The very first time I heard “Made In America” was in August of 2011 at The Rose Planetarium. Jay-Z and his lil’ bro Kanye West smiled as they presented their joint album, Watch The Throne, to an invite-only audience. Lyrics like “I’m tryin’ to lead a nation to leave to my lil’ mans, or my daughter…” hit home, and by the end of the song, the theater was quiet as some of the hardest names in hip-hop dabbed at the corner of their eyes.
That feeling returned as I left the Philadelphia Parkway Sunday night (Sept. 3) to the sounds of Pearl Jam rocking out together for the first time since 2006. If day one of the Made In America festival was filled with jam-packed performances, meeting personal heroes and hanging out with the artists of my iTunes catalog, then day two was about reflection and personal motivation.
We kicked off a rainy Sunday morning with brunch at Ms. Tootsie’s. After munching on shrimp and grits and their famous sweet tea, we fought off the itis and dragged ourselves to the park just in time to catch Santigold. The crappy weather made for a less crowded park, so I ventured over to check out some of the vendors.
There were lots of booths to choose from. The NAACP of Pennsylvania urged everyone to take a second to register to vote, while local DJs took the time to chat directly with listeners. I found some amazing art from @FlyGirrl and @Ameerahkart and gorgeous earrings from Diva Ears. Drake even had a booth set-up selling exclusive OVO gear, including a dope bright red hoodie embroidered with their signature gold owl.
I continued to wander around talking to strangers as Jill Scott took the main stage and put on for her city. Jilly from Philly covered all of her hits, looked amazing and sounding like smooth, velvet perfection. I made it back just in time for Gary Clark Jr.’s encore performance. Clark opened the festival the day before, but now on the smaller stage (with Beyonce, Jay-Z and Rita Ora off to the side), the Austin, Texas native took the crowd through a bluesy/soul/rock journey playing a different set list from day one. Of course, he killed it.
Back in the artist village, OVO land was being created. Tyler the Creator and the Odd Future crew looked on as staff erected the Drake Hospitality Suite. (Make no mistake: OVO is a movement.) Between a half dozen production assistants in OVO tees, several massive security guards and about fifteen friends and family–including Noah “40” Shebib, Drizzy’s producer/engineer)–the Toronto native had the largest clan at the festival. But the support was most evident as he emerged from his trailer dressed in all white. Drake stopped to take pictures with Darryl “DMC” McDaniels who’d just come off stage for the first time with Rev Run since the death of Jam Master Jay. Then he steadied himself in a massive huddle for the pre-performance prayer with his crew. OVOXO indeed.
While Drake and company filed out, I hung back to catch up with 2 Chainz. Worried about the crowd spotting him, the 6-foot-5 rapper darted up the famous Rocky steps and hid behind a pillar until Drake segued into “No Lie.” The crowd went bananas as Tity Boi took the stage, performing his verse then his hit “Spend It” before heading immediately back on the road to make a D.C. performance later that night.
Drake proclaimed, “Now THAT’S how you bring out 2 Chainz!,” referencing the technical difficulties that left 2 Chainz with a faulty mic for his “Mercy” performance the night before.
As Drake finished the rest of his set, I looked out over the crowd of thousands–of all ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds–and recalled a conversation I’d had earlier in the day with a friend of Jay’s. The corporate attorney brought his two sons to Philly because they’re all fans of the music. When I told him my favorite song was “Juicy,” the 40-something Long Island native expertly rapped all the lyrics then shared with me his philosophy on life. “I’m just a regular guy. I worked hard and I do well for myself. I feel very fortunate that I’m able to do the things I do, so I know I have a responsibility to give back.”
Instantly, “Made In America” came back to me. By all stretches of the imagination, Shawn Carter isn’t supposed to be Jay-Z. He was supposed to be incarcerated or worse. Instead, he’s redefined what’s possible, not just for the hood, for everyone. It made me proud, of him, of Hip-Hop and of everyone who can continue to put aside personal stereotypes and just enjoy the music.
Frank put in best: Sweet Jesus, we made it in America.–JasFly (@JasFly)