Meek Mill and Nicki Minaj are back together again.
Well, not romantically: But the hip-hop former couple are both scheduled to be headliners of this year’s Made in America festival on the Ben Franklin Parkway on Sept. 1 and 2.
The Philadelphia rapper who was recently released from prison after becoming an international cause célèbre for criminal justice reform, will be joined by Minaj and rising rap star Post Malone, who made his name with the 2015 hit “White Iverson.”
Also on the bill: Multitalented Atlanta R&B star Janelle Monáe, whose Dirty Computer is one of the standout releases of the year, and DJ-producer Diplo, the Major Lazer dance music star (and Temple grad) who got his start in Philadelphia in the mid-2000s.
Other notable names include L.A. genre-blending R&B star Miguel, who last played the Ben Franklin Parkway as part of the Wawa Welcome America festival in 2015 and who is a veteran of Made in America from 2013.
Diplo, who recently launched a collaborative project with Mark Ronson called Silk City, named after the Spring Garden Street club where he used to perform, will share electronic dance music headlining duties at the multistage event with Zedd, the Russian German dance music producer who has worked with Lady Gaga and who recently performed after a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park.
Also playing: Canadian singer Alessia Cara, the 21-year-old pop star who won best new artist at this year’s Grammy Awards, where she joined rapper Logic and singer Khalid on their massive hit “1-800-273-8255,” whose title is the phone number of the National Suicide Hotline.
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Old school hip-hop is represented in the person of Fat Joe, the Bronx rapper best known for his 2004 hit “Lean Back.” The last of the headliners is 6lack (pronounced “Black”), the Atlanta singer and songwriter born Ricardo Valdez Valentine who broke out with his 2016 hit “Prblems” and who was a hit with his set at the Roots Picnic on Saturday, including his cover of Erykah Badu’s “On & On.”
This year’s lineup is extremely heavy with up-and-coming hip-hop and R&B acts. Some of the more established names include Belly (the Canadian Jordanian Palestinian rapper, not the Tanya Donnelly 1990s alt-rock band); singer, rapper, and Kanye West associate Ty Dolla $ign; and Haitian American rapper Rich the Kid (currently beefing with Philly rapper Lil Uzi Vert); Texas rapper Maxo Cream; and New York rapper A$AP Twelvyy, a member of New York rap posse A$AP Mob.
Lesser-knowns include Tokimonsta, the Korean American producer born Jennifer Lee; Philadelphia rapper Zahsosaa; Illinois rapper Kweku Collins; Philly singer and multi-instrumentalist Tiffany Magette, who performs as Orion Sun; itinerant rap crew Hobo Johnson & the Lovemakers; and Scranton emo-rapper Wicca Phase Springs Eternal. Pittsburgh hardcore punk band Code Orange are also on the bill.
This is the second year running and third of the last four that Made in America is without a big-name rock headliner. (The last time the Jay-Z-programmed festival had one was 2016, with soft pop-rockers Coldplay, so it’s unclear whether that counts.)
This year’s festival is a little short on the mega-wattage star power at the top of the bill. Last year, the closing-night headliner was festival kingpin Jay-Z himself. The previous two years, the Saturday night slot was filled by Beyoncè and Rihanna, respectively.
Made in America 2018 aims to make up for it with a trio of acts. Minaj may not be at the level of the biggest of the global superstars who have occupied the top spot at this outdoor, ticketed fest popular with inebriated teenagers, but she is a major star who is set to make a big splash with Queen, her fourth studio album, due for release in August. She’s also said to be dating Eminem, which is a match made either in warp-speed hyper-syllabic rap heaven or hell.
Meek Mill belongs at the top of this year’s MIA. He first played the festival in 2015 and was the surprise guest for Jay-Z’s encore last year, topping off the fest in style. Two months later, he was in jail for parole violations, and he wasn’t released on bail until April. This will be the rapper’s celebration of his freedom on the streets of Philadelphia. It makes too much sense for him to be a headliner.
Post Malone, who headlined the Festival Pier last month, might seem an act not on a par in stature with the others, but the 22-year-old rapper and acoustic guitar strummer born Austin Richard Post is an awful lot like a big portion of the MIA audience: He’s young, white, loves hip-hop, and likes to party. Not to mention, his Beerbongs & Bentleys album is a chart-topping success. He’s going to sell a lot of tickets.
Finally, my favorite booking of the festival: Janelle Monáe. The musical polymath played the first MIA in 2012, and she returns this year in support of her most personal and political album, which takes serious its task not just to entertain, but also to protest intolerance and celebrate her vision of funkified America as a diverse and welcoming place. She too was made for Made in America.
So far, this year’s festival is also without a contingent of nationally recognized Philly indie bands, such as Japanese Breakfast and (Sandy) Alex G, who played last year. In some years, those third and fourth stage acts have been added late after the initial announcement. It remains to be seen whether that’ll happen this year.