Go Hard: One Man’s Quest to Meet Jay-Z at the Made in America Festival

By: Christian Carranza-Walter

Ever since I was in middle school, I have loved Jay-Z. Loved Jay-Z. I still remember the day I got have my hands on a copy of The Blueprint. I remember bumping that album for hours, son! I had every lyric to every song memorized down pat after only a week, from Takeover, to Heart of the City, to Girls, Girls, Girls (I got a chick from Peru, that sniff Peru, she got a cousin at customs that get shit through…I’m Peruvian so hearing that as a kid got me so amped), Renegade (a song which hip hop heads to this day still have the infamous who out-rapped who debate: Eminem or Jigga…personally I give it to Eminem, but again, just the fact that he left that legacy in hip hop history is significant). That album was immaculate. The array of accolades it received is proof of it: #5 in Rolling Stone’s “Top 10 of 2001,”#2 in Pitchfork Media’s “The Top 100 Albums of 2000-04,” one of fifteen albums to (originally) receive 5 Mics by The Source, one of only eight albums to (initially) receive a “XXL” rating by XXL Magazine. Now all of these publications may have their creative differences, but they all agreed on one thing: Jay-Z was onto something. Just about every Jay-Z album after that had the same effect on me, they were my jams, they were my therapy, they were my life.

I also came from humble beginnings: low-income immigrant household in a “wrong side of the tracks” neighborhood in Akron, OH (yes, Lebron James hometown…but lets not talk about that for now OK?). Nowhere near the hardship Jay-Z saw in the Marcy Projects of Brooklyn but a background humble enough that Jigga’s music and come up story always held a special place in my heart. Suffice to say, when I heard he was throwing this Made in America music festival I had to go. Had to. By any means necessary. Although, I have always been a huge Jay-Z fan, I have actually never seen him live, so I took this as a sign, Christian, you have to go. So, I took a day off from my 9-5, redeemed all my credit card points I’ve been saving since I was an undergrad at BC and got a last minute flight and hotel down to Philly.

The entire week up to the Made in America festival, I was beyond excited. I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas Morning; as I blasted Jay-Z on repeat on my Spotify all week long. When the time came, and I finally arrived on the plane, a funny thing happened on the flight from Boston to Detroit before a layover to Philadelphia. I sat next to a random man named Dave for the flight, a pharmaceutical rep from Wisconsin. Dave and I started shooting the shit and he could tell how excited I was for this festival. I kept gushing over Jay-Z and how much I loved him, his music, his business model, and his entrepreneurial spirit – just non-stop Jigga talk. A theme that I kept bringing up was that Jay-Z was a man that made the impossible possible, who went from the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn to international superstar and mogul. A self-made man akin to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby. He offered me a challenge: “So you say Jay-Z made the impossible possible, eh? Why don’t you do the same, give yourself the ‘impossible’ goal of meeting Jay-Z this weekend, using what little resources you have. After all, Jay-Z was able achieve his present state of success using just what he had; he adjusted and adapted to whatever hardship was set before him. Why don’t you do the same? You’re a bright young man, BC grad, have a knowledge of social media, and natural charisma. Try to be like Jay-Z, and use what you have to make the impossible possible this weekend.” I told him two words: Challenge accepted.

Flash-forward to the plane ride from Detroit to Philly where I randomly met a young couple sitting in front of me, also on their way to the festival. I mentioned I wanted to write an article and maybe even make a documentary about the festival, and all three of us instantly bonded over our mutual adoration for Sean “Jay-Z” Carter. Once we touched down, on the way to baggage claim and ultimately our hotel, we talked non-stop about Jigga. Yo! You remember the Blueprint and the Black Album when it first came out!? Remember the beef with Nas!? Remember the unplugged MTV album and how dope it was!? Again, just twenty minutes prior, we were complete strangers, and instantly we became friends – that’s the power of Jay-Z’s music, it touched so many lives and people from different backgrounds. To borrow some bars from the Blueprint 2: “That’s why they follow me, they feel my pain and agony.” Basically, we were all smitten, and I mentioned the challenge I made to myself and they were down to help me out in whatever way possible. As soon as I got to the hotel room, though, shit hit the fan.

I had forgotten my laptop charger in Boston – noob mistake, and my battery was low. I only had a USB charger to a laptop for my droid, and it too was waning. And just to put icing on the cake, my flip video was already packed with footage from other projects. Basically, I was screwed. I thought to myself: WWJD, What Would Jigga Do? How would he adjust and succeed in the face of such adversity? The gears started turning and I did what was necessary to accomplish my goal. First, I instantly started updating my twitter account: @SnorlaxSezRelax and created a Facebook Page: Snorlax Sez Relax, and instantly started guerrilla marketing, and did everything in my power to spread my message using hash tags and @ symbols, you can see how frantic I became, seriously, take a look at my twitter feed, there’s misspelling everywhere, I tried to motivate myself by writing Jay-Z facts for my followers and trying to engage as many people via the internet as possible.

