Jay-Z, J. Cole + Rapsody Make 'Made In America' All The Worthwhile [Recap]
Jay-Z, J. Cole + Rapsody Make 'Made In America' All The Worthwhile [Recap]
Photo Credit: Arik McArthur for FilmMagic

Jay-Z, J. Cole + Rapsody Make 'Made In America' All The Worthwhile [Recap]

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Photo Credit: Arik McArthur for FilmMagic

Despite the horrible weather, the two-day extravaganza known as 'Made In America' was full of highlights, classic tunes and memorable moments.

It's 66 degrees and raining in Philadelphia on this first Saturday in September. Automated messages from the Made In America app about cooling tents seem comically out of place. Maneuvering for dry spots around the many Budweiser bars has begun as the rain becomes more aggressive. However, die hard fans draped in everything from 4:44 ponchos to garbage bags stomp along in the soggy grass to their favorite artists.

The brave, bored or too inebriated to care, strap themselves into a carnival swing and scream defiantly into the gray sky. Others huddle on the Ferris wheel for an unparalleled view of the muddy, musical mayhem below.

For the college students in the surrounding area Made In America is the sweet spot between move-in day and the first day of classes, so all care is tucked between their extra long mattresses back at the dorm. A little bit (ok, a lot) of rain is not going to ruin this moment. And that is what festival season is all about. For a modest fee you can be a free spirit. For attendees, regardless of the weather, being here is better than watching it at home—because that is definitely an option thanks to the TIDAL stream. But like all forms of music consumption now there are tiers. These are the fans that want more than a tweet or an Instagram story post. In an era where their peers thrive on consuming and providing second-hand experiences, this is something you have to feel for yourself.

During the inaugural year in 2012, Budweiser’s Made In America Festival was anchored by its founder, Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter. Things were a little different. TIDAL didn’t exist. He was a year removed from his collaborative project with Kanye West, Watch The Throne. Barack Obama was in his second term as President of the United States and appeared via satellite to offer his thoughts on what it meant to be an American.

North Carolina MC Rapsody had just released her debut album, The Idea Of Beautiful, days before the first Made In America Festival, but today she was on the main “Rocky” stage kicking things off for thousands as rain peppered her camouflage jacket. She was flanked by the cover to her new album Laila’s Wisdom, which she just announced a week prior with a single, “You Should Know,” featuring Busta Rhymes. Even a cursory listen to Rapsody’s catalogue will find many, many Jay-Z references, especially on her breakout performance on Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion” (“That’s the real blues, baby, like you met Jay’s baby…”) so being here is a dream come true.

“For this to be my first Made In America, not just performing at, but attending [and] being on the main stage at that. It was an amazing experience,” she says reflecting on her show. “I don’t know how to really put into words because you’re so busy on stage living in the moment. Like wow, I remember where I started. And now I’m on the main stage at Made In America where J. Cole is gonna perform and Jay-Z is gonna headline tomorrow night. It was just another bar. You’ve come a long way. Embrace it all and have fun.”

Sunday was the first time Jay-Z performed songs from his 13th studio album (and 14th chart topping release) 4:44 and I joked with Rapsody that she’d have priority seating as a Roc Nation signee. She demurred.

“I don’t mind standing in the crowd. That’s the best way to view it, to be in the mix with the people. To see Jay and not his back, that’s the best way to experience any show. I learned that from Jay Electronica. You always see him in the crowd. That’s the best seat in the house.”

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY. Source: Human Nature Magazine

A few hours into the day and the rain is decidedly more intense. The “passing” showers are hanging around like bodega cats on the bread shelf. The app notifications have slowed and the ground is littered in crushed cans, dropped calls and managed expectations. The latest (and smartest) addition to the line up, Cardi B, once joked on Vine that “Hoes don’t get cold,” but as she struts out onto the “Liberty” Stage dipped in sparkles that are still outshined by her buoyant personality, the first words out of her mouth are “It’s cold!” But it’s soon an afterthought as she raises the temp on the stage with her now ubiquitous punch lines and bombastic squats, closing with a triple-scoop of her hit “Bodak Yellow” before the crowd files out to watch her boo Offset perform with his Migos.

