“You’ve been so good to me, Philadelphia,” Jay-Z said moments after wrapping a monumental hour-long headlining performance at his own Budweiser Made in America Festival. “Now I’m gonna be good to you.” The rapper’s gift? A seven-song encore from his frequent partner-in-crime, Kanye West, and members of the Chicago emcee’s G.O.O.D. Music crew, which on Saturday included Big Sean, Pusha T, Common and 2 Chainz. The unexpected concert-within-a-concert, which included West hits “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” and the crew’s latest collaborations, “Mercy,” “Way Too Cold” and “New God Flow,” was capped off with Jay returning onstage to perform Watch The Throne’s “N***as in Paris” with West as fireworks lit up the Philly sky.
The night, however, was all Jay’s. It’s debatable how much curatorial influence the rapper had over the two-day affair, but from the moment he sauntered onstage, bobbing up and down à la Rocky Balboa, and donning a black fitted t-shirt emblazoned with an Egyptian portrait, matching jeans and red-and-black Jordans, Jigga appeared ecstatic to be playing host. In fact, it was often hard for him to contain his elation: at one point in the show he stopped a song mid-verse to admire the throngs of people spread across Fairmount Park. He also made sure to pay his respects to the host city several times throughout the night. (“I have a long love affair with Philadelphia,” he said.)
Fans expecting a setlist heavy on deep cuts may have left feeling slighted: Jay, backed by a seven-piece crack band, stuck to a career-spanning greatest-hits set, dropping turn-of-the-century cuts like “Big Pimpin'” and “Izzo (H.O.V.A.),” as well as contemporary smashes such as “99 Problems” “Empire State of Mind” and “On To The Next One,” featuring assistance from Swizz Beats. He did slip in rarities: Memphis Bleek emerged for the Philly-honoring anthem “Murder Marcyville (South Philly N***az)” and Ruff Ryders-compilation classic “Jigga My N***a” also popped up.
Skrillex, who boarded his now-well-known stage starship and launched off into a practically unabating, hour-long frenzy of his typically wub-centric fare, preceded Jay-Z on a side stage. The show’s captivating 3D projectors and bizarre visuals – think crazed Bollywood dancers and screaming Santas – made for a performance that took the phrase “Festival of Lights” and gave it an epileptic, 21st century update. The set’s only analog moment came near the end, when the DJ waved a lighter during his remix of Benny Benassi’s “Cinema.” The crowd, naturally, mimicked him with their cell phones.
Unlike the relentlessly-touring Skrillex, D’Angelo’s set was a rare treat. Aside from a July appearance at Essence Music Festival and a surprise jam session at Bonnaroo with Questlove, the reclusive R&B master hadn’t played a headlining show in the US in over a decade. “It feels so good, Philadelphia,” the neo-soul singer said midway through his amped-up set, which he topped off with an extended take on his new funk number “Sugar Daddy.” Backed by a 10-piece band, the singer let his frighteningly-fierce falsetto fly and fluttered about the stage armed with a monogrammed, silver-lined flying-V guitar. The highlight came mid-set when he took the stage alone, sitting down at the keyboard for a tender take on his signature hit “Untitled (How Does It Feel).”
With the festival’s very first set, Gary Clark Jr. brought his distortion-heavy, up-tempo Southern rock to the parkway, soloing early and often. Festivalgoers who braved peak sunlight were duly rewarded as the Austin-bred songwriter played a new song, “Ain’t Messing Around,” off an album due out this fall. Clark closed his high-energy and technically sound set with an extended version of his hit song “Bright Lights” that lasted nearly eight minutes.
The day’s first true spectacle came courtesy of Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group. The recent Rolling Stone cover star, who unleashed his trademark bark nearly two dozen times over 45 minutes, was joined by his labelmates – Wale, Meek Mill, Rockie Fresh, Stalley – for a mass display of wealth and excess. Each shared the spotlight: Ross charged through cuts new (“Hold Me Back”) and old (“Hustlin’”); Philly native Mill cut loose on “House Party”; and Wale got things underway with “Chain Music.”
The dance tent came alive when fans took shelter from the sun for an early-evening performance from Scottish DJ Calvin Harris. A festival fixture, Harris has his 90-minute set down pat: the EDM star let pop-infused kicks, whooshes and thuds rain down on spazzed-out fans, more than one of them wearing a hat that read: “I don’t get drunk. I get awesome.”
Once Janelle Monae shed the cloak she was wearing when she came onstage mid-afternoon, everyone – the crowd, Monae, and her 13-person, black-and-white-clad backing band – went more than a little nuts. Monae flew through an impeccably-choreographed set that included an inspired cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.” At set’s end, she played “Electric Lady,” a bouncy, bongo-infused groove off of her forthcoming second album.