Honestly, the fact that they turned a social app into art is just amazing, and it just goes to prove that Art is in everything and it’s everywhere. It was beautiful to see.
Music wise, I didn’t know a lot about a bunch of acts, except for a few. The acts scheduled for today were insane: MMG, Janelle Monae, D’Angelo, Jay Electronica, and Jay-Z were the ones I were excited to see. I had to sacrifice Skrillex (although, I’m not really into that whole dubstep vibe) because I at least wanted to have a good view for Jay-Z’s set, and if we left, that would have been a loss, and we would be watching it from the back (where ever the back was, because I knew it was going to be full).
In the heat of the afternoon, we were front row for the first act, where many people were waiting for MMG to start, but first up to start the festival off was Gary Clark Jr.
- Amara & i had Googled him the night before just to get a taste of what he was like. For one, he’s black, two, he’s a Guitarist with SOUL! I bought his EP on iTunes the night before (trust me, buy it), because I was basically moved by his music. Bright Lights is an amazing song, and Amara told me that she’d heard it before, but I was bracing myself for what he’d bring tot he stage the following day.
He came out and went right into his set. His guitar screamed over the gigantic sound system as he basically performed his whole EP (that I didn’t get to give a full listen to), and during that process, he amazed everyone with his insane guitar solos that gave myself and the rest of the audience chills. I’ll say this, and many older people may consider this musical blasphemy, but (on a smaller scale of course) that was like if I was watching Jimi Hendrix on stage during Woodstock.
Gary was compared to Jimi in The New York Times because of his guitar skills & vocals, but seeing it live, honestly, it was truly something to behold. So much soul, and his set was amazing. I completely understand why he was the only artist on the schedule for both days. He’s one bad mother-shut-your-mouth (I’m just talking about Gary). His set is still one of my favourites from both days, but of course there were more acts to see, but Gary set off the festival and the mood right with an electrifying and soulful set. Great to see, and amazing to experience.
We waited throughout the second set, but the good thing about the stages being remotely close to each other was that you could still hear the music from the other stage. Prince Royce is a Latin singer (again, thank you Google & YouTube), and from what I heard, he wasn’t too bad, but the main excitement was for MMG. Rick Ross & Meek Mill were already in Toronto for Drake’s OVO fest almost a month prior, but those prices compared to what we paid for Made In America were TWO DIFFERENT THINGS! (Drake, you’re whylling bro, but keep doing your thing) We had an amazing standing spot that would have cost about triple for OVO, and although we had to battle the heat, I was much anticipating the performance simply because of Meek Mill. He’s from Philadelphia, so him performing at home for this festival was going to be huge. Rick Ross, on the other hand, is still buzzing after the release of his last album (which I didn’t like at all), but the main song I wanted to hear was ‘Hold Me Back‘. Amara & I were getting hype to this song and other MMG summer blockbuster bangers that dominated the clubs for the past couple of months (or pretty much since Dreamchasers 2 came out). I’m not much of a Wale fan anymore, because he got pretty boring, really quick to me, but even still there were some songs I could rock to. I won’t lie, I wasn’t expecting to see so many black people, but then I had to remember where I was and who were performing, so that was kind of expected.
When they were raising the huge MMG banner and testing the red lights, it got loud and it was crazy. The Meek Mill groupies were assembling by the hundreds and many people were getting as excited as we were for them to come out, but we still had another 30 minutes to go.
As the time grew closer, people got antsy, and then finally the DJs were set, the music was set and Wale came out to a thunderous roar. He performed ‘Ambition’, ‘Slight Work’ ‘Chain Music’ and originally he was supposed to come out performing ‘Bait’, but he didn’t, so after the first song he said “Alright, let me start over”, ran over to the other side of the stage, and then he came out to that. Funny, but it really made no difference. The thing about MMG is that they make those hype songs for the club and concerts, but when it comes to actual albums, that’s when things go wrong, but we’ll see if that changes when Meek Mill drops his album on October 30th – mark it down. with all of that being said, it was time for the man to come on stage and grace the people with some hype music for everyone to turn up to.
Meek came on stage, and I swear to you, I was elbowed in the head harder than when Ron Artest elbowed James Harden (okay…maybe not, but my glasses did fall off). It was expected because the girls love Meek, but I was just excited to see him perform. He came out performing ‘House Party’ and at that point I turned from just being a crowd attendee to being an actual fan.
