Made In American Festival (Philadelphia, PA)

Made in America, the JAY-Z-curated two-day music festival and a staple of Labor Day Weekend, is in its 10th year in the city of Philadelphia on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It was first announced by entertainer Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter (a well-established New York-based rapper) at Philadelphia Museum of Art on May 14, 2012.
Performances for the weekend took place across three stages:

Rocky, after the famed Sylvester Stallone movie,  where the biggest acts would perform.
Liberty, after the Liberty Bell in historical Philadelphia, where the middle acts would perform.
Freedom, which encompasses the spirit of America, where the up-and-coming acts would perform.

Made in America Festival. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

In the past, this stage featured a lot of electronic acts, but this year many young rappers and rap groups were featured. The festival is committed to uplifting and supporting the Philadelphia community and also features an array of vendors, food trucks, art installations, and carnival games. To date, the Made in America festival has generated over 150 million in economic impact for the city, and each year the festival grows bigger and bigger, featuring a higher status of musicians. Many festivals run three days over a weekend, but this festival is just two days.

Made in America Festival. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

Made In America Festival usually features a lineup of performers, both established and up-and-coming musicians and artists, from various genres including hip hop, R&B, EDM, pop, Latin, and rock. And this year it was clear that there was a heavy Latin influence owing to its growing popularity in the Western world.

 

The first day, Saturday, as we arrived we got to see how beautiful and historical the surroundings of the festival were, right in the heart of Philadelphia and a perfect location to show support for the city. We entered around 2:30 p.m., just in time to catch one of the best up-and-coming artists playing the festival: JELEEL!
Jeleel is a rapper on the rise originally from Rhode Island who has been skyrocketing to fame this past year, not only for his unique sound and voice in the rap game but also for his massive size and outgoing stage presence. Of course he entered Made in American by climbing a 20-foot pool and doing a back clip off of it, landing perfectly on his feet. The video was captured by one of the stage photographers and went viral instantly. This is one of the ways Jeleel has managed to grow his audience. Almost every concert he does goes viral. He also has a song titled “Dive in!” he used to open the festival , followed by “Uncivilized.” Even though I have photographed a couple festivals Jeleel was performing in, this was my first time seeing him live, and I was quite impressed. I also had the pleasure of photographing him in a hallway in Miami and was taken by how calm he was compared to his stage persona.

 

From Jeleel we walked over to see Key Glock. 50 photographers were lined up in the pit, waiting in anticipation for the Tennessee-born rapper. This would be my second time photographing him. I was hoping to change my opinion about Key, because the last time we covered his show his stage presence was stale, to say the least. His team also reached out to the press photographers to say that he had a surprise and hinted towards an acoustic set. But he never ended up showing up. It was later noted on the Made in America phone application that he could not attend due to unforeseen circumstances, although none of us photographers knew that.

 

There was no wasting time from here on. We all hurried to J.I.D. This year, for security purposes, only 25 photographers were allowed at the Liberty stage. The Freedom stage, no one was allowed in the pit, but you could easily photograph from the stage. This made for many frustrated press photographers because it was hard to organize a line of hungry photographers who were there to do a job. So many were left out the first day when the system had not yet been properly organized in a way that was fair. That being said, I got a spot at J.I.D and every concert that I cared to attend on day one at the Liberty stage. Last time we covered J.I.D was back at Governors Ball in Queens, NY. That show was incredible, and I shed tears because I was able to be on stage with him and photograph portraits back stage.

He had just put out “Stick” with Kenny Mason (who also performed on day two on MIA), which has grown to be one of his biggest songs and certainly his most “hyped” song for the mosh pits and crowd work. This time was even more exciting, because last week J.I.D dropped a full length album for the first time in almost four years titled The Forever Story, a play off his first album titled The Never Story, comparing his before self when he thought he could never get from where he was in 2017 to now, where his name and place in the game are cemented “forever.” And it is good. Very good. And just because it has been four years is not to say he has not been putting in work and putting out work, because J.I.D has done multiple collaboration albums, put out tons of singles, and has been performing around the world with the owner of the record label he belongs to, Dreamville‘s very own J.Cole. But this album was a collection of everything he has saved from the past few years, and you could tell it had so much personality to it. He opened up with some old classics such as “Never” and some songs from the new album. The whole crowd wanted “Stick.” J.I.D got into the crowd and got on a light pole so he could be in the center of it all, singing it loud and proud. These are the moments you do not forget.

