With Mayor Nutter as his opening act, hip-hop mogul and rapper Jay-Z stood atop the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps.
His theme: Made in America, the music festival - announced Monday morning - that will take over the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on Labor Day weekend.
Jay-Z, whose given name is Shawn Carter, was saying he embarks on a venture only if it has potential to be great. Just then, a fan shouted, "You're the best, Hov!", a shortening of "Jayhova," one of the MC's noms de rap. Without missing a beat, Jay-Z answered back: "I agree."
That trademark confidence has well served the 14-time Grammy winner, husband of Beyoncé Knowles and part owner of the soon-to-be-Brooklyn Nets. He's risen from hardscrabble beginnings, in the Marcy housing projects in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.
With Made in America, Jay-Z is adding to his resume. It will be a ticketed festival sponsored by Budweiser and promoted by the Philadelphia branch of concert promoters Live Nation, hoping to bring capacity crowds of 50,000 to the Parkway on Sept. 1 and 2. He's doing more than headlining one of the nights. He's also "curating" the festival - handpicking all 25-plus acts that will perform on three stages on what he says will be a "very diverse" musical bill.
He's a proud Brooklynite whose 2009 hit with Alicia Keys, "Empire State of Mind," now rivals Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" as an ode to the Big Apple. So why stage the inaugural iteration of what he hopes will be an annual festival ("It may move around," he says) in the City of Brotherly Love?
"It's such an iconic city," Jay-Z said in an interview after the news conference.
"I have a long relationship and love affair with the city of Philadelphia," the 42-year-old rapper said, adding that it's "the only city to rival Motown. That's really the truth." (That echoed Nutter, who proudly declared that "everybody knows Philadelphia is a great music town.")
Jay-Z cites his history of signing local acts such as rapper Freeway (also with him onstage) and Beanie Sigel, as well as his current collaboration with Will Smith's movie production company, Overbrook Entertainment. "It just all came together."
A "significant" portion of the proceeds will go to United Way charities in the Greater Philadelphia area, according to Geoff Gordon, head of Live Nation's local office, which also spearheaded last year's national "Watch the Throne " tour with Jay-Z and Kanye West.
In working with Budweiser, Jay-Z said, he was also mindful of the tradition of the Budweiser Superfest, the long-standing summer tour series that has featured acts such as Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. "Whenever I enter into a project," he said, "I ask myself, 'Will it push the culture forward?' "
Rob McCarthy, vice president of Budweiser, said Made in America aims to present "the true spirit of America in the place where America was born."
Made in America takes its name from a song on the Jay-Z/West album Watch The Throne about the African American struggle for civil rights. The track mentions Martin Luther King and Malcolm X by name while also celebrating the material achievements of rappers who have risen far above their humble beginnings.
"It's for all people," Jay-Z said. "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. . . . So many people identify with me because of the place I come from."
His motivation for getting into the festival business, he said, is partly to combine an urban experience with the vibe of fetes like Coachella, held annually in the California desert in April, and Bonnaroo, which takes place in Manchester, Tenn., in June. "It will be alive and electric," said the "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" rapper. "Right in the middle of the city. A lot of those festivals will be on the outskirts, so you don't feel the heartbeat of the city."
The idea of hunkering down and playing his own festival has become more attractive, he said, since the birth of his celebrated daughter, Blue Ivy Carter, in January. He called her "amazing" and added that he has "good concentration" on his diaper-changing skills, "a kind of technique that works every time." Since her birth, he said, "I just really want to be around her."
Tickets for the fest, the first Parkway concert event not to be free, go on sale on May 23. Although the star power in addition to Jay-Z is likely to be impressive - the full lineup will be announced Monday - the 50,000 limit per day makes Made In America a much smaller event than, say, Live 8, which pulled in half a million in 2005, or the annual Fourth of July Welcome America! events, which routinely draw hundreds of thousands to the Parkway for music and fireworks.
Live Nation's Gordon said that planning for Made in America - for which two-day passes will initially go on sale at an early-bird price of $99 - began last year. (No word yet on whether single-day passes will eventually be available.) He said he expects the festival - which overlaps on its second day with Bruce Springsteen's Sept. 2-3 stand at Citizen's Bank Park - to be "a really good fit" for Philadelphia. "Where else can you just walk out of your apartment and go to a music festival like this?" he asked.
Made in America is the third major music festival within driving distance of Philadelphia this summer. Orion & More with Metallica headline in Atlantic City on June 23-24 and Firefly, with Jack White, the Killers, and the Black Keys, in Dover, Del., on July 20-22. The two-day MIA affair will be smaller than well-known fests such as Coachella and Bonnaroo, but Gordon said the bill will share "a lot of the attributes of those festivals, and some of the stuff that plays the New Orleans Jazz Fest."
Jay-Z was also tight-lipped about which acts will actually be playing, joking, "I had to take a pay cut. When you negotiate with yourself, it's kind of difficult. So it's kind of a loss to myself. . . . But I won in terms of the other artists, the level of talent I was able to attract."
While careful not to name names - "We'll reveal everything once it's locked down," he said - Jay-Z said that he would "absolutely" be sharing the bill with acts similar to his stature in popularity.
And what about the Roots, the Philadelphia hip-hop band that backed him up on his 2001 Jay-Z: Unplugged live album?
"I'll reach out to them. It's only right. I wouldn't come to anyone's city and not ring their bell," Jay-Z says, and laughs.