One of Philadelphia’s rising stars is in the audience and is taking careful mental notes. Producer and composer Anthony Markeith aka Antman Wonder has production or co-production credits for songs by Rick Ross, Royce 5’9”, Joey Bada$$ and more, but even this waterlogged festival scene has lit a fire under him.

“I enjoyed seeing people enjoy themselves,” he says. “That’s a large part of why I do music. Just inspired to make people feel something. They stood out in the cold rain for that feeling. I want that.”

After five hours in the rain I am reminded of the difference between a “water resistant” jacket and a waterproof one and retreat to dry out, buy a cheese steak and recharge.

Day two attendees have the advantage of sunshine and paramedics scooting around on Segways to ensure their fun and safety. The five-second rule is in full effect as a $7 slice of pizza is rescued from the ground after a collision. A rubber blow up doll is being passed around like accountability at the White House. One very excited blonde makes several failed attempts to climb a lamppost to get a better view, but gravity is not her friend. The dry heat has inspired more drinking and careless ambulation, the logical set up for the midday appearance of anti-heroes Run The Jewels. Killer Mike and El-P have just touched down from Ireland and promise the City of Brotherly love that they’ve “Come to fuck shit up like Clubber Lang.”

Cell phones go up as they launch into “Legend Has It” and just a few bars into “Blockbuster Night” a fight breaks out right in front of us. The audience swallows up the roughhousing before security can even react and the only warning Mike offers is for pervy dudes to keep their hands off the women in attendance. It’s the closest thing to a political statement we’ve gotten today. With the exception of free fans being handed out by ACLU volunteers stamped with “Resist,” there has been little mention of America’s 45th president. It’s hard to say if it’s fatigue or indifference but there will be no speeches from politicians, pre-recorded or otherwise, today. However, Mike does dedicate an encore of the emotional “Down” to the recent victims of flooding in Texas.

If America is looking more inward than usual Jay-Z ‘s performance was timely as ever. Inexplicably flanked on stage by a giant, metallic balloon animal Hov looks comfortable in a white hoodie and Roc Nation baseball cap. It’s a night to pop your collar and be reminded of your own worth, what you’ve contributed to greatness. Or be inspired by it.

As if to nod the West Indian Day Carnival taking place in his home borough the next day, he opens with thundering horns of Sister Nancy’s “Bam Bam” with Damian Marley in tow as he pivots into the evocative “Bam” from 4:44. He follows that with the classic “P.S.A.” and continues oscillating between old and new tracks. At one point it feels as if he is sub-tweeting Kanye with his own songs, running through “No Church For The Wild” and “Lucifer” before offering, “We just gotta stick together more than ever. Support each other more than ever.” By the end of the night Jay will oversee a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday” being sung to his wife, Beyoncé, a mosh pit for “99 Problems” and a surprise encore set at the more intimate TIDAL stage where he gifted fans with rare b-sides. No one saw it coming but it’s the most Jay-Z move you can imagine.

“The fact that he had a bunch of young, suburban college kids going nuts after almost 30 years or so of being around makes a great statement for the longevity of hip-hop,” Antman says after the performance. One of his earliest compositions was a live recreation of Jay-Z’s “Bring It On,” which can be found on the Ode To Reasonable Doubt collection. “This being one of the youngest genres of music in its existence, it’s major to see it break that stigma that it’s solely a young man’s game. I’m a big Jay-Z fan but even a bigger fan of what he symbolizes and represents.”

Jerry Barrow is the founder of NODFACTOR and a veteran journalist with stints at The Source, Scratch Magazine and The Urban Daily. Follow his work (and ours!) on Twitter @JLBarrow.