 

From there we went to the cocaine king pin Pusha T. Pusha is a real legend and a classic from the same graduation class of rappers including Kid Cudi, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, and Meek Mill. He is a seasoned veteran who has taken over as CFO of Good Music (Kanye’s label before he left to focus on other things). Pusha has continued to work with all of the greats and maintains a presence in the rap game but has also consistently put out albums of his own, most recently in April when he dropped It’s Almost Dry, which in my opinion had hit after hit and included some of the biggest in the game, such as Kanye, with whom he still holds a close relationship. Pusha T’s biggest thing is cocaine. From his days growing up in the Bronx and the exposure he had to the drug as a teen, he has made cocaine a part his rap/brand identity. So it was fitting that he lined the DJ booth with bricks of cocaine. For a rapper who is now pushing 45, he put on a great performance that was filled with all your favorites from his early “Nostalgia” song with Kendrick to his most recent work.

 

From there we traveled to see Kodak Black. Kodak is known for his run-ins with the law, getting pardoned by Trump, not having to serve the jail sentence he was originally supposed to, and also some funny, sometimes controversial interviews. But regardless of what you think about Kodak, a lot of people love the Florida-based rapper and love his music One of those people is also one of the best rappers alive, Kendrick Lamar, who hardly included anyone on his last album but chose to include Kodak Black on what was a well-received song. As noted before, only 25 photographers were permitted at the Liberty stage. So 25 of us waited in anticipation while Kodak’s DJ came out and talked to the women of the crowd about which one he would bring on stage.

Part of the DJ’s job is to warm the crowd up, a “hype-person.” They do not typically play the artist’s songs but use other famous songs that the crowd loves so the crowd will be ready to receive the musician. The DJ was warming the crowd up for 45 minutes until he walked off stage, the lights went on, and the crowd starting throwing water bottles. Kodak never came out, but he did show up to a club later that night in Philadelphia to perform. Later it came out that Kodak was late to the performance, and therefore his set was cancelled by the festival. He then spoke out and said that he has never been late to a show and now he is late a few minutes and they cancelled him, and thats not cool for the fans (in very different words).

 

After this incident we left the stage but not for long, because we could not miss our favorite showman Lil Uzi Vert. Lil Uzi has been on the rise for the last few years, and this year seems to be his year. He has been in the limelight more than ever with countless hits and publications. This would be the fourth time this festival season that we got to witness Vert in action. We could not stay for long, but we made sure to capture him and his new Mohawk haircut. He does not disappoint.

 

From there we headed to the last set of the night, headliner Tyler the Creator. Tyler has come a long way since his debut single “Yonkers” from 2011. For a couple of years there he was continuing to work with his rap group of now known successful rappers individually such as Frank Ocean. He was putting out MTV shows and trying very hard to be a part of everything. But one thing Tyler never stopped doing was putting out project after project, each project so different from the last, each project growing a little more into who he is today, and with each project he grew a bigger and bigger cult following that eventually led to his most recent album. That exploded his cult following into everyone being a Tyler the Creator fan and Tyler being universally accepted across the globe. This album, Call Me If You Get Lost, won him rap album of the year ahead of fellow nominees Nas (King’s Disease II), J. Cole (The Off-Season), and Kanye West (Donda). (Drake pulled out of that category, withdrawing Certified Lover Boy from consideration in December 2021.) This says a lot, and we won’t go into his other projects outside of rap such as his presence in the fashion world, but it is big.

Tyler’s set for Made in America was detail-oriented and delicate, like a Wes Anderson film. He entered the stage with a hiking stick and hiking backpack on, climbing up foam-made grass hills and a mountain-projected backdrop. This would be his last show of his long tour for Call Me if You Gert Lost. The energy he brought to the show was incredible. He laughed, cried, sweat in a jacket, talked to the crowd, and announced he would be moving onto a new project. You could tell he was very grateful to be there with all of us and grateful he has been able to gather this much success in his career. It was an incredible, genuine, and humbling performance from Tyler the Creator to end day one of Made in America.

 

Sunday, day two, started as the we press photographers lined up for Tate McRae. Tate is a 19-year-old Canadian singer. She originally rose to fame in Canada at age 13 for a dance competition but then got a record deal for RCA Records in 2019. She has had multiple viral hits over the years on both YouTube and TikTok and has grown a massive following on Spotify and Instagram. Her performance did not disappoint in the slightest. She talked kindly and seemed to be grateful to the crowd; she has performed at the festival before and expressed her gratitude for being back at the festival.

