Made In America: Double Trouble – Day 1

1 for the money, 2 for the show – well the money was pretty much the same, and the show was definitely going to be bigger (attendance wise), but overall it was about the 2nd coming of Jay Z’s Made In America festival in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; also what is regarded as the birthplace of the United States (fitting location). In what is a celebration of people and unity, tens of thousands of people yet again filled Benjamin Franklin Parkway to witness several musical acts of (almost) all genres.

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Last year (read that recap), Jay Z spoiled the inaugural visitors by bringing a star studded line-up including Drake, Odd Future, D’Angelo, Jill Scott, Santigold, Gary Clark Jr, MMG, and countless surprises including Eve, State Property, Swizz Beatz, Kanye West and G.O.O.D Music. It was a true spectacle to witness, and for those (like me) who attended last year, the only question was – how the hell is he going to top this? Well, when you put your Wife, Sister-In-Law, a platinum selling independent rapper/producer duo, a growing west coast rap group power with a platinum rapper on the roster, and some European sensations, there’s no telling what would happen. We would have to just walk, wait, and be entertained.

I was with my partner in crime, Amara, once again and it was definitely an adventure the first day because of communication breakdown (which is also a wicked Led Zeppelin song). We got in Saturday morning, and scrambling to figure out a wacky situation, we raced against the clock to get to the venue for the first day, but we’re both bred in Scarborough – no obstacles against us shall bring us down. We were just excited to be back in the city to have a good time, meet more people, and enjoy the festival for another 2 days.

The first day looked to be pretty good given the fact that Beyonce was the headliner, and you had acts like A$AP Rocky, Emeli Sande, Deadmau5, and 2 Chainz gracing the stages. Also, there was a change up from last year – 2 new stages: the Freedom tent last year housed the EDM music, but turned it into a stage; and also a Skate Park stage that was connected to a mini skatepark right behind it, and I thought that was pretty cool posting it up at the front of the venue as you walk in. This opened up the opportunity for more acts to perform as a whole and for people to walk around between more than 2 stages compared to the year before.

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Skate Park behind the stage
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Freedom Stage

The festivities (for us) kicked off when we arrived at BFP a little before 2. Music had started early, so it was only right that we investigate the premises. In addition to the new stages, they had a ride right in the middle which was a bit of an eyesore, but it gave MIA a carnival appeal at that point – no clowns, Shawn? Also, there seemed to be more barricaded areas and not really any more independent retailers/artwork to pick at. I guess because there was an anticipation of more people, they had to accommodatefor that, which is understandable, but it was cool to see last year. We walked around for a bit because the goal was to see A$AP Rocky at 3:15 at the Rocky stage (future rap line: “Fuck what you say about me, I got money, I got fame. Nigga like me performing at MIA, the stage the same as my name”). Before that happened, we killed some time and watched HAIM perform. The only time I heard this all female group was on Kid CuDi’s album Indicud on a song called Red Eye (which is one of the better songs on the album). They have a vibe that conjures the soul of an 80s pop group, and usually I wouldn’t go for that type of music, but they were good for the couple of songs we stayed for.

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We left a bit early because we knew that Rocky would fill up pretty quick, given the fact that he had an album come out at the beginning of the year (LONGLIVEA$AP) and Wild For The Night was a big single for the predominantly white crowd to enjoy. But one thing that I forgot about Rocky is that he’s a bit of a Diva and has a history of being a terrible performer. I wasn’t aware of all of this beforehand, but I learned the hard way. We get there at about 3, we get a good standing location (I’m tall so it doesn’t matter a whole lot), and we wait a bit. 3:15 comes – no Rocky; 3:20 – no Rocky; 3:30 – still no Rocky, so at this point I’m looking at Amara like ‘who does this guy think he is?’ 3:40 comes along and I looked over to my right because I can see the area where artists chill before going on stage and I see Rocky walking by casually like it’s not hot as Satan’s oven and he’s not ‘late as a muhfucka, coloured people time’ (thanks Kanye). Dude hit the stage 30 minutes late, so off the bat, his set was going to be at MAX, 15 minutes (*shakes my head*).

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He performed the title track to his album, Wild For The Night (as expected), Angels (not expected), his verse for Fuckin’ Problems, and Wassup (from his LIVELOVEA$AP mixtape – no one knew the words; not shocked). I thought he would have at least brought out Ferg, but he didn’t. He brought out A$AP Nast (yes, there’s more than 2 of them) to help him perform (no idea what the point was) and just as it was going to be good, of course I remembered that he was late. He got booed before and after he took the stage, and rightly so.

