‘Made In America’ Documentary Goes Beyond The Music

As many people know, Jay Z launched the music festival of a lifetime right here in Philadelphia last year. This of course, is Budweiser’s Made In America festival. The two day concert-palooza featured star-studded performers of all music genres, and brought together fans of all kinds. This sense of community and shared passion are central to the festival’s theme and origin. Those who attended the event probably did not know that there is any theme to it besides a fun dress code of stars and stripes, but Jay Z has recently made the world aware that ‘Made In America’ is something more than just a music fest.

SHOWTIME exclusively premiered Jay Z’s powerful and critically acclaimed documentary, “Made In America” on Friday October 11. Jay Z partnered with Imagine Entertainment filmmakers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer for the making of the film. Since Rock On Philly got to attend the Made In America Festival this year, we were pretty eager to watch the documentary. After much anticipation, and much hype from critics, I’m happy to say our expectations were pleasantly met.

The documentary opens up panning over a roaring crowd in slow motion. Jay Z’s voice is the only discernible sound: “We are all flawed human beings. We all have the same struggles, the same dreams. Based on my own experiences, I would’ve never believed that I would be here today.” This idea of shared experiences and struggles recurs throughout the film, as well as the reality of the American dream.

Jay Z came from humble beginnings himself, growing up in the Marcy housing project in Brooklyn. Sure enough, he became America’s richest and most powerful rapper, and was dubbed an American icon in this month’s issue of Vanity Fair. But c’mon, it’s Jay Z. It’s a one in a million chance destined for some and out of reach for others. Or is it? Jay Z himself makes the argument that we all have a creative genius in us. He says everyone has an equal chance to be great, you just have to tap into that creative energy and use it. This is an extremely powerful message to put out there, but the right one to make in this documentary.

Many of the festival’s artists seemed to believe in this notion of creative power.

Swedish indie-pop band Miike Snow’s Andrew Wyatt shared a similar sentiment as Jay Z’s, “I think that there’s this potential in everyone. You either believe it or you don’t. I think the thing that proves you believe it is that you do it,” he said.

British pop star Rita Ora also agreed that people need something to believe in, “I strongly believe that if you don’t believe in yourself you’re not in the right business at all.”

In order to get somewhere though, there will indeed be struggles. Jay Z humanizes this idea of universal struggle by admitting that even he had failure and couldn’t find a record label who would sign him.

Nonetheless, there are many more real and domestic struggles that Pearl Jam’s front man Eddie Vedder points out, “People feel like their losing their voice and the truth is they have every right to feel that way. People are just trying to work their jobs, raise their families, discipline their kids, have a good life, and then all this stuff is going around. Politics has just become like bad weather. And they deserve clear skies. They’re Americans. They’re in what could be a truly, truly great country. And it is, but it’s not meeting its potential.”

As noted before, community is a large theme that runs throughout the film. This isn’t a vain documentary about how artists worked their way up to the top. It’s really about how everyone, the stage crew, security, local food vendors, performers, and neighbors, seem to have similar stories of struggle when talking about their experiences. Everyone wants to achieve their version of the American dream, everyone wants to be self-made, and the documentary reveals this.

There is a larger macrocosm to all of this though. Something that was almost amiss in the quest for a perfect documentary. Yes, all the fans, performers, and locals are connected as humans because they share the same dreams, fears, and struggles. But isn’t it the music that brings people together? We all came together for two days on the Ben Franklin Parkway to listen to our favorite artists and find new ones.

Music is so obviously what created this documentary, that it’s nearly buried beneath the other messages. I believe Run DMC’s Darryl McDaniels said it best halfway through, “Music succeeds what religion and politics failed.” This is really why ‘Made In America’ was successful in its festival and in carrying out Jay Z’s vision.

If you’re looking for a concert rundown of the festival, you won’t find it in this documentary. However, the film does highlight some performances from Run DMC, Janelle Monae, Skrillex, Odd Future, Miike Snow, Rita Ora, Jill Scott, The Hives, Passion Pit, Gary Clark Jr., D’Angelo, The Dirty ProjectorsSantigold, Pearl Jam, and Jay Z. Do watch it though for its excellent commentary, all-American themes, and powerful social message.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Jay Z’s Made In America 2014 Goes Bi-Coastal - Rock On Philly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.