Two-plus decades into the game, hip-hop icon Jay-Z is still full of surprises. First there was the lowkey release earlier this summer of 4:44, a terrific back-to-basics collection that easily sits along his canonical records Reasonable Doubt, The Blueprint and The Black Album. Then there was yesterday’s closing set at the Made in America Festival.
After a wide ranging, 90-minute performance touching on everything from “Heart of the City” to “H.O.V.A. (Izzo)” to “Hard Knock Life,” Jay swiftly exited the Rocky Stage after dedicating “Numb / Encore” to the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. The lights around Logan Circle came up, the crowd looked around and, perplexed, shrugged to one another, figuring the show had just come to an abrupt conclusion. As the exodus began, stage lights flickered on over at the festival’s Liberty Stage a little ways down the Parkway.
It was Roc-A-Fella Records affiliate Just Blaze stepping up on the decks, and as music began piping through the PA, the crowd sprinted across the roadway enmasse. Jay-Z had covertly made his way around the back for a rapid-fire eleven-song encore that, unlike most encores in the concert landscape of 2017, actually felt special. As folks jostled to get up close, Jay proclaimed “this is for my day-oners” and mixed up freestyles, deep cuts and guest spots — like his verse on Jermaine Dupri’s 1998 single “Money Ain’t A Thing.”
For another surprise, he brought out Philly son and MIA alum Meek Mill — which, Meek popping up in these situations is not totally without precedent (see Roots Picnic 2013), but it still felt great to see him full-force delivering on “Dreams and Nightmares (Intro),” with Jay chiming in for effect. A rousing “Can I Get A…” and an “Allure” later, and we were once again off into the night.
It was a thrilling way to close out Made In America, and yesterday fared much better than the opening day. D.C. singer-songwriter Kelela delivered a soaring set on the Rocky Stage early in the afternoon. Politically-charged Providence rockers Downtown Boys‘ performance on the Tidal stage was straight fire, while Japanese Breakfast were captivating as always on the Skate Stage. “I’m missing my ten-year high school reunion for this,” said frontwoman Michelle Zauner. “I think I made out better. I wrote on the Facebook event, ‘cannot attend, playing Jay-Z’s festival.'”
Tigers Jaw also played a punchy Skate Stage set, heavy on their emo-pop anthems, light on conversation (to be fair, they did probably want to be expeditious so as not to miss the Twin Peaks finale). Atlanta trap king 21 Savage drew a huge crowd of young folks to the Liberty Stage; Run The Jewels did the same for a less sizeable crew of old heads. Bronx icon Pusha T rocked the Rocky Stage and emerging Canadian rapper Tommy Genesis packed the skate stage.
And then there were The Chainsmokers, who were about as neutral as I anticipated. The NYC duo’s appeal is pretty easy to understand: tested-and-proven EDM formulas sprinkled with catchy pop songwriting hooks, not a terribly large amount of lyrical content to commit to memory — most songs seemed to consist of short, repeated phrases or “woah”‘s — all packaged in an uplifting euphoria and performed by handsome dudes (who are, reportedly, awful people). Was their performance the musical equivalent of shallow, vapid capitalism run amok? Pretty much. Was it insufferable to watch? Not exactly — there were enough decent beats for the ears and fireballs for the eyes that waiting through their hour onstage in order to get a good spot for Jay-Z was tolerable. Is it worth getting riled up over? They’re not great, but there are certainly worse things in the world to commit our energy to fighting.
This is something Jay-Z alluded to during his set, referring non-specifically to the general awfulness of recent…days? Months? Years? “As much hate comes, only love comes at the other end,” he said. “We got to stick together.”
Check out photos from Made in America day two below.
One final highlight of the festival: since today is Beyonce’s 36th birthday, Jay-Z had the Rocky Stage crowd serenade her with two “Happy Birthday”‘s — the traditional version and the Stevie Wonder version. “If you don’t know the Stevie version, just sit this one on the sidelines and watch,” he said.
Check out a full gallery of our Made In America photo coverage below.
- Categorized Under: