“From Marcy to Madison Square,” Jay Z is the paragon of hip-hop’s American Dream. If he can make it, so can you. That feel-good, bootstrapping mentality forms the core of Jay Z Made in America, the documentary chronicling the rapper’s 2012 Philadelphia music festival of the same name. The film, helmed by Ron Howard, premiered last night on Showtime and features extended concert footage and interviews with headliners Jay Z and Pearl Jam as well as other artists and local residents. Rolling Stone recaps the most memorable moments.
Politics as Usual: Jay Z explains that his impetus for Made in America was to create a multi-genre festival in which people of all backgrounds can mesh. “Made in America could become a place where people of all cultures gather and have fun being themselves,” he says. The rapper vehemently states that he’s “not an elected official,” yet his words could foreshadow a new hip-hop political platform: “America is now being accepting of all cultures,” he says. “We have a black president now. . . . We’ve made steps as far as racism. Now we have to make steps towards sexism, gay rights. . . . We’re all people at the end of the day. . . . We all have that belief that you can make it here in the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
Strange Fans: “I love big shows like this because there’s people I normally don’t get to see,” says singer Jill Scott. Artists get starstruck too, and footage of Tyler, the Creator desperately looking to meet Jill Scott or Jay Z and Beyonce bopping to Gary Clark Jr.’s set are sweet. “I wanna meet Jill Scott,” Tyler says obsessively as he and Odd Future go through the trailer area calling her name.
Skrillex Class is in Session: Skrillex offers to give Ron Howard a lesson in DJing, which proves to be as hilarious as the premise sounds. The director struggles, wearing his Beats by Dre headphones, and proceeds to ask a series of obvious yet endearing questions: “Is it what you’re hearing and feeling or more of what people are responding to?” “Does your heart start beating?” “Do you get out of breath and stuff like that?”
Janelle Monae’s Black & White: Janelle Monae recounts her humble beginnings growing up in a working class family and how she herself worked as a maid. In a particularly poignant moment, the singer explains that she wears only black and white onstage not as a fashion statement, but out of deference to her family, who wore uniforms in their menial jobs. “When I was a maid, my mom was working as a custodian,” she remembers. “We both had on our uniforms and you know, knew what time it was.”
Back to 560 State Street: In a full-circle moment, Jay Z visits his old Brooklyn apartment at 560 State Street, which he name-checks in “Empire State of Mind” as his “stash spot.” “We woke up, ate breakfast and ran the street,” Jay recalls of the place he shared with his cousin. The drugs, black leather couches and piranha tank he lived amid have since been replaced by a family currently residing there with a toddler son (who has no interest in playing Peekaboo with Jay, despite the rapper’s attempts). The rapper goes to the rooftop of the building for the first time, and is shocked by the clear view of two of his business investments below, Barclays Center and the 40/40 Club. Not even Jay is ready for the significance of the moment. “Oh shit! You trying to make me cry, man?” he asks.