In hip-hop, Rolling Loud is in a league of its own. Founded by music promoters Matt Zingler and Tariq Cherif, it touched down on New York, Miami, Australia, and Oakland in 2019 alone. It’s the only major music festival during the pandemic to hit multiple locations, in a sign of either unwavering faith in America’s fight against COVID-19 or intransigent arrogance in the music industry’s rebound, depending on who you ask. Whether by the star-studded lineups that include festival-rarity J. Cole playing twice in six weeks or the sheer number of festivals they’re able to produce a year, Rolling Loud has muscled its way into the premiere festival in hip-hop.
With an expansive reach comes the possibility of spreading the festival’s secret sauce too thin and being unable to replicate the same experience in every location. America doesn’t have anything close to uniform COVID-19 health standards among its states. And different locales “festival season” is shorter than others for meteorological reasons. Rolling Loud returning to New York City at the end of October was a test for the young festival franchise.
A test which results are inconclusive.
In terms of inspiring artists to produce rare moments which increase the festival’s cultural clout, it always passes with flying colors. Whether it’s Travis Scott raging so hard on stage he injured his knee at Rolling Loud NYC 2019 or Tory Lanez willingly violating Megan Thee Stallion’s restraining order against him to pop out of mascot costume for a surprise appearance at DaBaby’s controversial Rolling Loud Miami 2021 set, Rolling Loud inspires artists to go over the top in order to match the grandeur of a festival series that is often one of the most talked-about hip-hop festivals of the year. Rolling Loud NY 2021, only the second major music festival in New York City since the pandemic started last March, was no different.
Rolling Loud inspires artists to go over the top in order to match the grandeur of a festival series that is often one of the most talked-about in hip-hop
Hometown hero Joey Bada$$ debuted a new song about success being the best revenge with the frenzied crowd supporting that claim with exclaims. 50 Cent interrupted his own avalanche of hits to let the new NYC rap greats — A Boogie With Da Hoodie and A$AP Rocky — bombard the crowd with bangers. With Rolling Loud NYC in the Citi Field parking lots in Queens, NY, Wale paid homage to the borough’s hip-hop legacy by bringing out Q-Tip to perform “Vivrant Thang,” which Wale repurposed for his J. Cole-assisted single “Poke It Out” earlier. There were donuts thrown into the crowd during BFB Da Packman’s set and Playboi Carti surprised the rain-drenched audience with a performance of “Shoota” with Lil Uzi Vert.
But, it was Jack Harlow who gave Rolling Loud New York the moment it’ll be known for years later. Before the torrential downpour and after the underwhelming early crowd turnout during school and work hours, Harlow charismatically ran through an uneven set featuring fan favorite “Tyler Herro” but also lesser-known album cuts like “21C/Delta” from his debut album Thats What They All Say. Even though his requests for noise from the crowd elicited church mouse cheers and him extending his mic to the crowd for the onlookers to finish his lyrics for him received the same reaction, Harlow was the consummate professional, engaging with the crowd, taking a selfie with the phone a fan threw at him and going to the outer edges of the left and right side of the stage in order for all the paying fans to get a good glimpse at Louisville’s hottest rapper. He made sure if he didn’t sway the entire crowd he’d make sure he left with a few new fans.
And then he decided to leave with all of the fans. After getting the loudest ovation of his performance for his verse on the Billboard chart-topping Lil Nas X song “Industry Baby,” the beat restarted and it seemed as if Harlow would try to ride the momentum and perform his verse again. Then, out of nowhere, Lil Nas X emerged from backstage and ran across the Deleon Stage catwalk ripping through “Industry Baby” to as loud of a crowd reaction as any artist received the entire weekend. For the first time outside of an award show, Harlow and Lil Nas X performed the entire “Industry Baby” song, captured for CassiusLife by Evan Spaulding of Little Engine Media.
Rolling Loud NYC had to compete with two entities: Rolling Loud Miami and New York fall weather. Rolling Loud announced in June it would be holding its second NYC edition back in the Citi Field’s parking lot where the inaugural Rolling Loud NYC was held in October 2019. Rolling Loud NYC 2019 was held on October 12 and 13 whereas this year’s Rolling Loud was held October 28-30. Any New Yorker raised in the city’s mercurial weather could tell you the difference between being outside in NYC at the beginning of October and at the end of October is the difference between wearing next to nothing and not being outside to begin with. This is the part where Rolling Loud’s confidence may have been misguided.
The beauty of the photos of J. Cole vociferously, and exaggeratedly, exclaiming he has “$100 million and I’m still on the grind” while pelted with streams of rain he called “apocalyptic weather” on stage is merely a consolation for fans who had to brave a torrential downpour. Rain at a music festival is common enough to not fault the festival. Travis Scott delivered one of his all-time best festival performances at New York Cit’s Governors Ball in 2018. The difference is the Governors Ball crowd had enjoyed weather in the high 80s for most of the day by the time it dropped to low 80s and Travis Scott hit the stage. Rolling Loud attendees weren’t so lucky as they were soaked in rain after braving the low-50 degree weather with little to no sunlight for the majority of the second day of the festival. The frigid temperatures is likely why the afternoon and early evening crowds for each day didn’t have that usual festival buzz and lethargic crowds giving inconsistent energy to performers.
That was just half of Rolling Loud’s battle.
On the festival’s second day, City Girls were ready to do their first New York City performance of “Twerkalator” with a gaggle of ass shakers from the crowd. When JT relayed to the crowd Rolling Loud security’s message of that being prohibited, she incredulously bemoaned about her own dissatisfaction. Yung Miami took her disappointment a step further saying “Rolling Loud, I don’t know about New York.” Bfb Da Packman, an unhinged performer who ate a donut off of a fan’s ass before licking her at Rolling Loud Miami months earlier, was preparing to bring his brand of boundless live performance to New York City. Rolling Loud had different ideas.
“It was phenomenal, but Miami was crazier. There are too many restrictions here. I was going to bring the girl on stage to put the donut on the ass, cities, and since I had to Coochie Man YN Jay with me, also on the coochie. Then we were going to get another girl to eat it off,” BFB Da Packman said. “We were about to bring the girl up on stage and they were like, ‘Nah, Nah.’ We tried to do it and they stopped it. They f-cked up my whole set and I wasn’t feeling it anymore.”
Rolling Loud Miami was referenced frequently by artists on stage and in the backstage area. Outside of the frigid temperatures and performance restrictions, Rolling Loud’s New York edition ignominiously distinguished itself from Miami for its, at times, stifling police presence. Fans who came to see Fetty Wap’s 4:45 PM performance on the festival’s first day were surprised to find out the hitmaker would not be performing. A similar fate befell Pop Smoke before the first Rolling Loud NY when he and four other rappers were informed they wouldn’t be able to perform at the New York Police Department’s request. Some found out two days after organizers first learned of the NYPD’s ban and Fetty was arrested at the festival, implying he and his camp possibly wasn’t aware of the arrest until it happened.
Disregard for New York City’s cold fall weather, reducing hometown favorite Bobby Schmurda’s first major NYC set to a 10-minute “special guest” performance cut frustratingly premature, and having a police presence more proactive at arresting rappers than stopping a melee in the artist area between Ron Suno and Kay Flock’s camps may be enough evidence that maybe Rolling Loud doesn’t need to be in New York City.