Jay-Z waxed outraged, last Thursday on social media, at having been called a ”capitalist” for his diverse business ventures and their wild fiduciary successes — this after having once famously said, “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man.” But watching the fruit of Hova’s labors where his Made in America music festival was concerned, if making money and bringing together crowds for prime hip-hop and chart-topping Latin artistry is wrong, who needs to be right?
The annual Labor Day weekend, two-day event in Philadelphia’s Art Museum area, partnered with Live Nation, found fresh ways into reinvention, relevancy and paying customers in the name of capitalism especially with the deep participation of international artists on Sunday. Bad Bunny’s second-night headlining set was the main attraction, but Burna Boy, Chimbala, Snoh Aalegra Fuerza Regida also went a long way toward globalizing this year’s Made in America.
Here’s a breakdown of the Sept. 3 and 4 events that made Made in America great:
The Baddest Bunny
Bad Bunny arrived coming off of his multi-month chart-topping album, “Un Verano Sin Ti,” last weekend’s VMAs artist of the year victory, two selloout nights at Yankee Stadium and a same-sex kiss. To say that Made in America day two was packed with people dedicated to hearing the heroic headliner doesn’t say quiet enough about his high, inventive level of artistry or the intensity of the Spanish-speaking, Puerto Rican-flag-waving crowds who adore him.
Sitting in a lawn chair and decked out in an all-red shorts, vest and sunglasses ensemble, Bad Bunny surveyed the crowd while sipping a cocktail as if taking into account the day’s rich tapestry of multi-ethnic performers that changed MIA forever, broadening its scope and welcoming new flavor and faces to the crowd.
“Made in America, Latinos make America,” Bad Bunny told the MIA masses; “it’s important that we remember that.”
Starting alone on stage with the rich, reggaeton vibes of “Moscow Mule,” while bouncing on his heels, Bad Bunny’s set blossomed to welcome a team of dancers and a sonic booming soundtrack that included squelchy electronica that would’ve made Depeche Mode green with envy, heavenly house music, and traditional Latin grooves with syncopated pianos. From the jumping pulse of “Un Coco” and “Party” to the deliciously flavorful “Yo Perreo Sola” – all rap-sung in his sweet round baritone – Bad Bunny proved himself to be a multi-genre, multi-ethnic pleasure to behold, no matter who beheld him – brown, Black and white, one nation under a groove.
The Eternal and the Creator
Even if Philadelphia wasn’t their hometown, Lil Uzi Vert’s set would’ve been triumphant. Donning a kingfisher’s mohawk, huge red sunglasses and armed with a deadpan-yet-soulful flow, Uzi ran through a furiously energetic, pyrotechnic-filled set of spaced-out emo bangers and blissed out, AutoTune-heavy space ballads. “I hope you’re all ready to rage because I’m ready to lose my mind,” Uzi announced before lunging into “Rockstar (Party With the Demons)” and “All My Friends Are Dead.” That Uzi’s set came right before the increasingly ingenious Tyler, the Creator spoke volumes about both icons and MIA/Live Nation’s trust in invention and all-out weirdness. Because thankfully, even though Tyler has won Grammys (his fifth album “Igor,” won for best rap album) and mainstream acclaim, he’s still fabulously odd. From his trademark Ushanka hat, walking stick and verdant, mountain staging, to his screams, whispers and crooning through newer tracks such as the propulsive “Corso” to the hauntingly emotive “Come On, Let’s Go,” you could hear and feel a newfound universality. And openness, considering that older Tyler tracks performed at MIA, such as the aggressively moody “IFHY” and several other angular oddities, were cluttered with noise, overly dense rhythms and dazzlingly complex rhyme schemes.
One thing Tyler did say, under his breath during his headlining set’s middle, was that “this is the last show of this era. Let’s do something special.” However one interprets that, Tyler, the Creator certainly managed to bring the peculiar and the unique to the stage while reaching out to fans old and new.
Who is this guy?
MIA Day One started with an amusing quote: “You might not know me, but you know my music.” That was RocNation-signed singer-songwriter Dixson speaking, an artist better known for co-scribing Beyoncé’s Oscar-nominated “Be Alive,” Justin Bieber’s “Holy” and tracks with Chance the Rapper. Yes, he’s got an album out, 2021’s “Darling,” and yes, hearing his smooth, raw, acoustic guitar-filled set at MIA, together with his sexy new single “Cherry Sorbet,” might’ve made you want to re-listen to “Darling” with fresh ears.