Meek is a great performer. He has the music for it and his energy is just something else. He did cuts from Dreamchasers 2 like: Amen, Burn, Flexing (which i was WAITING FOR), and obviously he did the classic ‘Ima Boss’ and that’s when Mr. Ricky Rozay came out and did her verse. The crowd went absolutely insane at that point, and why not? It’s the BAWSE, and I’m a fan of his music (most, not all). Rick Ross came out just looking rich – I’ve never felt so broke in my life, but it was cool because for a big guy, he has A LOT of energy.
He performed (God Forgives, I Don’t) his verse off of ‘3 Kings’ & ‘Hold Me Back’ which I went totally ape shit over. I was surprised that those were the only songs from his album that he did, given the fact that Stalley was on stage, as well as the newest member of MMG, Rockie Fresh, so I thought he would have done Ten Jesus Pieces, but I wasn’t mad either way.
Ross, Meek & Wale all performed ‘Bag of Money’ and also ‘Stay Schemin’; he then dove back into his catalogue and performed ‘BMF – Blowin’ Money Fast’ and also the classsssssic street anthem ‘Hustlin’, which I was excited about, I can’t even lie. The set was wicked, although Rick Ross is a talker and he talked more than the songs he performed, but I guess if you’re as big as him, you need a rest period of some sort, so I’ll give him that. What I liked was that he gave the other members some shine; Stalley performed Party Heart (I saw Stalley in concert when he was in Toronto in June), and Rockie Fresh performed one of his songs as well (don’t ask me which, because I didn’t even know it, but I’m assuming it was from his ‘Driving 88’ mixtape). After all that being said, Rick Ross thanked Jay-Z (who signed him to Def Jam to get his start – I didn’t know that), and had the crowd chant ‘ROZAY’ and do his ever popular grunt, which was cool. That was the end of that set, and then people flooded elsewhere to get food and whatever else, because after that, the most anticipated act wasn’t on for another 5 hours – Jay-Z.
We stayed at the ‘Rocky Stage’ (I should’ve mentioned that the stage was in front of the Rocky Steps) and waited for D’Angelo, while getting some food & refreshments. We could hear Janelle Monae’s set, and from what I was hearing, it was pretty much everything I’d seen her perform at the numerous award shows I watched her at, which was great. There were screens at the side of the ‘Liberty Stage’, which wasn’t far from us, so that was good for those who were viewing at a further distance. You know when you’re listening to songs and you go ‘wait…I know this song…YOU SING THIS?!’ I had a bunch of those moments during Janelle Monae’s set because I had no idea. I should really give her stuff a listen, I didn’t really give her a shot, but she seemed Pop-ish, which isn’t my cup of juice, so I decided not to listen, but I’ll see what she has.
D’angelo was gone for a long time, and it’s been 12 years since his last album (Voodoo), and during that course of time, he suffered a crazy weight gain, rumours of death floated, and also a drug problem mixed with law problems. When he performed at the BET Awards in July and to see the progress that he made, it was a crazy transformation. Still on the big size, but he looked good and sounded great as well. Now was my turn to see the live experience of D’Angelo. He had a live band with him (like he did in the BET Awards), and he turned it into a party – a groovy one, I should say. He performed his newer songs that had a great bounce and soulful vibe. GOOD MUSIC – that 2-stepping music – that ‘Saturday afternoon house cleaning music’. Shall I go on? No? You got the point. I had no idea that he could play the guitar; I knew he could play the piano, but the guitar surprised me. He’s a great singer live and he brought a James Brown type of dynamic energy to his performance by kicking the microphone stand away then back to him and squealing, which was James-esque. I liked it.
What I didn’t like was that he only performed 2 songs that were really recognizable, but I guess since he’s releasing a new album soon, he wanted to get those out-of-the-way first. he performed ‘Sh*t, Damn, Motherfucker’, and teased the audience a bit while he did a piano solo of ‘How Does it Feel’, which was awesome because he got the crowd involved, which was filled with older women who were fans of his for years. He had an energetic set, but I was still disappointed that he didn’t at least perform ‘Cruisin’, ‘Lady’and even ‘Brown Sugar’. Those were the classics, but again, referring back to my reason, I could KIND OF understand.
