Made in America has been around long enough that fans who grew up attending Jay-Z’s annual festival on the Ben Franklin Parkway are now performing on its stages.
Exhibit A would be Armani White, the West Philadelphia rapper who’s performing on the Skate Stage at the Labor Day weekend festival on Saturday afternoon.
White, 22, has been a Made in America enthusiast since before the first festival began. He caught Jay-Z’s initial press conference on the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps in the spring of 2012 and then attended the first MIA that fall, and every one since.
The rapper took a break from making music after his father Lee Tolbert died of prostate cancer in 2016, but started writing again late last year. On the strength of his song “Public School,” he was named a ‘Tidal Rising‘ artist, with tastemakers at Jay-Z’s streaming service anointing him as a promising up and comer. Tidal will be live streaming the festival from its main stages throughout the weekend.
>> READ MORE: Made In America set times announced
How did you react this summer when it seemed like the festival might leave the Parkway, and maybe even leave Philadelphia?
For me as a an artist, it would have created a real Last of the Mohicans journey. It would have made it more momentous. Going to Made in America as an observer, and then falling out of music for a while and then getting back into it, if somebody told me I’d wind up getting Made in America as soon as I bounced back, and to do it in such a big way the last time it was going to happen, going from an onlooker and concert goer to being a performer, that would have been a powerful way to close out Made in America for me.
But as a concert goer, as a resident of the city, I was hurt. It’s something I look forward to annually. and just landscaping and painting the city in my head, where would it go? Fairmount Park? It makes absolute sense where it is. The only resolution would be to move it to another city.
I mean, watching it grow from when it was Jay Z and Pearl Jam to what it is now this year is primarily a hip hop thing is really powerful in itself because hip hop is just forever growing as a genre. That news just really put me in a mixed feeling situation.
What’s the best show you’re ever seen at Made in America? What are you most looking forward to this year?
My first MIA year really made me a Jay-Z fan. I’d seen Hov maybe one time before but just to see the way he cultivated a really big audience there was great. I think my favorite performance then or thereafter was Janelle Monae that same year. I saw her there and then she did a show at the Electric Factory about six months later. So I’m really excited to see her this year.
Me too. She’s a little bit overshadowed on the bill because of Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj and Meek…
Man, the anthem, that “Dreams and Nightmares” intro, when that plays on Saturday and everyone who’s there is singing it, that’s going to be CRAZY! That’s going to be a monumental moment for the entire city. But Janelle Monae, honestly, she’s probably my favorite performer of all time, my favorite concert I’ve ever seen live.
How’d you become a Tidal Rising artist?
I reached out to the company. They knew who I was already. Somebody told me there was a Tidal playlist with my song right at the top. I went to their offices in New York and they wanted to do an interview with me and do it up for a campaign for Made In America.
You’re not signed to a label. Are you in a hurry to make a deal?
Nope. I’m happy to be independent. I’ve had meetings with literally every label. But there’s a lot of things you can do yourself. Me just starting out as as a hungry 17 year old kid, there’s a lot of things I learned how to do. It doesn’t make sense to pay $300 a month to hire somebody to talk to people for you that you can literally talk to yourself. Things like that.
I think the whole industry is based around information. The more information that someone can withhold from you, the more power they feel like they have over you, and for me if I can gather that information early on, I’ll have a lot more power, when I walk into labels to talk to people.
What’s the story behind “Public School”?
The entire project is written after my father, about who my Dad was growing up. The storyline is about guy with good intentions but horrible execution. That something he used to talk to me about as a kid. ‘You want the best, but you don’t know how to get the best.’ He was a family man on one hand, but also a member of JBM, a street gang in the ‘90s.
That song is like my father’s story. It’s also like who I am and who I want to be and what people think of me as opposed to what I see when I look in the mirror. I try to relate that to myself as I am now as oppose to 10 years ago when I was a kid in the street trying to fight everybody and messing up at school. It’s like tying to find a middle ground between that and trying to be a good person, that juxtaposition.
Armani White plays at 1:15 p.m. Saturday on the Made in America Shake Stage. Tickets are available via ticketmaster.