PHILADELPHIA –The timing couldn’t have been better. It was about an hour into Jay-Z’s headlining set at the Budweiser-sponsored Made in America Festival on Saturday night (September 1) when the Brooklyn rapper took a short breather, the lights dimmed, and the chants for Beyonce started to rise. Hov’s wife was rumored to perform, but when the screen lit up again, it was Pusha T’s face the crowd saw as the beat for “I Don’t Like (remix)” dropped. Kanye West and Big Sean weren’t far behind him.
The day’s lineup had included everyone from Rick Ross and his MMG crew to Passion Pit, Janelle Monáe and Skrillex, but at 9:30 p.m. it was showtime for Jay-Z. The main stage was set in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which Sylvester Stallone made infamous as the site of his “Rocky Steps.” To begin the show Hov spliced dialogue from his Made in America commercial (which even aired during the London Olympics) and emerged from the darkness over the beat of Watch the Throne’s “Made in America.” Nothing lilke Frank Ocean’s soaring vocals to open up a show.
Jay would follow that up with his “Public Service Announcement,” maybe just to hint at what was coming next: an actual PSA from President Obama, who was broadcast on the big screens on Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin Parkway as he broke down the real meaning of “Made in America” and urged the young audience to vote. Jay-Z, he explained, had not come from power or perfection, and therefore was a shining example of the possibilities that hard work can open up to people from all walks of life.
Hov didn’t add to Obama’s announcement, simply continuing on throughout hits like “Izzo” and “Big Pimpin” before turning things up a bit by summoning State Property to the stage. Beanie Sigel was noticeably absent (due to legal troubles) especially later when Jay and Memphis Bleek performed “Murda Murda” but Freeway, Young Chris and Neef were a welcome sight for the cheering Philly crowd, performing “What We Do.”
Getting back to his set, Jay-Z proceeded with hits like “99 Problems” and even teased the crowd with “’03 Bonnie & Clyde” (playing off those rumors that Bey would join him onstage) before getting into “Empire State of Mind,” bringing out Swizz Beatz for “On to the Next One” and rolling into “Where I’m From.” After that, there was a brief pause, in which Jay thanked Philly for being good to him, and offered a reward in return.
That reward was G.O.O.D Music. Pusha T’s appearance seemed to catch the audience off guard, sending energy levels off the charts, and he was followed by Kanye and Big Sean, all three decked out in black. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” was ‘Ye’s solo hit of choice, followed by another Pusha assist on “New God Flow,” “Cold” and then Big Sean delivering his smash hit “Dance (A$$).”
Common might’ve been the most surprising guest of the night, however, appearing to perform “The Light,” before–finally–it was time for “Mercy.” With Kanye West, Pusha T and Big Sean already in tow, the last missing piece of the puzzle was 2 Chainz, and he wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Perhaps a little disappointing though, was the fact that West entirely skipped his verse on the track, passing off to 2 Chainz who entered to his own bars, but seemed to have a bit of microphone trouble. Despite the slight confusion, it was enough just knowing that Jay had anticipated the effect “Mercy” would have on the crowd.
At this point, what was left to do but close out the show with one song, and one song only? “Paris” ended things with a bang, or maybe that was just the sound of fireworks being launched from the stage as the lights turned off one final time.