Made In America Festival: Janelle Monáe, Nicki Minaj, Alessia Cara, Kendrick Lamar & More Ignite Ben Franklin Parkway

Made in America Day 1: Janelle Monáe, Meek Mill, Saba Dazzle on Saturday

Made in America returned to the Ben Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia for the last time in the foreseeable future. The venue, which stretches from near the Rodin Museum all the way to the Rocky Steps, has played host to the Jay-Z curated festival since its inception in 2012. Recently, reports surfaced saying that the festival would not be returning to its home for over five years (but possibly staying in Philly).

If this is indeed the last time Made in America will take place in the heart of Philadelphia, the festival went out with a bang there, showcasing a veritable who’s who of hip-hop artists. Meek Mill returned to his hometown after his release from prison. Janelle Monáe proved why she’s one of the most dynamic live performers around. Nicki Minaj brought her brand-new record Queen to the table. And King Kendrick showcased why he’s a powerful addition to any festival lineup, even if he came into the picture late in the game. And further down the line, there was plenty of rising talent, from Saba to Saweetie to Lil Skies. Check out the highlights for Saturday and Sunday below:

Saturday, September 1

Janelle Monáe

All hail the “Electric Lady”. Janelle Monáe stunned the Liberty Stage by bringing a selection of her acclaimed latest record, Dirty Computer, to life. After being rolled out on a stretcher across the stage, Monáe ascended an elevated platform to perform “Crazy, Classic, Life”, complete with a backup dance crew accentuating her sharp, robotic movements. Another early highlight saw the singer survey the crowd from a gold throne installed atop the platform during the fiery single “Django Jane”.

Throughout the set, Monáe emphasized self-love and acceptance (especially on “I Like That” and “PrimeTime”). On the latter, the vocalist said, “No matter how you love or who you love, you’re welcome here tonight,” before giving way to lead guitarist Kellindo Parker’s searing guitar solo. At the very end of that track, Monáe also shouted out, “We love you Prince!”

And though Prince was clearly an influence, later Monáe also seemed to pay homage to Michael Jackson’s style and dance moves with set highlight “Make Me Feel”. She then moved onto penultimate track “I Got the Juice”, bringing up a few fans from the crowd to “dance like it’s your last time dancing.” Between that and the final song “Tightrope”, it’s safe to say Monáe was as “damn electric” as any artist of the weekend.

Meek Mill

One of the largest crowds of day one gathered at the Rocky Stage to see hometown hero Meek Mill perform his first Philadelphia concert after his release from prison — a cause championed by festival founder Jay-Z in a New York Times op-ed, who wrote, “For about a decade, he’s been stalked by a system that considers the slightest infraction a justification for locking him back inside.”

Mill wasted no time in igniting the crowd with recent single “Millidelphia” as he roared, “They wanna see me in the cage, I’d rather see me in a Wraith.”

The experience clearly has made it to the forefront of the rapper’s artistry, as he also declared, “Meek Mill has dedicated himself to justice reform” before launching into another powerful protest anthem, “Stay Woke”.

The enormous audience also took in the massive spectacle of the show, complete with smoke, fire and fireworks — as well as guest spots from other Philly artists PnB Rock and Tierra Whack. The set wrapped up with a massive rendition of “Dreams and Nightmares”, with Mill urging the crowd to “wake the neighbors up!” As the crowd erupted in raucous cheers, it seemed like Mill stirred up the entire city.

Saba

 Technical delays made for a delayed start to Saba’s set, but the Chicago emcee emerged onstage as soon as he could and quickly won over the crowd at the relatively isolated Skate Stage. The Windy City rapper’s acclaimed recent effort Care for Me works through his grief around the death of his cousin Walter Long Jr. (AKA the artist DinnerWithJohn), which led to some powerful moments live. On “Life”, Saba rapped, “I know ‘Pac was 25, I know Jesus 33 / I tell death to keep a distance, I think he obsessed with me” before showcasing his speedy flow. The emcee proved expert at commanding the crowd, orchestrating a call and response during “Broken Girls” and hitting a high with an energetic performance of his collaboration with Chance the Rapper, “Angels”.

Elsewhere at the festival, The Driver Era got the crowd going early with their breezy pop rock. “I’m an actor when I’m not onstage,” singer Ross Lynch said. “I make playlists for the characters I play. If you know the words, sing along and boogie a bit.” The band then launched into a spirited cover of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” before later closing out with their hit “Preacher Man”.Tyla Yaweh woke up the main stage crowd with his high-energy set. Riding on the shoulders of a security guard, the emcee descended off the stage and into the audience for rowdy renditions of “Gemini” and “Wild Life”, prompting multiple mosh pits. Yaweh also emerged during Preme’s set to perform their recent collaboration “Goals” for the first time live. Jessie Reyez took down the male-dominated, misogynistic culture of music industry execs with a powerful performance of “Gatekeeper”. Kweku Collins won over the crowd at the Skate Stage with his banter — tossing out Twizzlers and even borrowing a GoPro camera from a fan to record from the stage on “International Business Trip”. And Post Malone led massive singalongs of singles like “Better Now”, “Psycho” and “Candy Paint” from recent album Beerbongs & Bentleys to close out the main stage on day one.