Tate McRae. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

 

From there we went to Rels B / Flakk Daniel.  Daniel is a Spanish rapper and reggaeton artist who left home to work as a waiter and lay bricks at the age of 15. He is also a dedicated producer. Rels took the crowd by storm at the Liberty stage. The crowd could feel his presence and the joy in his smile. He went from a song with a Latin groove and went from that to a song with a heavy rap/reggaeton grove. He also brought out a fellow rapper with him and they went line for line. For those who don’t know, reggaeton, also known as cachenge in South America, is a form of Latin rap music typified by the tempo of the beat and bass that originated in Puerto Rico more than ten years ago with well-known rappers like Daddy Yankee and has grown into the Western mainstream with artists like Rosalia and Bad Bunny.

 

From there we walked over to the king of Colombia and the South American Latin community, Ryan Castro. Ryan is 28 years young and has been making music in the mainstream for more than five years now. He is rising fast, bringing the stage presence with him. Castro stepped out onto the stage with a whole band and back-up dancers with him. You could tell his energy was pure, and he spoke in Spanish to his fans, who knew every word to his songs, about being grateful to come all the way to Philadelphia to perform at Made in America festival and how it was a dream come true. He opened up with his well known hit “Jordan,” which is a classic reggaeton heavy-bass beat with fixed auto-tuned lyrics.

 

After Ryan, I decided to walk to the other side of the festival to the small Freedom Stage to catch the up-and-coming young Atlanta rapper newly signed to Dreamville Records, Kenny Mason. Kenny is featured on multiple tracks with J.I.D, who performed on day one of the festival and is a seasoned top rapper at Dreamville, J.Cole’s record label, most notably “Stick,” which is their new hot single. Kenny did not disappoint. The crowd was surprisingly small, and they just kept yelling “Stick.” When he played it, they went crazy. The fans next to me in the front row still were not very familiar with who he was, so, needless to say, he has a ways to go but is still making more waves than rappers who have been a part of the label since its inception.

 

After Kenny, I went to the press booth to line up for the latest addition to the Made in America lineup, Don Toliver. I wont speak much on Don’s performance. He showed up 20 minutes late, the lights were off, the sound was off, and the photographs were bad. It was mostly out of his control, but by the time the three songs had played, anyone who wanted to be one of 25 photographs on the Liberty stage for Burna Boy had to leave quickly. I suspect his set got better from there, but I was not present for that.

 

So let’s talk about Burna Boy. It is not often that you have the top artist in the Latin world and the king of Africa at the same festival. When I saw Burna Boy next to Bad Bunny, I knew I had to be present for this historical event. Burna Boy has had a very consistent rise since his beginning in music. Originally from Lagos, Nigeria, he pulls sounds from traditional African, Caribbean, and also new wave British grime music. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Burna Boy’s first album listening parties in L.A. That was in 2018. His rise since then has been incredible. He came out on stage and mentioned that he almost did not show because he hurt his leg, and you could see he was limping around the stage, but people loved it. It was a rare opportunity for fans to see Burna Boy at a festival like this. He also just released an album a few months ago, and many are saying it is his best yet, with countless hits. This has continued to put Lagos on the main stage.

 

From Burna Boy we finished of the festival with one of the hottest artists in the world, not just the Latin world but the whole world. Bad Bunny has transcended the language barrier, pulling in fans from all over who love him for who he is, what he does, and what he represents. He has sent waves and changed the culture of music in the Western world, influencing some of the most influential musicians and stars on the planet. Benito Antonio Martínez Ocasio (born March 10, 1994), known professionally as Bad Bunny, is a Puerto Rican rapper and singer. His music is defined as Latin trap and reggaeton. In 2020, he became the first non-English language act to be Spotify‘s most streamed artist of the year. His career began at age 14 on SoundCloud as did the careers of many artists, and he quickly grabbed the attention of labels which got him started. Like many well-known musicians, he has gotten better and better year after year. His fame continues to grow, his message continues to be spread, and his fan base has not reached its limit even though he has 60 million monthly listeners on Spotify.

Bad Bunny. Photo Credit: Rafael Avcioglu

For his headlining show at Made in America, he came out to screaming fans. The VIP area, which was half full for Tyler the Creator, was packed for Bad Bunny. There were flags from every Latin country, not just his home Puerto Rico. People had paid for the festival just to see Bad Bunny, because the price of a nose-bleed seat in a stadium is about the same price as a day pass at MIA. Fans had been waiting on the rails since the early morning just to be as close as possible to Benito. He played all of his hits, not just his recent album. He had dances of all shapes and sizes as he is big on inclusivity. He talked about how Latin people make the world and that we are America. He talked about his love for Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rican people. As a Puerto Rican myself, it was a dream to photograph him and be part of that moment in time. The vibe all across the crowd was one big party. All ages, all people. It was beautiful. And you could not ask for a better way to end a festival like Made in America.

 

 

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