Glowing up with GloRilla
One of this writer’s picks-to-click for 2022 (Cardi B and Travis Scott like her too) is Memphis-based GloRilla, a rapper whose collab with Hitkidd, “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)” is still summer’s steamiest anthem. Live, GloRilla did not disappoint. Together with her matching cheerleader-outfitted dancers, Glo & Co. twerked, middle finger-wagged and ripped their way through a sweet, hard, 808-pounding set that included her summer anthem, her rough riding “Tomorrow,” and her TikTok track (and shout out to Jay-Z) “99 Problems.” Good stuff.
Toro y Moi plugs in and programs
It’s been written, repeatedly, how MIA was once more of a mixed-bag-bill at its start with alterna-rock giants and EDM artists next to R&B and hip-hop acts. Not so much any longer, which is why the appearance of indie electronic act Toro Y Moi and its synth-phonic leader Chaz Bear was crucial. Sounding like Tame Impala, Chaz, his fellow programmers and a guitarist made atmospheric psychedelic disco of the grooviest order.
JID’s Forever Story starts here
Deep, wobbly-voiced Atlanta rapper JID’s new album, “The Forever Story,” is dynamic, weird and catchy in all the right places, and yet is getting slept on due to its August’s end release. Wake up, everybody. The album is bold and, as a live performer, JID was flashy, smart-rapping, oddball fun – a welcome tonic to some of the blander rappers on the MIA slate. And he’s theatrical. Starting his set with clips of him with the Columbia film studio torch-bearer, JID took control of his cinematic a voice as thick as his bass lines and his signature stutter-step flow racing at breakneck speeds.
No one can cast doubt on the wise lyricism, strong rhythmic interplay and hitmaking abilities of Pusha T, who has played Made in America so often (2022 was his fourth appearance), he’s an honorary Philadelphian. Still, with little but braggadocio, cutting enunciation and deep programmed beats to guide his way, his set paled in comparison to the energy, invention and overdrive of two rappers who would follow him on MIA Day One – Lil Uzi Vert and Tyler, the Creator.
Life of a Don
Kicking around the fringes of success since his Houston, Texas mixtape days of 2018, trap R&B-centric, sing-song-y rapper Don Toliver has been waiting for his moment to shine beyond making hits with Travis Scott (“Can’t Say”). His surprisingly long set on day two of Made in America might have been Toliver’s breakout moment. From prancing around an oversized mushroom-filled stage to the shockingly rich harmonies of tracks such as “After Party” – to say nothing of a variety-filled set of slow songs, rapid-fire ravers and everything in-between – Toliver made an impressive, lasting live showing on Sunday.
MIA’s reach into international waters
The second, more crowded day of Made in America – estimated at 50,000-plus, some 15, 000 more than day one – benefitted from its reach into the inclusivity of diverse ethnicities and musical genres at the top of their game, and hopefully the future of where this (and other American festivals) should go. Certainly, Nigerian pop-hop superstar Burna Boy was at the top of the list with his smooth and salty vocal delivery, his clattering percussion and a large-ensemble whose energy wouldn’t quit. But from early Sunday afternoon until night’s fall, acts such as Dominican rapper Chimbala, enigmatic Colombian vocalist Ryan Castro, sultry Persian-Swedish chanteuse Snoh Aalegra and the 14-piece, two-tuba-filled, pink jacket-wearing, Mexican-American corrido ensemble Fuerza Regida ruled. Fact is, almost nothing was more fun at MIA than hearing Fuerza Regida at its fullest Spanish-language flower with lead singer Jesus Ortiz Paz as its front person. Bold stuff, this.
Every year, Made in America comes with gossip, in-person and on social media, as to possible guest performances. The fest’s CEO and Beyoncé always sit atop that list, especially since Sept. 4 is her birthday. The power couple usually stroll through the crowd, and Bey gets a birthday song from the masses. Not this year. Another usual MIA guest, Philly’s Meek Mill, was rumored to be playing with fellow local Lil Uzi Vert’s set to prove there’s no bad blood between he and Hova after Meek’s split from Jay’s RocNation management months ago. Didn’t happen. Meek was hosting a Sunday party in Vegas with socials signaling his arrival a day early. The most fun rumor, however, was that Kanye West – a one-time MIA headliner – was on the premises, hanging with Uzi Vert backstage, and set to perform a Sunday Services gospel-hop sermon the next day. Nah.