After his press conference with Mayor Michael Nutter this morning, Jay-Z sat down for an interview with me atop the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art where Rocky Balboa stood to talk about the Budweiser Made in America festival he's headlining and curating. It'll take place on September 1 and 2 on Labor Day weekend on three stages, one of which will be a giant DJ tent, on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
That's where Live 8 drew half a million people in 2005, but the two-day ticketed festival will be on a much smaller scale. It will be limited to a capacity of 50,000 per day, according to Geoff Gordon of concert promoters Live Nation, and Jay-Z - a.k.a Shawn Carter - will headline one of the two nights. The full line-up will be announced May 21, and tickets go on sale on May 23 at Ticketmaster and LiveNation.com with early bird two day passes going for $99 plus ticketing fees, and a "significant" portion of the proceeeds going to United Way charities.
With Mayor Nutter, the husband to Beyonce, father to baby Blue Ivy Carter and part owner of the soon to be Brooklyn Nets - who also goes by the nickname "Hova," said that the Fest "will be a great day for Philly." When a fan called out "You're the best, Hov!," he replied "I agree." Then he pressed the flesh with the fans, before sitting down to talk.
Question: So why are you doing this festival in Philadelphia, and why now?
A: It's such an iconic city. It's time, and I have a long relationship and love affair with the City of Philadelphia. And as a lot of people may know, I signed a lot of artists from here and there's my relationship with Will Smith and James Lassiter in Overbrook to do films. It just … it all came together.
(The hip-hop mogul's Philadelphia signees in the past have included rappers Beanie Sigel and Freeway, the latter of whom was on stage with him along with Mayor Nutter. Overbrook Entertainment is the production company run by Smith, his wife Jada and Ken Stovitz that have been discussing producing a remake of Annie starring the Smiths' daughter Willow and presumably featuring Jay-Z's hit "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)," which samples Annie.)
Q: Is New York going to be mad at you about having the festival in Philadedelphia?
A: No, I've done so much for New York. I continue to do a great number of things for New York, as well as the opening of the Barclays Center [in Brooklyn] with my performances. So I took care of home as well.
Q: What's the significance of the 'Made in America?' The song by that name on Watch The Throne is about the struggle, for African-Americans, and also your own achievement. How does that apply to this festival?
A: It's for all people. It's for all… it's the hope that America is built on. That you can make it here. Just strengthening that theme that America is a place of opportunity and hoping to inspire people to fulfill those opportunities, and to want more, and to want better, and to see the places we can go. So many people identify with me because of the place that I come from.
Q: So you see yourself as a someone whose story can inspire those hopes and dreams?
A: Yes, of course. And continue to inspire.
Q: Will you have new music out before the festival?
A: I thought I'd be inspired to ...but with everything that's happened in my life with the birth of my daughter and everything, it's actually had the opposite effect. I just really want to be around her.
Q: You're not going to tour as much?
A: I'm going on a European tour tomorrow, but yes. (Laughs.)
Q: And how is the baby?
A: Fantastic. She's amazing.
Q: Five months old?
A: Not five months yet, but we're getting there. 4 ½.
Q: How are your diaper changing skills?
A: Pretty good. I have a good concentration, a kind of technique that works every single time.
Q: Are you going to headline both nights?
A: No, no. One night only.
Q: You could argue that there's nobody as big as Jay-Z, but will there be other headliners on your scale on the bill?
A: Of course. Absolutely. I had to take a pay cut. That's the only thing .. when you negotiate with yourself, it's kind of difficult. So it's kind of a [financial] loss to myself. .. But I won in terms of the other artists, the level of talent I was able to attract.
Q: It's going to be wide ranging, musically?
A: Yes. 'Cause I've always believed in good music over bad music. I believe in two sorts of musics. And the lines that separate us, I don't believe in that. That's for people who need to easily define what they're hearing. Me, I'm cool with everything and anything I'm hearing that's music. It comes under one definition for me.
Q: You've played other festivals like Bonnaroo, and Coachella. How will this compare? Will it be more urban, in every sense of the word?
A: When you say urban, it will be like a city vibe, yes. It will be alive and electric, right in the middle of the city. You know, a lot of those festivals are on the outskirts of the city so you don't feel the heartbeat of the city.
Q: Is Dwight Howard coming to New Jersey, or Brooklyn I mean, to play for the Nets?
A: I don't know, I have no idea. Only Dwight Howard know that. He had a chance to come there already, so I don't know, I have no idea.
Q: The festival is happening on Labor Day weekend, which has been the traditional start of the Presidential campaign in earnest. You've been a big Obama supporter in the past. So will Made in America have a political platform?
A: I didn't view it as that but it can be. You know how things work. Do a great show, United Way gets involved, local charities help the greater Philadelphia-New Jersey area, all those things work together. I'm not opposed to it. I'm open to any idea.
Q: Can you give me any names of people playing?
A: No, we'll reveal once everything is locked down.
Q: But it'll be diverse in many ways?
A: Very diverse.
Q: How about Philadelphia acts – You've signed Freeway. You signed Beanie Sigel back in the day - how are things with Beanie these days?
A: I haven't spoken to him. I guess he's cool.
Q: The Roots, probably?
A: Sure, sure. I'll reach out to them. It's only right. I wouldn't come to anyone's city and not ring their bell. (Laughs)
Q: Do you envision it as an annual event?
A: Yeah, but it may move around.
Q: So Philadelphia is perfect to start …
Q: Plus there's great urban music from here...
Q: What's your favorite Philly soul song?
A: Oh man, that's a difficult question. Everything ... all that stuff is amazing. The only city to rival Motown. That's really the truth.