15 acts to see at Made In America 2017
UPDATE: see pictures from Saturday at Made in America HERE
Philadelphia’s Made In America returns this weekend, Labor Day Weekend (9/2 & 9/3), to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. If you’re going, you may want to download the app and map, or check out the FAQ. Some things to know: no fireworks, flags, signs, banners, instruments, or re-entry; only empty water bottles allowed and there will be free refill stations. As usual, the lineup has a unique mix of big rap/R&B artists and small indie/punk artists. There’s plenty of great stuff to see, but if you’re looking for some suggestions, we’ve made a list of 15 artists we recommend catching at Made In America 2017. The list spans from massive headliner Jay-Z to rising political punks Downtown Boys. Check it out below.
Who are you most excited to see at Made In America 2017?
Philly punks Beach Slang emerged fully formed on 2014’s Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? EP, which remains the blueprint for their sound: a Replacements and Jawbreaker lovechild that worships punk rock, drunken nights, love, lust, life and death, with both cathartic positivity and underlying sadness. Their subsequent EP, two full lengths, and various covers kept that same spirit alive, and the live shows are even more of a release than the records. In true Replacements spirit, the only thing predictable about Beach Slang shows is that they’re unpredictable. They can be filled with impromptu covers, false starts, and awkward jokes, but those are all part of the super fun, beer-fueled, punk rock party.
Cardi B’s viral hit “Bodak Yellow” continues to climb the charts (as of today, it’s at #3) and could easily be the song of the summer. The Bronx rapper, feminist, former stripper, and TV personality is absolutely dominating, and now is the perfect time to see her live. A recent NYC show had her almost entirely drowned out by fans rapping along with her and going crazy, which should translate even better to a big festival stage. Considering Drake and Migos (whose Offset she collaborates with on “Lick”) both brought her on stage at recent festivals, we imagine she’ll feel right at home at this one.
Downtown Boys’ live shows can truly feel as empowering as an anti-Trump protest rally. They attack racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia in their songs as well as in singer Victoria Ruiz’s fired-up stage banter. Seeing them reminds you how good it feels to surround yourself with other people fighting against injustice. Make no mistake though: Downtown Boys shows are also a total party. Multiple members tend to end up in the crowd, the sax player brings real joy to the show, and their fast-paced songs make it impossible to stand still. They just released their first album for Sub Pop, Cost of Living (produced by Fugazi’s Guy Picciotto), which may be their best yet.
Michelle Zauner followed up her great debut as Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp, by signing to Dead Oceans and releasing the even-better Soft Sounds From Another Planet earlier this year. The album is a sonic kaleidoscope, expanding on dream pop with wailing guitars, synthetic strings, and some auto-tune, and it translates really well live.
Jay-Z is fresh off releasing his latest album, 4:44, which has won a lot of people over for being his most introspective album yet. Made In America will be the first time many people hear these songs live, but that’s of course not the only reason to see Jay-Z. For a good chunk of the late ’90s and early ’00s, Jay-Z was one of the best rappers alive, and he’s got a string of hits that very few can rival. The brilliance of his heyday finds ways to poke through in his more recent material too. With over 20 years of crowd-pleasing material to pull from, we doubt there will be a dull moment in Jay’s headlining set.
Kelela first caught our ears when she sang on Teengirl Fantasy’s 2012 single “EFX,” and she’s since become one of today’s most boundary-pushing R&B singers. She continues to work with forward-thinking electronic musicians, as well as fellow adventurous R&B artist Solange, and her sound gets better and better. Following 2013’s CUT 4 ME mixtape and 2015’s Hallucinogen EP, Kelela will release her first proper full-length, Take Me Apart, in October via Warp. Going by lead single “LMK,” this album is gonna deliver.
The influence of Sweden’s Little Dragon can be heard at nearly every festival happening around the world. Their brand of electronic indie pop, which they’ve been making for over a decade, sowed the seeds for groups like SBTRKT, Odesza, Kaytranada, and Flume (all of whom they’ve since collaborated with). They remain leaders in the field, too, having released the terrific Season High earlier this year. Little Dragon are also still leaders in the actual (festival) field, with their colorful live show — which has a ’70s disco vibe this time around — and singer Yukimi Nagano’s incredible outfits that you can admire from the cheap seats.
