The Budweiser Made In America festival turned five Saturday with Jay Z's perennial Philadelphia music festival drawing a crowd of more than 46,000 to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for an all-day, multigenre (but hip-hop-heavy) event at which all concertgoers could agree on one thing: Rihanna.
Every Made In America has been headlined by an R&B or hip-hop bright light in Jay Z's inner circle: Beyoncé, Kanye West, or Hova himself. This year it was the 28-year-old Barbadian superstar. She took the stage at 9:40 on a cool and comfortable summer night, starting off slow and simmering with the ballad "Stay" before kicking it up a notch with a version of her 2010 ode to codependency, "Love The Way You Lie."
Rihanna's new album, Anti-, her first in six years, is noteworthy in that it has maintained her commercial hot streak while stretching musically and daring to de-emphasize the steady diet of bangers that have served her so well over a decadelong career. Her MIA set followed Anti-'s lead in that it took its time in building momentum and employed her underrated pipes as a hook singer with subtlety and restraint, before hitting the crowd hard with "Live Your Life" and "Run This Town."
After hitting peak energy with the soaring "Diamonds," Rihanna took a moment to urge the audience to register to vote - "The power is in your hands." It's something she can't do "since I wasn't actually made in America."
The bill on MIA opening day wasn't uniformly strong. Other than indie wunderkind Car Seat Headrest, the rock highlights were few. Last year, the fest took a big step forward with a strong selection of Philly indie bands, but there are fewer this year. EDM headliner Jamie xx delivered an intelligent evening of electronic dance sounds as a warm-up to Rihanna, but his set was short on thrills. From top to bottom, Sunday's bill looks to be stronger this year.
As night fell on the first night of the festival, Lil Wayne and 2 Chainz - the rappers who have teamed up to become ColleGrove and were the biggest pure hip-hop act on the Saturday bill - came alive.
That was particularly impressive, considering the shape that Lil Wayne seemed to be in late Friday night in Philadelphia, when he was a surprise guest with his old protégé Drake at the Wells Fargo Center.
"I am DEFENSELESS and mentally DEFEATED and I leave gracefully and thankful," he tweeted. "I luh my fanz but I'm dun."
The talk of what seemed to be his imminent retirement had hip-hop Twitter all atwitter on Saturday.
Yet there the New Orleans rapper was, less than 24 hours later, blond dreads tied behind his head underneath a black leather ball cap, seemingly in perfectly good spirits. He bounded about the stage with his guttural-voiced Atlanta cohort (and special guest Philadelphia rapper Freeway) while the crowd rapped along with pretty much every line to songs like "Lollipop," "No Worries," and "Mrs. Detective." Lil Tunechi, you're a trooper.
Also causing a stir Saturday night was New Orleans rapper and producer Jay Electronica when he urged hundreds of fans to join him on the Liberty stage.
"Let's collapse this stage," Electronica called out.
The stage did not collapse, but police did clear it and the camera platform.
"How's everyone doing?" Will Toledo asked the 5 o'clock crowd on the Tidal stage, where up-and-coming acts performed following video introductions. "Drunk, I hope."
Toledo himself - who records as Car Seat Headrest, also the band's name - looked extremely sober, bespectacled and wearing a dark suit and purple tie.
Fronting a four-piece in his fourth appearance in Philadelphia in the last year, the Virginia-bred and now Seattle-based songwriter again delivered a set that made it clear what all the considerable fuss is about.
The 24-year-old opened with "Fill In The Blank," from his 2016 release Teens of Denial. The best rock act of the weekend, barring a major upset.
First up on the Made In America main Rocky stage on Saturday was hometown rapper Lil Uzi Vert.