Made in America Day 2: Nicki Minaj, Pusha T, Alessia Cara Close Out Sunday with a Bang

 Sunday, September 2

 Nicki Minaj

 By just after 10 p.m. on Sunday night, there was only one act remaining for Made in America: Nicki Minaj. In perhaps the last time an artist would perform in front of the iconic Rocky Steps as part of the festival, Minaj fittingly sent off the 2018 edition with a bang.

Arriving with her backup dancers in hooded robes, Minaj slowly paced onstage before ascending a throne fashioned with two unicorns. She ignited the crowd from the get-go, tearing through sultry performances of “Feeling Myself” and “Truffle Butter”. She also proved she was willing to share the spotlight — with her dancers, fans from the crowd and special guests.

It seemed that throughout the weekend, whenever any DJs needed to warm up the crowd before the set began in full, they’d turn to A$AP Ferg’s “Plain Jane”. So when Minaj brought out the Harlem rapper to perform its remix, the crowd unsurprisingly lost their mind.

Later in the set, Minaj also showcased her flow with a near a capella rendition of her verse from “Monster”, backed only by the thunderous drum beat of a live drummer. On her penultimate track, Nicki ascended the throne to perform “Chun Li”, as she furiously bellowed, “They need rappers like me!” At the end of the day, though, she took a more sentimental route, closing out the set with “Moment 4 Life” as fireworks brightly burst overhead to close out another year of Made in America.

 Pusha T

 

Pusha T repped his new record, DAYTONA, proudly declaring it the “rap album of the year.” The rapper showcased his impressive, deliberate flow — one of the top artists of the weekend to avoid using too much backing vocals. With his trademark ad-lib “yeugh”, King Push ran through some of his latest tracks like “If You Know You Know” and (fittingly) “What Would Meek Do?”.

Pusha T also waxed nostalgic a bit, reminiscing about how “Philly was the first place to embrace me and Clipse,” his former hip-hop duo. The emcee paid tribute to his old group by throwing it back with “Grindin’”.

However, it was Pusha T’s collaborations that got the crowd most hyped. When the rapper unleashed cuts like “Mercy”, “Don’t Like”, “So Appalled” and “Runaway”, the crowd went wild, emphatically providing the chorus for the latter.

 Alessia Cara

At the beginning of her set, Alessia Cara polled the Rocky Stage crowd — and found that many people were staking out a spot for Kendrick Lamar’s set, which was to follow. However, Cara battled to win over the crowd song by song through her set. She joined the two drummers of her live band with her own kit on “Wild Things” and took over guitar for “Outlaws”.

Later in the performance, Cara unveiled a rendition of “Where I’ll Go” (of Moana fame), kickstarting a massive Disney sing-along among the main stage audience members. The singer saved the best for last, keeping the energy going on soaring takes of “Scars to Your Beautiful” and her Zedd collaboration “Stay”, which really showcased her powerhouse vocals — and left the crowd buzzing leading up to Kendrick Lamar.

 Kendrick Lamar

 Kendrick Lamar ignited one of the rowdiest main stage sets of the weekend. Kicking things off with the video of the Fox News sample (as heard at the end of “BLOOD.”), K.Dot launched into “DNA.”. Although the set touched upon his critically lauded DAMN., there were plenty of throwbacks to the good kid, m.A.A.d city era. The crowd went wild for “Swimming Pools (Drank)”, “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, “Backseat Freestyle” and “m.A.A.d city”. In one of the more unique moments of the set, King Kendrick shined a light on the Philly hip-hop scene by inviting Bri Steves onstage to perform her single “Jealousy”. Otherwise Lamar kept the set moving at a brisk pace, closing out in about 50 minutes with “Alright” and “HUMBLE.”.

Also on Sunday, Buzzy Lee had the tough task of opening the Tidal Stage as fans were still trickling in. Supported by a guitarist, Lee played the keyboard mostly throughout the set, drawing in an audience with her gentle croon — perfect listening for a chill start to the afternoon with tracks like “Coolhand” and “Walk Away”. Up next on the Tidal Stage, Saweetie helped ramp up the energy, backed by some killer backup dancers. The Bay Area rapper kept her set short and sweet, getting the crowd to go wild for her biggest hit, “ICY GRL”.One of the most hyped audiences of the weekend gathered for Lil Skies’ Liberty Stage set. The young Pennsylvania emcee exploded onto the stage, hopping onto the amps in front of the crowd to hype everyone up. The fans responded in kind, opening up multiple mosh pits as soon as tracks like “Under Pressure” and “Signs of Jealousy” hit. Lost Kings brought their dynamic energy to the Freedom Stage. The LA-based DJ duo showcased their broad range of genre influences, sampling everything from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Otherside” to The Killers’ “When You Were Young” to Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” — all sandwiched between massive bass drops, naturally. Nick Shanholtz led the charge, repeatedly flying off the DJ console and hyping up the crowd at the front of the stage.

Photos by Cathy Poulton except Saba, Kendrick Lamar, Post Malone, Kweku Collins, Nicki Minaj by Killian Young

 

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