For many hip hop enthusiasts, Labor Day Weekend is synonymous with Made in America. The two-day cross-genre music festival was founded by the culture’s first billionaire rapper, JAY-Z, and will return (Sept. 3 and 4) to Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia. Ten years after its inaugural lineup, Made in America is more diverse than in years past with its newest headliners Tyler, The Creator and Bad Bunny.
A woman at the helm of the festival’s experiential vision is Desiree Perez, Roc Nation’s CEO. Her A-list résumé directing the operations of New York City nightlife, including The 40/40 Club, served as a prelude to what would become sold-out concerts worldwide via Roc Nation’s joint venture with Live Nation, Made in America, and beyond. Perez not only has an ear for talent, but she also leads her team to break it transnationally. “Music crosses over everywhere and touches everything. Music is the only place we can all meet,” she explained to REVOLT on Zoom.
This year’s festival is deeply rooted in her own narrative. As a product of Caribbean immigrant parents, Perez is the American dream. Alongside her Planes Crew, Made in America’s ticketholders will enjoy sets from featured performers like Burna Boy, Lil Uzi Vert, Jazmine Sullivan, Chimbala, Snoh Aalegra, Pusha T, Victoria Monét, Key Glock, and guests. Perez’s pragmatic approach to business affected the location of the festival itself: “It is representative of where the Constitution was written … By our ‘Founding Fathers,’ if you will.”
Philadelphia’s blueprints were also inspired by the myriad country flags along New York City’s Avenue of the Americas, the midpoint of her and Mr. Carter’s boroughs. Our nation melds diverse racial backgrounds, sexual orientations, religions, economic factors, languages, and musical genres. Perez’s general intent is straightforward: for all walks of life to feel welcomed upon entering Made in America. Get to know the bilingual boss through her words to REVOLT now.
What does being a daughter of Cuban immigrants continue to do for your work ethic?
That’s a good question. You came right at me (laughs). I think it reinforces my work ethic every day. In the back of my head, I always hear my dad saying, “Why aren’t you working?” It made me very hardworking.
New York City is the number one media market globally. You are leading Roc Nation, a full-service entertainment agency, and its separate undertakings. What level of responsibility do you feel not only to represent your team but Latinx entertainment professionals as well?
Yes, the responsibility is a huge responsibility. I believe that a lot of people expect us to fail or not to be as professional. Everything I do, I make sure that I do it [thoroughly]. I really am not even doing it for myself. I do this for the representation of who we are and where we are from.
I always want to be successful. I want to go against those stigmas that people may think of us. And, of course, New York! I love New York City. I was born and raised here. I am always representing New York in every way that I can. I talk about the differences it made in my upbringing and who I am as a person.
Regarding New York-based leadership in the music industry, Roc Nation is arguably the most inclusive. In what ways do you feel this gives you power as a collective?
It helps in a lot of ways. There was just a young lady in here with me. We were having a meeting about one of the big artists we represent. She is from Oklahoma. Also, she is Asian-American. Having different cultures at the table, diverse religious backgrounds, or sexual orientations brings different perspectives and ideas. All of that always gives you an edge.
You are a Bronx native and oversee one of hip hop enthusiasts’ largest festivals in Philadelphia. From the perspective of lived experiences, how does the gift of your and Mr. Carter’s vision ensure cultural authenticity for Made in America attendees?
For us, the festival was designed for people like us when we were growing up. It is made for the city. We thought of people who cannot afford to take a plane to go hours away and pay for a really expensive hotel or food someplace else. Not every kid can do that. So, this festival is made for people to be able to enjoy music. They can come to an affordable festival and still get the same quality experience as pricier festivals.
While Made in America annually offers musicianship across genres, you have prioritized Spanish-language artistry like never before. Why does the music industry need to create more space for these talents?
It has one of the leading genres of music! Right? It carries above a lot of genres of music in general, never mind the kind of music it is. It not only needs to be acknowledged, but it also should be respected and shared with others. I almost hate to say it is a breakthrough, but it is breaking through (laughs). We should recognize it because all kinds of people love the music.
You are a product of Caribbean Latinx parents. In this likeness, your Sunday headliner shares your ethnicity. Beyond Bad Bunny being the most-listened-to artist on the top streaming service platform annually, how does he add to your festival’s tradition of excellence?
Well, Bad Bunny brings that work ethic. He also has expanded us in a way. The irony of our festival is that it is on Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It is representative of where the Constitution was written. Right? In Philadelphia, by our “Founding Fathers,” if you will.
That particular parkway [reminds me of] New York City. In New York, we have the Avenue of the Americas, where there are flags of different countries. I want to say there are about 90. Well, that avenue almost speaks to the country’s diversity and is what drew us to call the festival Made in America. It is why we selected Philadelphia. We had a few choices of where we could go.
We went there because it kind of [embodies] who we are. It is a blend of people. Part of this sentiment includes why we have the kinds of food that we have at Made in America. So, with Bad Bunny being present, we wanted to represent the food culture. We have a lot of [Latinx] food trucks now.