First things first, once I got to the city from the airport hotel: I needed to find an Apple store, buy a charger, and juice up my laptop and Droid. In addition to this, I had to dump my flip video footage onto my laptop, which also took awhile. In the process, I mentioned my “impossible” goal to everyone I met in the hopes that they had some sort of advice or tips. Oddly enough, the cab driver I met said he met Jay-Z once and mentioned that he was just a simple and humble guy. The link again, though, EVERYONE knew Jay-Z.

From the Apple store rep, to the people in the coffee shop, we would share a moment, laugh, or smile over our favorite Jigga memory growing up. I won’t spare you with the details, but this quest was an adrenaline rush, check out the twitter feed. It got to the point where I even started filming myself with one hand and typing on the laptop with the other. I wasn’t necessarily working harder, but I was working smarter, just how Jay-Z had done his entire career. Oh he’s been dormant for a while? BOOM! He dropped the Blueprint album, peppered with genius Kanye West production. Fell off again? POW, Black Album hits and he’s back on top. Basically this guy has been doing this his entire career. He’s like a hip-hop version of the Beatles, constantly innovating and reinventing his style while still being able to be on top. Not only is he a lyrical and musical genius, but also the business model for his craft has always been on point.

Finally, I was good to go again, and entered the campgrounds, as soon as I got in though, shit started to hit the fan again, phone draining from heavy Spotify use, laptop dying, flip video still strong, and my social media revolution to meet Jay-Z could not be carried out with just a simple video camera. Add the fact that I decided to wear all black in the hot Philly sun; along with the crowds, and the heat exhaustion, I ultimately crashed. I hadn’t fully accepted defeat though. Jay-Z was scheduled to come on around 10pm that day, but there was always tomorrow to accomplish my impossible goal. At this point, I figured it’d be best to just give it a rest and enjoy the festival. I headed to the main stage in front of the legendary Rocky Statue (another rags to riches story in our collective pop culture memory) and posted up for around six hours in the scorching Philly sun, wearing all black.

At one point, I started to worry about my personal well-being and heat exhaustion. I didn’t care though, seeing Jigga live for the first time front and center was more than worth the suffering. First D’angelo came one, followed by Passion Pit, and Miike Snow. All great music acts, don’t get it twisted, but the whole time I was thinking: Jigga, Jigga, Jigga…I want to see Jigga. It was my motivation not to lose my spot and miss this once in a lifetime opportunity.

Then, the moment came, and He finally stepped out, I felt his aura the minute he walked into the crowd, nodding his head up and down as if to say: You know I’m bout to fuck shit up. I thought back on my journey these past couple days, the setbacks I encountered in the last 24 hours, and my lifelong dream of seeing Jay-Z slow become a reality as a brief moment of silence was immediately followed by: ALLOW ME TO RE-INTRODUCE MYSELF, MY NAME IS HOV’…H-TO-THE-O-V, I USED TO MOVE SNOWFLAKES BY THE O-Z… as he began the set with Public Service Announcement from the Black Album. I went insane, rhyming every bar, acting like I was rapping, huge Kool-Aid smile across my face.

The funny thing? Everyone around me was doing the same thing. No matter what age, no matter what race, gender, or hell even sexual orientation I’m assuming. They all felt the power of Jigga. There was even a cameo from Barack Obama after the first song, before the rest of the set continued where our commander in chief praised Sean “Jay-Z” Carter for his success. Again, I cannot stress this enough, this one man’s impact on contemporary culture is so significant that even the president of these United States came out to support him and his festival. Swag.

Eventually, the heat exhaustion got to me, and I worried for my health, and I pushed frantically through the crowd to get some water, PowerAde, anything to get myself hydrated. I was exhausted and other people were doing the same, they needed a break from the crowd, and pushed through with me. Again, every single person I walked by was rapping every lyric, happy as all holy hell, on cloud nine to see the Jigga man do his thing. All of a sudden, someone grabbed my back; I turned around and went huh!? CHRISTIAN! It was the same couple I met in the Philly airport that I had bonded with the night before. I was like, Yo I would love to stay and chat, but I need some sort of liquid in me or else I’m going to collapse. I finally got out, got two PowerAdes, and three waters, and started chugging and dousing myself in water just to rehydrate.

Finally, I cooled off a bit and looked around me. Everyone was happy as hell, dancing, enjoying this one moment where they all had one thing in common, their mutual adoration and respect for Sean Carter’s music. Even though I was exhausted and sprawled across the ground, I was happy as a clam too. I can honestly say it was a life changing experience. He covered most of the hits in his sets, and of course there was a cameo by Kanye West, and even Common joined in on the fun.

The show eventually wrapped up, and I left a happy man. Jigga, I may not have had the hustle you did and achieved my impossible dream of meeting you, but that challenge, and seeing you live really gave me a thorough understanding and respect for all you have done. Respect.

I finally got to my hotel room and crashed; the next day, I would put writing and work aside and just enjoy the festival. Odd Future, Drake, Run DMC were dope don’t get me wrong, but as far as I was concerned the only act that mattered that entire weekend was Jay-Z the night before. I went back to Boston a new man. And it was all thanks to you, Jigga. Kudos.

 

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