This year, more than ever, Made in America is a hip-hop festival.
In its infancy, Jay-Z's fest brought in big-name rock acts like Pearl Jam and Nine Inch Nails. But the last time anybody of that ilk topped a bill on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Labor Day weekend was the considerably softer Coldplay in 2016.
This year MIA — which is no longer sponsored by Budweiser, so good beer should be available — is topped off by a bevy of big-selling rappers.
Not only do we have former paramours Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj, playing on different days so they don't have to be kept out of each other's sight lines backstage. There's also wildly popular Beerbongs & Bentleys rapper and guitar strummer Post Malone, and — much more formidably — the great Compton emcee Kendrick Lamar.
Recently, MIA has included a contingent of Philly-area indie rock acts, showing off the burgeoning scene. That aspect is gone this year, though there are a smattering of rock acts, mostly hard-core punk bands such as Code Orange, Turnstile, and Show Me the Body. A few 215 up-and-coming rappers dot the undercard, including West Philly's Armani White, North Philly teen upstart Zah Sosaa, as well as Orion Sun, the stage name of folk-soul singer Tiffany Majette.
The fest, which is now slated to stay on the Parkway for years to come after the city's plans to move it were nixed following an outcry, will go till midnight on Saturday and 11 p.m. on Sunday. Twelve recommended acts from among the total of 70 scheduled are highlighted below. Made in America tickets are available via Ticketmaster.
Kendrick Lamar. Hip-hop fans on the fence about whether or not to go to this year's MIA on the basis of the initial headliners now have no excuse. The late addition of Kendrick Lamar makes it a no-brainer, adding a culturally crucial Pulitzer Prize-winning must-see attraction to the top of the bill. Sunday on the Rocky Stage.
Meek Mill. Is Meek Mill the biggest star on the MIA bill? No. But there's no question that this year's MIA essentially belongs to the North Philly rapper born Robert Rihmeek Williams, who will be playing his first hometown show since getting out of jail on bail in April. The reception to his Saturday night set should be something to behold. Saturday on the Rocky Stage.
Janelle Monáe. One not to miss. Monáe's 2018 album Dirty Computer weaves personal themes and frank sexuality into her hyper-hybrid R&B-soul-pop-funk-rock stylistic blend, and it contains her most fabulously Princely jam to date in "Make Me Feel." An incredible live performer, returning to MIA for the first time since 2012. Saturday on the Rocky Stage.
Turnstile. Never fear, rock-and-rollers: Made in America isn't entirely devoid of hard-slamming music made with guitars, bass and drums. The Saturday lineup includes Turnstile, the Baltimore fivesome whose rhythmically adept hard-core punk is reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine. Sunday on the Skate Stage.
Saba. The Chicago rapper first gained widespread attention for his verse on "Everybody's Something" on Chance the Rapper's 2013 Acid Raps. His tender 2018 album Care for Me is grief-stricken, melancholic, and in keeping with the strain of thoughtful, highly articulate hip-hop made by follow Chicagoans like Chance, Noname and Jamila Woods. Saturday on the Skate Stage.
Nicki Minaj. She's been in the news of late for comparing herself to Harriet Tubman and snapping back online at fans who dare question her artistic direction. But whether you consider the title of her new album Queen an accurate sobriquet or an affront to Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, or Cardi. B, there's no question that Minaj is a magnetic presence and a manically creative rapper who has few equals when it comes to wicked wit and technical proficiency. Sunday on the Rocky Stage
Diplo. Along with Elvis Presley and Rae Sremmurd, Diplo is the biggest thing to ever come out of Tupelo, Miss. The DJ-producer born Thomas Wesley Pentz got his career going in Philadelphia, however, mashing up global beats with gargantuan pop hooks at Hollertronix parties at the Ukie Club just outside Northern Liberties in the mid-'00s. This the Major Lazer hit maker's first time at MIA, and he'll be scooting over to the Fillmore for a post-fest after-party presented by his Mad Decent label. Because for Diplo, the night is always young. Sunday on the Liberty Stage.
Pusha T. This is the second consecutive MIA for Pusha T, the Virginia Beach rapper born Terrence Thornton, who made his name along with brother Gene "No Malice" Thornton in Clipse in the '00s. Now past 40, Pusha is still going strong, with this year's Daytona, a tight, effective rap album produced by Kanye West, and release of notorious Drake diss "The Story Of Adidon." Sunday on the Rocky Stage.
Miguel. Like Janelle Monáe, Miguel is an expert genre splicer, a Los Angeles in-betweener — he's of African American and Mexican American background — who expertly mixes swoony R&B with hip-hop, soul, and guitar-fired rock that typically arrives with a surplus of erotic energy. His latest, War & Leisure, has an added political component that reflects the times. He returns to MIA after previously playing the fest in 2013. Sunday on the Liberty Stage.
SOB x RBE. Made in America is teeming with on-the-rise hip-hop talent. This Vallejo, Calif. collective combines the abilities of two duos, one called SOB for "Strictly Only Business," the other RBE for "Real Boi Entertainment." The quartet comes on with irrepressible energy on Gangin and is shown brightly on "Paramedic!" on the Kendrick Lamar-curated soundtrack to Black Panther. Saturday on the Tidal Stage.
Jay Park. The former member of the South Korean boy band 2PM, Park is a rapper, singer, member of the Seattle-based B-boy dance crew Art of Movement and the first Asian American signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation management company. His track "King's Dead," which also features Lamar and Future, is a Black Panther soundtrack highlight. Sunday on the Tidal Stage.
Clairo. Clairo is Clair Cottrill, the 19-year-old who turned into a DIY pop star after her charmingly simple pop song "Pretty Girl" and laptop-shot home video went viral last year. She now has a deal with Fader Label and, as a recent feature story in The Ringer makes plain, is now suspected of being a not quite as out-of-the-blue success story since the internet realized her father is a marketing executive for Converse. Pop stardom in the digital age: It's complicated! Sunday on the Tidal Stage.