There were people who obviously just came for Beyonce and they were willing to camp out a lot of hours in the blazing sun to see (their) Queen Bey. Last year, Amara passed out, and when you’re the friend of the pass-outter, you panic a bit (bad experiences prior to on my end), but this year it wouldnt be a repeat. Instead, I saw a lot of girls passing out in the heat (dehydration, drugs, alcohol, or combos of any 2 of 3) and security guards were even having tallies of how many bodies they were passing over. It was nuts. I don’t usually blame Rap for a lot of things, but Molly really is a real thing that has taken over. I was appraoched (very politely too) if I had Molly. Respectfully I declined, but I really found it fascinating that it was real life popular to this day (call me naive) although I know people who do it. That’s neither here nor there, but it did contribute to the overall behaviour of a lot of people at MIA.

I brought a water bottle from home that I was going to carry with me over the weekend instead of buying $4 water repeatedly (which I ended up doing anyways), but for a good chunk of Emeli Sande’s set, I heard her while I was waiting in a rather long line for free water refills. She is a dynamic singer, and with the help of the live band behind her, she really belted out some notes. I recognized a couple of songs that I didn’t know she sang, but I liked them a lot.

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The UK has steadily been churning out great talent for us North Americans to hear. I think we (including myself) should pay attention; just not UK rap – I tried, I really did. One song that I really enjoyed was Wonder because she was very passionate in performing it, and she really got the crowd involved, as they were equally willing to chime in. It was a beautiful sight. I definitely need to do my homework with her music, because I liked what I heard,and her overall stage presence captivated me to want to listen more.

There was a lot of back and forth on this day, and this time it was time to honour another Hip Hop legendary group, much like how Run DMC graced the stage last year. The general crowd was younger, so I knew for a fact when they performed songs like Show Em Whatchu Got, Bring The Noise, and the classic Fight The Power, a lot of kids wouldn’t know what was going on. It’s sad that the younger generation only knows Flavor Flav as a reality TV star on Flavor of Love, but at least they know who he is – it’s always something, right?

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I may only be 24 years old, but Public Enemy is my mom’s favourite rap group, so I had to know a little something something. Knowing how they’re so politically driven, they had their moments: they brought out a Philadelphia School District counselor and her campaign to urge people to ask their Political representatives to fund schools more, Chuck D & Flav spoke out on Trayvon Martin & Zimmerman, and they also brought out a banner that said ‘FREE MUMBA ABU JAMAL’ (google that name). They combined everything that they stood for and still entertained, including a great set from DJ Lord. What was taken away was the fact that it was such a young crowd and they weren’t really into it – the appreciation wasn’t all there, but I did value the experience that for the 2nd year in a row, I was able to witness pioneers in Hip Hop take the stage and deliver a show.

From the old school and revolutionary to the new school and watered down, it was on to 2 Chainz. To say watered down is a bit harsh, but in comparison to what the foundation of Hip Hop was, it definitely doesn’t have that same glimmer, but there needs to be a necessary balance of information and entertainment. 2 Chainz is an entertainer that has been around for a while, and through the mixtapes and major features, there was no shortage of entertainment on his end.

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He wasted no time getting into his set starting it off with Mercy, and then ran into a string of features including All Me, Beez In Tha Trap, U.O.E.N.O, and Fuckin’ Problems. After that, he went through his solo tracks Dope Peddler, Spend It, Riot, and taking it back to Playaz Circle, he performed Duffle Bag Boy. The turn up of Made In America had commenced and I was very involved and into it like a great majority of people in the crowd. The large gathering had been there to wait for Beyonce, so in the meantime, 2 Chainz entertained and got the crowd rowdy.

I’m not big on Indie music when it comes to Rock & Roll, but I’m not shying away from the fact that there is talent in the genre that I’m not aware of. Two bands that peaked my interest on the first day were Phoenix and Imagine Dragons. You know when you hear songs in commercials but you never know who sings them, but when you hear them you know which songs they are? That happened to me for both of them, and their performances were really good.

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Phoenix rocking the stage

The energy, the crowd participation, and the music itself all blended together made their sets very memorable – and that’s music I don’t listen to on a regular basis. There have been a lot of commercials that have used their songs, and I was bopping my head along the entire time. Phoenix, being from Paris, France, showed off that classic rock appeal that had their frontman (Thomas Mars) crowd-swimming, high fiving people while walking with his wired microphone through the aisles, and smashing his microphone on stage. Clearly he was on something, but it was great energy that made the performance great to witness.

