Dear Philadelphians who went to Made In America,
First off, let me say congratulations on attending what I’m sure was the first festival for a lot of you. How was it? Did you get to bask in the glory that is Rick Ross? Would you still leave your family to run away with D’Angelo? Did you stay away from the brown acid?
Now that we’ve exchanged pleasantries, let me get on with what I have to say, and please don’t be mad if it stings a little.
What the fuck? You let Jay-Z come to our city, perform his ode to New York, “Empire State of Mind,” and you didn’t boo him off the stage? For realsies? OK, full disclosure, I wasn’t there. (Things are still weird between Bey and I, but I’m not gonna get into that here.) The point is, I heard things. And what I didn’t hear was you telling “the new Sinatra” to take that shit back to the concrete jungles from whence he came.
Now, maybe you’re asking, “What’s your problem? What do you have against that song? Why am I yelling at a newspaper?” Oh, how quickly we forget. Allow me to take you back to the “summer of love,” fall of 2009. (Pretend everything gets blurry and there’s harp music in the background.)
I was a young lad—OK, three whole years younger—and thanks to our beloved Phillies, I, like many of my fellow citizens, was riding a summer-long high that continued into the postseason. Our path to a World Series repeat was going swimmingly—Ryan Howard was on an incredible tear, we were all officially in love with Cliff Lee, and local workers planning to attend another parade down Broad Street began planning their fake illnesses. But then, some things went wrong.
For one, the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers aired on TBS, whose only advertisers at the time seemed to be George Lopez’s upcoming talk show and the Hass avocado council. These commercials were shown so many times that by Game 3, America had already made its decision never to watch Lopez Tonight or eat avocados. (It also didn’t help that both were completely unnecessary products.) In spite of that horrific ordeal, the Phils beat L.A. and advanced to the World Series, though no amount of guacamole propaganda could match the power of Hova.
Meanwhile, Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind” had been out for a few months prior to the ’09 World Series, and like most of his hits, we didn’t mind it—actually, we kind of enjoyed it. It had a great beat (sampling the Moments’ gorgeous classic “Love on a Two-Way Street”), Alicia Keys’ insanely catchy chorus, and the fact that Jigga was repping his hometown was certainly nothing new, nor did it bother us. It was no “Streets is Watching,” but whatever.
Then we heard it 200 times in one week. Then the single was officially released. Then it was announced that the song was going to be performed live before Game 1 at Yankee Stadium. That did bother us. More importantly, it scared us.
No matter how good Charlie Manuel and the boys were or the amount of momentum they had, any Phillies fan would be lying if they said they weren’t at least a bit nervous about facing the Yanks. They’ve almost consistently been the best team in baseball since Joe DiMaggio sold his soul to the Devil in 1935. (Allegedly!) The last thing we needed was one of the biggest stars on the planet hyping them up with an inspiring megahit about their city, especially live before a game. That’s why I drew a sigh of relief when it was announced that the “Empire” performance before the series opener was halted because of rain, proving that even God hates the Yankees. Unfortunately, Jay-Z must have some dirt on the Almighty, because the song was rescheduled and performed for Game 2. Six nights later, the New York Yankees walked away with the Commissioner’s Trophy.
That’s no coincidence.
Obviously, one could make the argument that the Phillies lost the World Series because of the number of runners stranded in scoring position, a shaky bullpen, Howard’s 13 strikeouts (a World Series record), subpar outings from our starters, Manuel leaving Pedro Martinez in too long, or just straight up being outplayed. That, of course, is all ridiculous; it was definitely the song’s fault. It shouldn’t even have been a surprise, either—everything Jay-Z touches turns to gold. (Although, the jury’s still out on the Brooklyn Nets.) In the aftermath of this loss, the Phillies’ playoff appearances have slowly gone downhill, this season’s been a mess, and I owe hundreds of dollars in gambling debts. (Not for baseball though—I bet that Lopez Tonight would be on the air for 10 years.)
Now, flash-forward to a week and a half ago: Jay-Z, curator of Budweiser’s Made In America festival, trots right into the center of Philadelphia to once again shove “Empire State of Mind” in our faces, when all of a sudden ... nothing. Nothing happened. He performed the song, and the crowd cheered. He didn’t even do the admittedly corny concert schtick where you change the location in the song to the name of the city you’re playing in (“Now you’re in Phil-ly…”) What happened, yo?
We’ve booed people for way less. We just booed Madonna at the Wells Fargo Center because she wasn’t on time! Did you all forget this? Did the song’s hook sweep you up? Were you just not drunk enough? I understand that the fest was called Made In America and was supposed to promote unity—and sell $11 Bud Lights—but still. New York, though?
If the roles were reversed, I would hope the Philly artist being booed would take it in stride. We’re rivals; it’s what we do. And in all honestly, I don’t have a problem with Jay-Z, New York City or avocados. But fuck them.
P.S. How did Jay not do anything off Reasonable Doubt? You had Memphis Bleek already there on stage, and he couldn’t throw the crowd “Coming of Age?”
P.P.S. If you see Bey-Bey, tell her I still have her phone charger. And that I’m sorry.
The Pack A.D. are built for the road
PW's Music Issue 2014