A surprise addition on the ‘MIA’ set list was Jay Electronica. For those who don’t know about Jay Electronica, he’s been around in Hip Hop for a long time, but was strictly underground until about 3 years ago. He released ‘Exhibit A‘ & ‘Exhibit C’ both in 2009, and his popularity sprouted heavily. He doesn’t have an album out yet, but his fan base has been pushing for him to drop one for years now, and this year (and I think this month – September) he will be releasing that album after MUCH delay (at least it’s not like Detox). I was highly anticipating this performance, and luckily, we got to the Liberty Stage only missing one or two songs (he performed Dear Moleskine, which was a single he dropped on Twitter a few months back).
He performed Exhibits A & C, which I rapped along to, and also an older songs from one of his mixtapes that I have (a compilation called ‘What The F*ck Is A Jay Electronica), and he’s a vocal person so he had some words for the U.S Government, which was crazy, and at the end of his set he was in the crowd with the people who were around him , embracing him, and rapping to his music. That was cool, and overall he had a cool set. Good to see him, and I can’t wait for that album.
To kill some time, we went back to the Rocky Stage to watch Passion Pit. I never heard of them, but when they were performing, I was transformed to my retail days and I was like “OHHHH, I know this song!” They’re a band from Boston, and they were really good. A different sound than your traditional indie rock. They were a bit folk, some punk, but it was still a good time.
The diversity of the music throughout the day was great. To be exposed to different music gives people a chance to open their ears to different music that they wouldn’t listen to on a regular basis, like myself for example.
One area of the venue we didn’t go to see for the two days was the Freedom Tent, which played more of the electronic music, so the dubstep stuff that had been getting a lot of crazy hype for the longest time. I’m not much of an electronic guy, but I heard about Calvin Harris from Amara, but we were too hungry to get to the Freedom tent, and often times the people who were at the Freedom Tent were clashing times with the other acts that we wanted to see at the time. There’s no doubt in my mind that some of those acts will be coming to Toronto, so I’m sure I’ll hear about them later on over the course of this year or next.
FOOD is essential, and there were many choices, but all we had during the day were hot dogs, burgers, soda & water. So it was time for a change, but instead of the heavy stuff, it was time for some dessert. Funnel cake was the hot thing going around, so Amara decided to get that.
I wanted to try the ice water, but they had no ice water, so I got Ice Cream instead; why not? I was more thirsty than hungry, because it was so hot, but I did have some of the funnel cake, after waiting a while. As we were eating, we walked around and got some more exposure to the crowd and just what else was going on at the other shops and stuff.
After all of that, it was time to go back and reclaim a suitable position for Jay-Z, but Miike Snow was performing at the time, so we decided to just stand there instead of going over to see Skrillex, and besides, we could hear it anyways. The name did not ring a bell AT ALL, but when I heard him performing ‘Animal’ I was like “OHHHHHHHH THIS SONG?!?” See, I told you, I had a lot of those moments. Kitchen Stuff Plus had me brainwashed without knowing. Amazing.
There were a lot of people for his set, and it was pretty electric, but we were more concerned about slipping and sliding through the endless wave of people in the crowd, and it’s easy when one is small and the other is skinny. Woo to genetics. Black & Blue is a great song performed live, and again, I had no idea that it was Miike Snow that sung it. It was a great set for what we saw & heard, but the main event was coming up soon.
I knew it was going to be crowded and a long wait, and thank GOD I didn’t have to use the washroom for the whole day, even though I drank like 3 bottles of Sprite plus ice cream. Many people were filing in and were excited in anticipation for Jay-Z, not knowing what was going to happen during his set. It was going to be good (foreshadowing).
They were playing with the lights and we were still entertained by hearing Skrillex’s set behind us, which was pretty awesome, and a part of me regretted it, but that would go away soon.
Mimicking Rocky Balboa, Jay-Z bounced on the steps while the intro of ‘Gonna Fly Now’ was playing. He came out to a thunderous roar and got right into ‘PSA’ which always gets the people going hype.