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Amara knew more about Imagine Dragons than I did, but I was still vibing to their music. One of their hit songs Radioactive really caught me, and Dan Reynolds is a true performer. He beat-boxed during an interlude, he played different drums, and he sang his life away on the Rocky stage in great form. One thing that he said that really stuck with me was:

“I love America. The politics may not always be right, and the money may not always be right, but I’m still proud to be from here.”

I did a little paraphrasing, but it was along those lines. It put it into perspective just how Americans view their country, and why there’s such a big separation of pride between America and Canada. In Canada, you can’t go up to any odd person and ask them what it is about Canada that they love and are so proud of without having them to think about it for a few minutes. America is a country that has many flaws, but within those flaws are golden spotlights of hope, prosperity, and opportunity. It’s a very vocal & opinionated country to say the least, but they have a personality that rivals no one. Made In America is a festival that unifies the people. I feel like it’s one of the only music festivals that has a significant meaning surrounding it; that’s just me. That line stood out, and it was great to share that moment with the Americans as they rejoiced in their love of their country. Imagine Dragons is a band that I’m definitely going to check out moving forward, just so I can add some diversity in my catalogue; it’s good to be well-rounded.

The time was winding down before Beyonce graced the stage, but much like last year, before the main headliner, an Electronic DJ raised the metaphorical roof in Philadelphia. Last year it was Skrillex, this year it was Deadmau5. I often forget that he’s Canadian (started his career in Toronto), and that he’s been around for years. EDM is really popular (more so in Europe than anywhere else), and just by the crowd and the amount of pill-popping youth in it, it was a spectacular scene seeing so many people flooded in front of the Liberty Stage to see one man press some buttons and smoke a cigarette (I kid you not, he actually smoked a Cigarette during his set). We weren’t at the stage where he was performing, because we were waiting for Beyonce, but from the screen and overhearing the stage just a few hundred feet away, it was rocking on all levels.

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Meanwhile, waiting for Beyonce, there were more people passing out (they waited 8+ hours in heat), a couple of fights broke out because of people trying to squeeze past for a better few, and a girl threw up literally 2 feet away from me as she was trying to get out of the crowded area (very attractive). The Queen Bey (I really just wrote that) is one of, if not, the greatest entertainer to ever grace a big stage. Watching her on TV with music videos and live performances doesn’t do it justice if you’re not there to really witness her energy. I didn’t think much of her music, but I was excited to see how she laid it down on stage.

When she finally came out, her entrance was very cinematic with her Mrs. Carter World Tour styled videos playing in the background as she royally walked into the stage and went straight into her songs.

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During the course of the hour and a half performance, there was nothing short of perfection on her side as she engaged the audience, maintained a great energy both singing & dancing, and also was systematically timed with the videos, and her wardrobe changes. It was very dynamic the way she put on an actual show. It wasn’t just a performance, it was a show within the festival. Unless you’re a Beyonce fan, you really don’t realize just how many hits she’s had over her career.

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Irreplaceable, Crazy In Love, 1+1, Single Ladies, Run The World (Girls), Halo, and Love On Top, Why Don’t You Love Me, and Get Me Bodied were all songs that she performed, and it was entertaining from start to finish. I don’t listen to Beyonce’s music on my own time, but there’s no denying that she had hits and made (and still makes) good music. What impresses me the most about Beyonce is that she is a pure performer who takes her craft seriously when it comes to her preparation. The same can be said about Justin Timberlake on the male spectrum, but with Beyonce, there’s a level of perfectionism that really left me in awe of what I was witnessing. Towards the end of her set, there was a massive eruption of smoke and millions of little pieces of golden paper that flew around all over the place. Just yesterday I was still finding pieces in my clothes, but it just goes to show you that’s what made it memorable – the little things.

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My friend Sajae told me that I’d become a Beyonce fan after seeing her in concert; that’s not the case, but I did find a new respect for her that I didn’t have for a while, so there’s that much. It doesn’t make me want to listen to everything she’s ever done and will do forever, but I’m glad that I was able to see all of her hard work play out the way it did at Made In America.

It was definitely a different vibe this year for the 2nd annual Made In America festival, and because I was spoiled last year with so many surprises and big time acts, this time around felt a little underwhelming, but there were still gems regardless. The 2nd day was going to feature Black Hippy, Miguel, Solange Knowles, and a host of others that I may have found interest in, so until then, I still enjoyed myself. Stay tuned for Day 2’s recap, but for now check the videos & other photos on my instagram (misterstixx)

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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