“I’ve had 99 beers and this bitch ain’t done!” shouted a shirtless guy on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, a Bud tall boy in each hand and an American flag bandana wrapped around his bald dome as the sun set over the huge stage in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Like much of the massive, racially diverse crowd gathered for day one of the Jay-Z-curated, Budweiser-sponsored, two-day “Made In America” festival, dude was juiced and ready to go for Hova’s headlining set. In the weeks leading up to the spectacle, the rumor mill was churning about who’d make a surprise appearance. Beyonce? Kanye? President Obama? All of them would show up—sorta.
At 9:30pm on the nose, Jay-Z—donned in black and doing his best Rocky Balboa bounce—hit the stage to (what else?) the strains of Watch the Throne’s “Made In America,” greeting tens of thousands of hands in the air with “Allow me to re-introduce myself...,” the opening line of “Public Service Announcement.”
That was quickly followed by the first cameo of the night: President Obama, who appeared on screens in a pre-taped spot hailing Jay’s rags-to-riches rise and urging people to vote in November. “Shout out to the president,” Jay said before plowing headlong into an hour-long set rich early on with hits like “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” and “Big Pimpin’.” Bathed in deep red lights, Jay stalked the stage confidently, dropping his lines with laser-sharp precision, while backed by a live band (which wasn’t The Roots), digging in the back catalog for tracks from all of his albums save Reasonable Doubt.
“We made some amazing music in Philadelphia,” said Jay before convening a reunion of State Property—an especially hyped Freeway and Young Gunz (but minus Beanie Sigel, who’s dealing with some fresh legal troubles)—for a blazing “What We Do.” A crowd-pleasing “99 Problems” soon followed, as did a brief snippet of “03 Bonnie and Clyde,” though that seeming cue that Beyonce was about to hit the stage was just a tease, as screens flashed a shot of Bey watching the set from a far-away VIP area.
Anyone who put money down that Jay wouldn’t have the stones to do “Empire State of Mind” in Philly lost that bet—it came after a shout-out to all the New Yorkers who made it down for the show, and was accompanied by video of the Manhattan skyline—though the crowd did its best to drown out the chorus by singing “Now you’re in Phillaaayyyy!!”
The only real stumble came near the end of the set when Hova and band got their wires crossed on “U Don’t Know” and had to start over. But after they departed the stage following a version of “Numb/Encore,” that was quickly forgotten as Jay’s disembodied voice boomed out from the darkness: “Philadelphia, since you treated me so nice tonight and you were so good to me, I’m gonna be good to you.” And so he was, handing over the stage to Kanye West, Pusha T and Big Sean for some full-on G.O.O.D. music, as the labelmates turned the night even more electric with intense versions of “I Don’t Like,” “Can’t Tell Me Nothing,” “New God Flow,” and “Cold.” Big Sean dropped his hit “Dance (A$$),” then Common ran out to deliver a bit of “The Light” before joining the trio and yet another guest, 2 Chainz, for a show-stopping “Mercy.”
Of course, it didn’t quite stop there. Jay wouldn’t have been able to get outta Philly if he skipped “Paris”—he and Kanye ripped through it as light bathed the crowd and red, white, and blue fireworks lit up the skies over the stage. A fitting end to the first day of Made in America, where Jay-Z once again made the most of a golden opportunity.