Made in America 2019 is here, with Jay-Z’s music festival taking over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia for the eighth consecutive Labor Day weekend.
The festival continues to become more and more of a hip-hop event, streamlining this year by jettisoning the mostly local, indie rock Skate Stage and delivering two big-name headliners in Cardi B on Saturday and Travis Scott on Sunday.
Cardi first played MIA in 2017, the summer of her breakout “Bodak Yellow.” The former stripper and reality star born Belcalis Almanzar returns with an impressive debut album — last year’s Invasion of Privacy — under her belt, and a string of hit singles, including this year’s “Please Me,” with Bruno Mars.
Travis Scott has been riding high since his acclaimed 2018 Astroworld album and tour, and the Houston rapper headlines in advance of the September release of the Netflix documentary Look Mom I Can Fly. In the tradition of Kanye West, Scott’s presence will mean that for many it will be a weekend of potential Kardashian sightings, since he dates and is the father of the child of “self-made” billionaire Kylie Jenner.
There are other big names on the bill. Philly rapper Lil Uzi Vert is one. The emo-mumble rapper and magnetic stage presence took the fest by storm in 2016, and almost salvaged Nicki Minaj’s leaden headlining set last year with a guest appearance.
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And the other main attraction is Lizzo, the twerking, flute-playing, force of nature who also is an MIA repeat performer who was last here in 2017. Her star continues to rise, most recently with a showstopping performance on the MTV Video Music Awards this week.
This list, however, is not about the biggest names playing MIA, but the acts that are lesser-known and worth checking out in the daytime and early-evening hours on what weather forecasters are saying should be a lovely weekend for the streets of Philadelphia.
The acts are organized by which weekend day they’ll be performing. More info and tickets can be found at madeinamericafest.com
Rosalia. Barcelonan singer Rosalia Vila Tobella is a shrewd modernizer of flamenco music. Working with producer El Guincho, Rosalia mixes melodramatic storytelling with modern pop, sampling Justin Timberlake and collaborating with Pharrell. Her album El Mal Querer (The Bad Desire) is inspired by a 13th-century Occitan novel and was one of the standouts of 2018.
Anderson .Paak & the Free Nationals. Is Andre 3000 still walking around town playing his flute? He should take a break and drop in on Anderson .Paak, whose “Come Home” has a guest verse from the OutKast rapper. That’s the lead track on Ventura, singer-rapper-drummer-bandleader .Paak’s silky throwback soul album, which also features sweet guest spots from Smokey Robinson, Brandy, Philly’s Jazmine Sullivan, and Nate Dogg.
Jorja Smith. The next Amy Winehouse? Jorja Smith is a smoky-voiced 22-year-old British soul singer of Jamaican and English parentage. She’s collaborated with Drake and U.K. grime superstar Stormzy, and her 2018 debut album Lost & Found mixes jazz, folk, trip-hop and R&B together with quiet confidence.
Pink Sweat$. The two highest-profile Philly acts playing are Lil Uzi Vert and Tierra Whack, who, like Uzi, also made a cameo at last year’s MIA. But don’t sleep on Pink Sweat$, the R&B singer born David Bowden who sleeps on pink sheets. On two EPs — titled simply Volume 1 and Volume 2 — Bowden impresses with tender, acoustic guitar ballads, like “Honesty,” a demo that landed on Spotify’s Are & Be playlist and has racked up 80 million streams.
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Juice Wrld. Jarad Higgins grew up in a strictly religious household where he wasn’t allowed to listen to hip-hop but was free to discover Fall Out Boy and Billy Idol while playing Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Those rock acts helped shaped the emo-rap sound of the Chicago rapper’s Juice Wrld persona, through which he rhymes about his feelings on songs like “Lucid Dreams” from his 2018 breakthrough Goodbye and Good Riddance and “Hear Me Calling” from this year’s Death Race For Love.
Gucci Mane. On his 14th studio album Delusions of Grandeur, Atlanta trap rapper Gucci Mane reminds us he’s “Special” and an absolute natural at what he does. “I freestyle, don’t even write,” he raps on “Proud of You.” “Don’t even think no more.” Gucci has been productive since he got out of prison in 2016, making his argument that he just might be, according to Noisey, "the most influential rapper of the past decade.”
James Blake. English keyboard player and producer James Blake makes sense as one of the few non-hip-hop acts near the top of the mostly hip-hop bill because in many ways he is a hip-hop act. The dreamy textures of his songs blend seamlessly with trap music production, and he teams up with both Travis Scott and Rosalia on his ghostly new Assume Form.
Megan Thee Stallion. “Hot Girl Summer” is the meme and the hit with Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign that’s blowing this Houston rapper up big time. But she already demonstrated her hellacious talent earlier this year on her full-length mixtape debut, Fever. The Texas Southern University undergrad turned rap star rhymes along with fellow MIA act DaBaby, samples Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and boasts most convincingly on “Money Good.”
Tierra Whack. The rise of the Philly rapper continues as word of her idiosyncratic creativity and lively wit gets around. Last year, Whack released the 15-song, 15-minute Whack World and guested with Meek Mill at MIA. This year, she has been up for a video-of-the-year Grammy, released five new songs, and guested on The Lion King soundtrack at the behest of Beyoncé.
Charly Bliss. Made in America has long since given up booking big-name rock acts, partly, the argument goes, because few young rock bands are big enough to fit the bill. But is that really true? Wouldn’t Tame Impala, who sold out the Mann last week, have been perfect? In any case, if you want rock you must check out Charly Bliss, the terrific New Wavey four-piece Brooklyn band fronted by Eva Hendricks, who will be playing the Tidal stage.