Philadelphia’s annual Made in America festival made its return to the Ben Franklin Parkway this past weekend. Many in Philadelphia and beyond were well aware that going into Labor Day weekend, the major event was on the tail end of a rather contentious few weeks in the press recently. A public spat between event founder Jay-Z and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney erupted in mid-July over the future of Made in America, an incident which was quickly mitigated by a promise from Kenney to keep Made in America on the parkway for years to come. In what could certainly be considered an extra boost to ensure that the hype for the festival remained high, the festival added rap mogul Kendrick Lamar to its already stacked hip-hop leaning lineup just a few weeks later.
For the 2018 edition of Made in America, rap ruled all. Major headliners in years past such as Coldplay, The Chainsmokers, and Rihanna offered balance and contrast alongside their headlining rapper counterparts (i.e. Jay-Z, J Cole, 2 Chainz, Lil Wayne, etc,) but this year’s festival was spearheaded by rap superstars Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone, Nicki Minaj, and Philadelphia’s very own Meek Mill (pictured, above). The Tidal Stage featured two days worth of stacked lineups featuring a plethora of the biggest up-and-comers in rap, most notably 19-year-old sensations Sheck Wes and Juice WRLD, inventor of the highly popular “Shoot” dance Blocboy JB, and California-based group SOB X RBE (not to mention popular rap mainstays such as Lil B and Jay Park.) The lineups at the Tidal Stage were no doubt part of a well-crafted marketing strategy deployed by organizer Jay-Z to help brand his streaming platform, Tidal, as being the most in-the-know streaming service in the game. Props. That being said, the absolute slew of white suburban teenagers that congregated by this stage for the entire weekend to wile out (shove each other around in sub-par mosh pits while yelling the the N-word repeatedly) was something I had little issue avoiding. It is also worth noting that Tekashi 6ix9ine, who pled guilty to sexual misconduct with a minor, showed up about two hours late to the festival, pushing the entire schedule back by a full hour. Unlike Made in America headliner Nicki Minaj, I am not a fan.
Along with several other prominent rap artists scattered throughout the festival (6lack, Fat Joe, and Pusha T who is fresh off his highly successful Kanye-produced Daytona), the diverse array of singer-songwriters and bands were a big hit. The wonderful and youthful Daniel Caesar put on an impressive performance, wooing the crowd with his smooth and melodic voice echoing balad after balad. Delivering a slightly underwhelming performance, the highly successful singer-songwriter Miguel fell a bit flat in both his performance and choice in pants (spoiler alert: they were lime green.) Hardcore hitters Show Me The Body and Turnstile destroyed their sets on the Skate Stage along with rap sluggers ASAP Twelvyy and JPEGMAFIA. Buried in a corner off the grid of the main festival grounds, the Skate Stage acts ripped it up directly next to a large group of local skaters who were ripping it up in their own respect on the rails and half pipes connected to the stage by the hip. The crowd faced the stage standing in dirt and grass, and the dust kicked up in the pits gave my black outfits a solid gray coating. It’s called fashion, look it up.
The proximity of the festival’s main stage, the Rocky Stage, to the Liberty Stage knocked out two birds in one stone while avoiding any overlap or sound bleed. Those waiting it out in the packed Rocky Stage crowd for the nighttime headliner performances (myself included) were treated with a very convenient distance from the Liberty Stage, who started when the Rocky Stage went quiet, and vice versa. It was a very nice setup that allowed the crowd to experience electronic mainstays like Zedd and Diplo, all while retaining their spots for headliners like Post Malone and Kendrick.
The electronic stage was chock full of popular names in 2018, such as the Chicago buds Louis The Child, EDM sweetheart Anna Lunoe, the shy yet groovy Cashmere Cat and “Indian Summer” mastermind Jai Wolf. While I personally did not frequent the electronic stage, the oontz oontz’s were audible throughout the festival and never failed to put a little smile on my face and a pep in my step.
The headlining artists were truly hit or miss this year. Day one beasts Meek Mill and Post Malone dominated the weekend with energy, quality of performance and overall crowd reception. Meek celebrated his grand coming home party with his Philly crew out in full force, including but not limited to Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons of the 76ers, and local celebrity Bam Margera who I met backstage in what I can only understand as a glitch in my simulation. What the hell was he doing there? I won’t question it.
Meek ran through an explosive set full of CO2 cannons and enough production involving fire to roast smores for a nation. Tracks like “House Party” and “Millidelphia” were absolute slam dunks. Meek, who was recently released from prison after being sentenced under questionable circumstances (see fest organizer Jay-Z’s statement), came more than ready to not only celebrate, but offer solid speeches on criminal justice reform and the ongoing fight for the reform of a system in which he himself has faced years of difficulties.
Post Malone’s production, live performance and humble attitude left the crowd completely satisfied. After a captivating intro Posty dove in. Oldies were played out generously (including fan favorite “I Fall Apart”,) on top of newer hits from his second debut album, Beerbongs and Bentleys, including a personal favorite of mine, “Paranoid.” Closing off with a nonstop delivery of his biggest hits like “Rockstar,” “White Iverson,” and “Congratulations,” Mr. Malone’s performance was a reminder as to why he is one of the biggest names in the industry.
Kendrick Lamar did not deliver the set of the weekend. His set felt rushed and the production and quality of performance was not up to par with the major performances from the first night, with quieter sound and a far tamer level of production. The crowd was visibly less enthusiastic as well, save for a few of Lamar’s massive hits like “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and his verse on Travis Scott’s “Goosebumps” (Scott, whose fan base goes by “ragers”, is known to have one of the the wildest live shows in rap to this day.) However, as Lamar’s performance progressed, to my genuine surprise, the crowd in front of me began filing out in droves, most likely to get a good spot for Diplo nearby at the Liberty Stage. Having expected the set of the weekend from Lamar, the only thought I could muster was, “Damn.”
Nicki Minaj, although bringing out stars such as Philly’s own Lil Uzi Vert, A$AP Ferg and *sigh* Tekashi 6ix9nine, did not take the set of the weekend either. On top of taking the stage late, the quality of production and performance was overall subpar compared to the night before. The additional starpower in the form of her several guests was necessary to keep the energy and atmosphere alive, and I believe this speaks volumes.
Made in America has done plenty of good for the city of Philadelphia, and will continue to offer Philly music fans a star-studded lineup in their own backyard. Over the years the festival has experienced a considerable amount of growth, and the experiences and positive impacts that Made has brought and will continue to bring to Philly in years to come serves more than enough reason to overlook the rough patches.— DYLAN LONG