We wanted to make Latin folks feel welcome. I think we are there. Obviously, I have gone for 10 years. I have family members that go. We are Americans. Made in America has a bit more details that make you feel welcomed.
Your inclusive festival lineup features a Black Latino artist from Santo Domingo, Chimbala. Why is it important that other mainstream stages follow your example by ensuring Latinxs of all racial backgrounds see themselves reflected through a run of show?
It is because they should! That music is driving. It is one of the fastest-growing and biggest genres of music, number one. Number two, it is because people want to listen. Just because we do not include them at festivals, in shows, or are not extending a hand [does not mean they do not have listeners]. They are a part of our music community.
We should be inclusive, to begin with. If we don’t, it is almost like [the industry] is creating a very narrow fan base of people. The ones that don’t look for that. Then the people who look for this music — that show up at your festival and do not see that representation — feel [excluded]. Some may feel that someone caucasian does not like Spanish-language music. And why would you even think that?
That is the whole point of music. Right? Music crosses over everywhere and touches everything. Music is the only place where we can all meet. We can enjoy music from anywhere. We are very proud to have him and all the other artists. We are proud of any music we believe people connect to.
As a Cuban woman in the entertainment industry, what would you like to see more of behind and in front of the camera in the future?
I want to see all different kinds of people! Races. Cultures. There are people you look at and do not know their background. You really do not know where someone is from (laughs). I think that is also beauty. That really represents America.
I want to see more women and people of different sexual orientations. People of different religions also bring value. All of this is totally fine. What is heartbreaking is seeing or watching something, and everyone there is one race. It’s like, “What is this?” You automatically feel a disconnect with what you see.
Half of Roc Nation’s staff is women. Why is extending your table to female creativity necessary in what was once a male-dominated realm?
It is very important. Now, we are a little over in female [staffers]. Again, it just gives us an advantage. Sometimes people say, “Oh, what is our advantage?” And I think people assume it is just because JAY-Z is an owner of Roc Nation. That is not it. The reality is our advantage is listening and the ability to open doors.
When differences come together, they create one pie; the blends of people and genders really give Roc Nation our strength. Honestly, I know that there are a lot of companies that have diversity and inclusion divisions. You know what? They may need that. So, God bless them.
We don’t need that! I do not look at people in that way. I look for talent and a skillset! I look for a person’s work ethic. I look for passion. Also, I look for things you cannot learn in school.
Those values that ground people include a lot of women and diverse races (laughs). That is what people should be looking for. And then maybe this world would be more reflective of [the populace].
From your perspective, what is necessary for women’s leadership while navigating male-dominated industries?
You have to have confidence. And you have to be strong. I know those are cliché words that people use. A lot of people will tell you different things about navigating male-dominated industries. I think everyone will describe themselves as strong.
What strength represents to them is their version of that definition versus someone else’s. So, I mean stronger — and strong as in whomever you are in the room with. I said, “confidence” because you just can’t be afraid.
What are you most excited about involving this year’s Made in America festival?
I am excited about listening to the festival’s Latin music (laughs)! I must admit. And I am excited about the food, too.
You are credited for aiding the success of several of the world’s most prominent artists, such as Rihanna, JAY-Z, and Megan Thee Stallion. What has been your greatest lesson along your journey?
Well, work ethic is probably the biggest part of the recipe. You have to meet people on that level. They have that type of special to them. Right? They have a uniqueness, the hard work, and [need to] be of that caliber.
You need the same caliber because I may not be able to go to the studio and do what they do musically. I can definitely match them in work ethic and passion. You have to meet people with the same energy. Know whatever they bring to the table. You have to bring the same love and passion to whatever you do for them.
Today, your career ascension inspires many aspiring entrepreneurs. Who inspired you?
My father! He was hardworking, honest, and had very strong values. That kind of work ethic is what guides all my decisions. When I do not know the answer to something, I will basically go to what is right and wrong. So, I will choose what is right (laughs). That is not the easiest decision most of the time.
You lead Team Roc, Roc Nation’s philanthropic division, which previously assisted with improving the conditions of those incarcerated, including at the Mississippi State Penitentiary. What are your thoughts on prison reform and the REFORM Alliance?
We just had something called the United Justice Coalition Summit. I was sitting at the panel all day. It was roughly a five-hour event. What I learned from that [was invaluable]. We had 43 different organizations that were presenting information on their expertise.
Almost think of a car show or the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) setup. It was laid out like that, but for criminal justice efforts. We had different panels of interesting people. They were from all walks of life.
There were activists, lawyers, district attorneys, and attorney generals. Also, there were victims’ family members. What you learn from all that is that people have to come together to try and fix a very broken system.
What is to come for Roc Nation supporters?
What is to come is a lot of good music (laughs)! There is good music on its way, tours, and all kinds of new shows.
Concerning your legacy, how do you wish to be recognized?
I wish to be recognized as a Latin woman from the Bronx who made it (laughs)!
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