After gaining local attention in Minneapolis for her part in a few indie hip hop groups and releasing Lizzobangers and Big Grrrl Small World, Lizzo stands poised to break through to more national acclaim with the release of of Coconut Oil, her first EP for Atlantic, which features songs like the soulful self-love jam “Water Me.” Lizzo really shines live, where her sets are as fun and high energy as they are empowering and inspirational. Plus, she and her dancers kill.
While North Carolina rapper Rapsody is still best known to some for her show-stopping verse on Kendrick Lamar’s “Complexion (A Zulu Love),” her own material continues to be very worthwhile as well. Last year she released the Crown EP, which has contributions from Ab-Soul and Anderson Paak, and some of Rapsody’s best music to date. Her rapping is poetic and intricate (she takes influence from artists like Mos Def and Lauryn Hill), and the EP is full of the kind of uplifting pro-black messages that she delivered on that Kendrick song. Plus, she often performs with an ace live band.
Run the Jewels
They’re three albums in and more popular than ever, and somehow it still feels crazy that Run the Jewels has been such a success. Two lifers who never fully got their due — underground New York rap staple El-P and fast-rapping OutKast collaborator Killer Mike — came together and became one of the leading groups in modern-day rap. Killer Mike is one of rap’s great political voices, which is something America needs now more than ever, but RTJ don’t get too serious. Their live shows are all about hyping up the crowd — expect a massive sea of people jumping up and down and screaming for RTJ’s whole set.
The first time we heard Sampha’s stunning voice was on SBTRKT’s debut album back in 2011, and now, six years later, Sampha finally released a debut album of his own. Process is an excellent showcase for how far Sampha has come as a singer in those years, and it refuses to stick to one sound. There’s the danceable pop songs, the piano ballads, the experimental R&B songs, and more. Like the latest albums by Solange and Frank Ocean (both of whom Sampha has collaborated with), Process blurs the lines between indie and R&B to the point where talking about genre distinctions feels entirely unnecessary. His sound is distinct, highly impressive, and should be a treat to see live. Last weekend at Afropunk Brooklyn, Sampha also joined Solange on stage.
Smino hails from St. Louis and his music is filled with hometown pride, but he’s also worked his way into the neighboring Chicago hip hop scene, which has been thriving lately. His 2017 debut album blkswn features Chicago regulars Noname, Ravyn Lenae, and theMIND, and it should appeal to fans of that scene (Chance the Rapper fans included). Like many of those modern Chicago artists, Smino falls somewhere between hip hop and soul, and he flows seamlessly between rapping and singing. He pulls it off just as well live, as you can see for yourself this weekend.
Solange is still riding high off the strength of 2016’s A Seat at the Table, one of the very best albums of that year, and she’s still sticking to festival appearances and one-off shows for now, which makes any chance to see her even more unmissable. As we witnessed when she headlined Panorama in July, her live show is at least as captivating as her album. With a highly talented band and a spectacular stage show, her voice soars across massive festival grounds.
Grime has been making a big comeback in North America lately — so much so that Drake now regularly collaborates with grime MCs — and Stormzy has been one of the genre’s biggest breakouts in recent memory. His debut album Gang Signs & Prayer came out earlier this year, and he’s become a staple of North American festivals. He’s already delivered at Coachella and Governors Ball this year, and he’ll hopefully wow crowds at Made In America too.
Though they went through drastic lineup changes between the makings of 2014’s great Charmer and this year’s spin, Tigers Jaw’s sound is as great as ever, both live and on record. The Scranton, PA band fall somewhere between punk, emo and indie rock with a sound that’s jangly yet driving, full of endlessly catchy melodies and sincere passion. Old favorites like “Plane Vs Tank Vs Submarine” and “I Saw Water” are even better live these days than they are on record, and they work perfectly with the new and improved sound that Tigers Jaw began crafting on Charmer. Though remaining members Ben Walsh and Brianna Collins played everything on the new album, they’ve got a touring band that really keeps the live show next-level.