Philadelphia’s Made in America Festival started off on shaky ground this year, due to disagreements between the festival’s organizer, Jay Z, and the city of Philadelphia, its home for the past 7 years. But it seems Jay and Mayor Jim Kenney had an agreeable follow-up meeting as this year’s MIA Festival kicked off successfully in its usual home, the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. And Saturday’s festivities were a strong showcase for why the festival belongs exactly where it is.
The highlight of the night, for many, would come towards the end of the evening when the reigning King of Philadelphia would grace the main stage for a homecoming party of sorts. The man of the hour, of course, was Meek Mill, who was all smiles throughout the entirety of his hour-long set Saturday night. But long before he took the stage, Philly fans were treated to a slew of acts, ranging from fellow homegrown talent Armani White and Orion Sun to New York treasures like Fat Joe and newer sensation/internet troll Tekashi 6ix9ine.
But Made in America has never been just a showcase for the locals. Jay Z and his team have always striven to include an array of artists spanning genres and generations, bringing in talent from both near and far. Early on in the day, Canadian rapper Preme would bring out rising star Tyla Yaweh to perform their newly released track “Goals.” And despite the Labor Day weekend humidity, Tyla donned a purple and silver suit as he crowd-surfed. Preme also performed tracks like his Post Malone collab “Jackie Chan” and his Meek Mill hit “Realest in the City.” It was a fun, lighthearted set, perfect for the early afternoon.
Preme’s set was followed up by fellow Canadian act Jessie Reyez, the young singer/songwriter responsible for penning hit tracks like “One Kiss.” Her set was empowering and important, especially when she performed her song “Gatekeeper” which Reyez based on her experience dealing with sexual misconduct in the entertainment industry. Her highly emotional performance was met with rousing approval from the largely female crowd in attendance. It’s no wonder why Reyez is gaining such attention lately, having just recently found herself with two appearances on Eminem’s surprise album release just this past week. Jessie Reyez is definitely a rising talent.
Meanwhile, on the other stages, the crowds at Made in America were splitting their time between a diverse set of acts, like Shoreline Mafia, Bloodpop, Kweku Collins and Sabrina Claudio. Those who couldn’t find something to satiate their interests could be found exploring a wide variety of festival experiences, like the Ciroc Lounge. Over at the Abercrombie & Fitch lounge, some people were even getting haircuts from local barber Faheem Alexander, who is known for his work with the homeless population in Philadelphia.
But by 5:00, it seemed like everyone had gathered for 6lack (pronounced black) as he took the Liberty stage. Unfortunately, due to issues with his vocals, 6lack was forced to perform a truncated set.
At 5:45, just as Fat Joe was set to take the stage, the DJ announced Tekashi 6ix9ine’s arrival and the crowd of teenagers ran for the stage from all directions like the stampede scene from the Lion King. Say what you will about 6ix9ine, but he definitely attracts a huge crowd as evidenced on Saturday evening.
In contrast to 6ix9ine’s set, where the 22-year-old runs around wearing just his “name brand boxer shorts,” the follow up set from hip-hop veteran Fat Joe felt refreshing. The Teflon Don brought out classic after classic, in an effort, as he put it, to teach the youth. He seemed wholly aware of the fact that the younger crowd wasn’t well-versed in his music, and he didn’t seem at all bothered by it. If anything, he was there for the older crowd, and his fans appreciated every minute of it. From tracks like “Lean Back” and “What’s Luv” to newer hits like “Attention” and “All The Way Up,” Joe proved he’s still got it.
But perhaps one of the best performances of the entire weekend came from Janelle Monáe, a Made in America Festival veteran. Monae performed a thoughtful and well-choreographed performance, proving yet again that she is a multi-talented performer. She performed songs from her newest album like “Pynk” and “I Got The Juice” along with older favorites like “Electric Lady,” “Primetime” and “Tightrope.”
To cap off the night, Made in America Day 1 finished things off with back to back sets from Meek Mill, Zedd and rising star Post Malone. Repeatedly throughout his set, Meek expressed his desire to keep things light and fun. This was his homecoming party and the young MC was enjoying every minute of his moment in the sun. But at the same time, he also seemed humbled by his experience. Early on in his set, he mentioned all of the people who stood by him and supported him through his ordeal. People like festival organizer Jay Z and the Sixers owner Michael Rubin. Meek also seems to understand his newfound role as a spokesperson for prison reform, taking a moment to discuss the issue as well as black on black crime, especially here in the city. His track “Trust Nobody” was performed in front of a rotating set of photos of young black men who lost their lives to gun violence, by the police or their own communities. “Wins and Losses” was an ode to the fact that he was headlining Made in America despite everything he’s been through. In an homage to his city, he brought out rising Philly talent Tierra Wack and PnB Rock. But of course, the crowd was most excited to sing along to “Dreams & Nightmares,” the song that took the city by storm when the Philadelphia Eagles used it as their hype song this season.
Closing out the night, Post Malone would prove that he’s definitely a “rockstar,” performing hit after hit on the main stage. He’s quiet and reserved, as he sips from his red solo cup. And he’s especially hard on himself, for someone who has had so many number one tracks in such a short time. But, while Posty seems humble, the fact that this was his second time performing at Made in America was definitely not lost on him as he performed “White Iverson,” the song that brought him to everyone’s attention. Ending things on a perfect high note, the young rapper from Texas sang his track “Congratulations,” an ode that paired perfectly with a night well done for Philadelphia.
Photo Credit: Raymond Flotat