“Made In America is a bigger idea than just a concert.” Jay Z isn’t short on ambition, but in a landscape that also includes Coachella, Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, can another “destination festival” — even one curated by Jay — really be more than “just a concert?” Ron Howard’s Made In America documentary, about the Philadelphia festival’s first year (2012) doesn’t quite answer the question, but it does look at the event from a number of angles. Starting with Jay Z’s own.
Howard earnestly asks, “So how did you go from the Marcy Projects to where you are today?” The answer is, as all Jay’s fans know: “Hip-hop!” Jay takes Howard back to the Marcy Projects, in full view of his 40/40 club at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. They visit his old apartment (it doesn’t seem quite so “hood” anymore), and the legendary MC even plays with the resident family’s infant.
A few other artists tell their stories: Janelle Monae explains that her black and white stage attire is a tribute to her parents: her janitor mother, her post office step-father and her father, a garbage man. They wore uniforms to work, and so does she. Rita Ora describes performing at the age of six for an audience that included Prince Charles, and deciding that singing was her life’s mission. Santigold talks about her ex-gang member father who later started his own law firm, and her mother who grew up picking cotton in the south and became a psychologist.