This is my 3rd time seeing Jay-Z in concert. My first ever concert was October 31st, 2009 for the Blueprint 3 Tour. I went with my boy, Justin, and we were Centre floor about 20 rows back. If it wasn’t for the Watch The Throne tour, this would’ve been the greatest concert ever (I also saw N.E.R.D, J.Cole & Wale during that show). Almost 3 years later, in Philadelphia, and here I am again watching Jay-Z live; it’s insane. After PSA, we were SHOCKED to see a pre-recorded message of President Obama talking about Made In America and the meaning behind it by referencing to Jay-Z’s career, and also encouraging the people to register to vote (If you didn’t know, they kind of have this election this year). That was crazy, and the whole crowd was chanting ‘U-S-A’, but I couldn’t for obvious reasons, so I just chilled out. As always, Jay went into his greatest hits (some of them): H to the Izzo, Dirt Off Your Shoulder, U Don’t Know, Excuse Me Miss, Empire State of Mind, Big Pimpin’, Where I’m From, I Just Wanna Love You, Jigga What, Run This Town, and La La La (I’m sure I missed a few, but I’m running off of memory). He brought out Swizz Beats to perform ‘On to the Next One’, then, from out of NOWHERE, he brings out Memphis Bleek and performs ‘Is That Your Bitch’, and THEN, he brings out Freeway to perform ‘What We Do’ and I lost my freaking MIND! That’s one of my favourite songs of all time. OF ALL TIME! The Young Gunz came on stage and it was insane that I was actually witnessing State Property (minus Beanie Sigel for obvious reasons) live on stage. That was crazy, but then after all of that Jay-Z left. But the lights were still on, so something was up.
- There were rumours circulating in the crowd that Kanye West, Beyonce, and Rihanna were supposed to take the stage, but I didn’t believe anything, although my mom told me that Beyonce was supposed to perform, and Jay did perform ’03 Bonnie & Clyde and was laughing a bit when he said the line ‘me and my girlfriend’, but nothing happened. So, that ended that rumour, but the main question was:
So, after Jay–Z left and many fans were disgruntled, his voice appeared on the Microphone and all you heard was “Philly, you’ve been good to me, so I’m gonna be good to you.” You know, at the time, I didn’t think much of that, but it was the BIGGEST HINT OF LIFE! Afterwards, all you heard was Kanye’s chant of ‘GOOD MUSIC’ from ‘New God Flow’, and then there was nothing else…until you hear, ‘Fraud niggas, y’all niggas, that’s that shit I don’t like’. I was hearing Pusha T, and all of a sudden I’m screaming lyrics of ‘I Don’t Like’ at the top of my lungs and trying to record video at the same time (Amateur camera on level 1000). Pusha T was on stage doing his verse, then at the chorus, Kanye West appeared and the crowd went WILD! I’m telling you, it was the craziest night, but that wasn’t it. Big Sean came on stage for his verse too, and then everything was just loud and vibrant from that point on.
Pusha & Kanye performed ‘New God Flow’ and I lost it even more because that song is crack. Common came out and performed ‘The Light’, and honestly, I don’t know if my voice could do it anymore…until what proceeded next. After all of that…I knew it had to be done, but I didn’t know he was in the building…they performed Mercy, and who came out? Yes…he did.
I couldn’t believe it, but it’s funny, because Amara was mad the whole day that G.O.O.D Music wasn’t on the line-up, and then all of this happened? Kudos, Jay-Z. Ku-Dos. After all of G.O.O.D Music stood in a line of dopeness at the end of Mercy, Kanye was about to leave, but then Jay said ‘Kanye, where you goin’?’ Jay had time for one more song, and I thought they would do a bunch of Jay & Kanye songs from WTT or even ‘Never Let Me Down’ (which they didn’t do at the WTT concert), but of course they did Niggas in Paris, which is still enjoyable. After everything that I’d witness during that set, I couldn’t complain at all. Jay-Z is a master of his performances, and he has enough classic hits to perform forever and no one can really call it a disappointment. It was a great way to end off the night.
I saw all of MMG, and all of G.O.O.D Music (minus Q-Tip) in one day, plus other acts like Jay Electronica, D’Angelo and Gary Clark Jr. It was scorching hot, but at the end of the first day, it was totally worth it, and I’d do it again, no debates or discussions. I honestly couldn’t wait to see what was in store for Day 2 with acts like Jill Scott, Odd Future, Run DMC, and Drake, oh and not to forget the ultimate headliner, Pearl Jam. It was a great day & night, and I flooded my Instagram account with more photos (Follow – misterstixx is my user name, so check them out).
Until Day 2, thank you for reading this. Follow me on Twitter too -> @MR_STiXX
That’s My Word & It STiXX