A gust of red confetti dusted thousands of bodies lost in the feverish bounce that was Migos’ set on opening night of the Rolling Loud Festival in San Bernardino Saturday night.
The Atlanta trio’s barrage of brain-rattling trap anthems capped a day that had already seen impressive sets from Lil Yachty, Jaden Smith, Playboy Carti, Ski Mask the Slump God and Gucci Mane in the hours before.
Arriving in Southern California for the first time since debuting in Miami two years ago, the two-day blowout underscored hip-hop’s current position as the most dominant force in pop music with a deeply stacked lineup of chart-toppers, underground rap talent and buzzy acts percolating on the internet.
L.A. stalwart Schoolboy Q, Grammy nominated breakout Lil Uzi Vert, radio rainmakers Future and Rae Sremmurd and rising stars Post Malone, Young Thug and 21 Savage top-lined the festival, which played to 25,000 attendees over the weekend at the National Orange Show Events Center.
“I traveled two hours to get here … [it] took forever,” Lil Yachty said, making light of the sluggish trek many of the fans had taken from L.A. to get to the event.
The independently promoted festival provided a glimpse of the high ambitions currently propelling hip-hop’s disruption of pop music, TV, film, theater and, of course, the festival circuit.
NOS Events Center was transformed into a trippy, dreamlike playground for attendees to explore. Three performance stages were housed under big top tents painted in a swirl of vibrant hues while a skate park, featuring a maze of ramps and quarter pikes, and a backstage cannabis bar offered a respite from the music pumping from all corners of the grounds. Booths peddling carnival food and artist merchandise glowed brightly and an art installation plastered with dozens of rap album covers flanked a lake that sparked from the countless purple bulbs that were strung in the surrounding trees.
And keeping with rap’s flair for the aspirational opulence, there were sleek, shiny sports cars on display and guests in the posh VIP section were greeted with crystal chandeliers, overflowing bars, illuminated cocktail tables and risers that allowed them to look down upon the 99 percent that packed tents designed to feel more like Vegas nightclubs than festival stages.
Yet even just a few years ago, an event like Rolling Loud felt out of reach.
Back in 2013, traveling hip-hop festival Rock the Bells, which once played this very space, collapsed amid crumbling ticket sales.
Its failure — along with the shuttering of Paid Dues the following year — happened as rap stars were increasingly tapped to headline massive, multi-genre festivals. Just a few years prior, Jay-Z had become the first emcee to top Coachella’s bill, and rappers have headlined nearly every year since. As other festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza filled their lineups with rap talents, an event dedicated solely to the genre seemed to lose economic viability.
But as hip-hop hits new peaks of prominence, the rise of Anaheim’s Day N Night this summer and Rolling Loud’s expansion (it first hit the Bay Area this fall and organizers are plotting international installments in China, Japan and London) seems perfectly timed.
Its artists have long enjoyed status as pop stars, corporate pitchmen, Hollywood players, tech moguls and label executives, but this year has been especially big for the genre.
Nielsen Music confirmed what pop radio and streaming figures already knew: Hip-hop was being consumed more than any other genre and with hip-hop dominating this year’s Grammy nominations and inspiring a spate of film and TV projects, Rolling Loud offered a potent, and important, showcase of how far the genre has evolved in just the last few years.
This wasn’t the place for the venerable elder statesmen typically given top billing at hip-hop events — nostalgia isn’t much welcomed among a generation that’s constantly looking forward to the next. Instead, the night’s big draws came from acts like Gucci Mane, Schoolboy Q, Kodak Black and Dave East, artists that would typically be relegated to side stages at bigger festivals. Here they played to stages that boasted a club vibe, with bodies spilling out of all sides of the tent throughout the night.
Migos burned through a barrage of their brain-numbing bangers; Gucci Mane commanded a crowd with his chilled out swagger, and Jaden Smith delivered a charismatic main stage set that culminated with him announcing he had finished the follow-up to his month-old debut album (further proof of rap’s storied tendency to move at a breakneck pace).
But at Rolling Loud, the real heroes of the night were acts like Lil Yachty, Playboi Carti, Trippie Redd and YBN Nahmir — emcees who have found their voices, and fanbases, online while logging tens of millions of streams.
“I always walk away with new fans from shows … but I’m getting them from the Internet, especially Spotify,” said rising trap rapper IDK, lounging backstage in his trailer after his set Saturday evening. “Playing a festival [can] feel like you’re the new student in school. I was surprised so many people knew the music since I’ve never played here.”
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