Jay Z's 'Made in America' doc: The American Dream
Jay Z stands on the roof of 560 State St. in Brooklyn, the address he made famous in his hit "Empire State of Mind," and takes a breath.
"You trying to make me cry, man?" he says, as he sees the Barclays Center, the arena he helped bring to Brooklyn, in the distance. "That's insane! Insane-insane."
It's a pivotal moment in the new "Made in America" documentary -- which debuts Friday on Showtime -- that shows how far Shawn Carter has come, from small-time drug dealer in the Marcy Projects to hip-hop mogul Jay Z, a superstar so powerful he is called on to help pave the way for massive projects like the Barclays Center and, soon, the renovation of Nassau Coliseum.
The "Made in America" documentary, directed by Ron Howard, is ostensibly about the Made in America festival Jay Z launched in Philadelphia last year, though it turns out to be something much broader. It's about the American Dream and how music can sometimes make it come true.
In recent years, especially after the economic downturn and housing market collapse of 2008, there has been a lot of talk about what is actually still made in America. Manufacturing jobs were once the backbone of the middle class and the engine that made the American Dream possible, but so many of those jobs have been sent overseas to cheaper labor markets. So what has replaced them?
Well, in some ways, Jay Z -- and the rest of American pop culture. Howard shows how festivals like Made in America not only help give artists a platform, they also create jobs for a range of support services, from food-truck vendors to stagehands to security guards.
"We are all human beings," Jay Z says. "We all have the same struggles and the same dreams. Based on my own experiences, I would never believe that I would be here today. ... If I dreamt it, I would fall far short of where I am today."
KEY TO SUCCESS
At one point, Howard asks Jay point blank how he was able to succeed. Jay Z quickly replies, "Hip-hop."
However, in other stories in "Made in America," Howard paints the picture of how dreams can become a driving force.
"If you don't have a dream, you're asleep, you're dead," says security guard Abdul Goodman. "If you stop seeking it, you've already lost."
David Nevins, Showtime's president of entertainment, says that subject matter made it the perfect fit for the network. "Ron Howard and Jay Z have crafted an inspirational portrayal of American resilience, drive and creativity, interwoven with an incredible showcase of musical talent," he says.
"Made in America" does have its share of musical moments, especially during the reunion of Run-DMC for their first performance together in 10 years. When the crowd sings Pearl Jam's
"Better Man" to Eddie Vedder, it is nearly as memorable as when Jay Z brings out Kanye West as a surprise guest to do The Throne's "In Paris" or when Skrillex gives Howard lessons on being a DJ.
However, it's actually the documentary's nonmusical moments that resonate more.
"I believe that every human being has genius-level talent," says Jay Z, adding that hard work and finding your
particular area to shine are the keys to success. "There are no chosen ones."
Rapper Santigold explains in the documentary how she believes that the American Dream is still possible, especially since she has seen her father go from a gang member who spent time in juvenile detention to a lawyer and her mother go from a cotton picker to a psychiatrist.
"The American Dream -- the idea is that you work hard and the doors come open," she says. "There's been roadblocks in that theory forever ... but for me, it does kind of ring true."
WHAT "Made in America"
WHEN|WHERE Debuts 9 p.m. next Friday, Showtime
The next generation
While the "Made in America" documentary shows how influential Jay Z and Pearl Jam have become in American culture through music, it also unveils a new crop of musicians set to follow in their footsteps. Here's a look at the documentary's breakout stars:
JANELLE MONAE Her performance of "Tightrope" is as compelling as the story of how she went from working as a maid to becoming one of R&B's most promising artists. She takes that responsibility seriously, saying, "I have the power to write something, to say something that could be moving or inspiring."
RITA ORA The British up-and-comer makes a big impact with her performance of "How We Do (Party)" and her shout-out to The Notorious B.I.G., as well as her discussion of how she fell into singing and the behind-the-scenes look at her recording process.
SANTIGOLD Though she has made bigger splashes in collaborations with Jay Z and the Beastie Boys, her own hit "L.E.S. Artistes" fits well with the documentary's theme, as she sings, "I can say I hope it will be worth what I give up if I could stand up mean for the things that I believe."
MIIKE SNOW The Swedish pop band shows off its EDM influences in the rousing anthem "Pretender," while singer Andrew Wyatt talks about the importance of believing in yourself. "I think there's this potential that's in everybody," he says. "Deep down, you either believe it or you don't. The thing that proves that you believe it is that you do it."