Rolling Loud: ‘Not Just A Festival’ Sets Trends, Goes Global
Few music festivals have become full-blown media events, but Rolling Loud is different.
Show-stopping stunts make headlines, like when Lil Uzi Vert leaps 20 feet from the front of house into the crowd.
“We love that!” Rolling Loud co-founder Matt Zingler says. “Is it a liability? Yeah! Would a lot of festivals allow that? Definitely not. Do we? Yeah, because we’re more rock ’n’ roll. You gotta let it go. He’s not hurting anybody, he’s doing his thing.”
Tabloid dramas play out on stage, like when Migos member Offset interrupts Cardi B’s set with a “Take Me Back” sign to profess his love for the singer in their ongoing public lover’s quarrel. Sean “Diddy” Combs even loudly proclaimed Rolling Loud “the Woodstock of hip-hop, the hip-hop Super Bowl.”
“We have TV shows trying to come in to film for different celebrities. It’s funny that it’s gotten to that level,” co-founder and fellow South Florida native and 29-year-old Tariq Cherif adds.
What started out as a big warehouse party in 2015 has turned into the largest dedicated hip-hop festival in the world, independently promoted with events on all four corners of North America, a new Australia event and more global expansion imminent.
As Rolling Loud has outgrown its single-site home base of Miami, it may too have out-grown the term “music festival.”
“Rolling Loud used to be something that we had to explain to people,” 30-year-old Zingler says. “It’s defined now as a concert but what people are going to realize soon is that Rolling Loud is a lifestyle. And soon when you say the word you’re not going to know if you’re talking about movies, media, merchandising, you won’t know what it is, it will just be a lifestyle. It is hip-hop, in my opinion.
Scott Dudelson / Getty Images – Lil Skies at Rolling Loud Los Angeles 2019.
Scott Dudelson / Getty Images – Lil Skies at Rolling Loud Los Angeles 2019.
“Initially when we started it, it was a concert and we were considered promoters, but I really consider us more event producers and we focus more now on experiential and lifestyle brands.”
The words echo similar sentiments from previous tastemakers in the live space, such as when Insomniac founder Pasquale Rotella raised eyebrows at industry panel discussions when saying a festival’s lineup is secondary to the overall experience. Electric Daisy Carnival, of course, went on to define a lifestyle and expand globally attracting hundreds of thousands of fans.
While the prevailing trend in music festivals is in the artist-curation or boutique model – with every-one from outlaw country artist Cody Jinks to hip-hop hitmaker Post Malone getting their own self-branded festivals – Rolling Loud represents a whole subculture. This means that, as the culture evolves, it can too.
“We wanted to make sure it lives forever and this is how you do it,” Zingler says, mentioning the duo’s focus on media channels, gaming networks, Twitch, its own merchandise lines and various collabs with artists.
And who knows where hip-hop will be in a few decades?
“I wonder if I would go to a Post Malone show when I’m 65, is that going to be my dad’s Bocelli?” the completely tatted Zingler says, laughing. “My dad’s 75. He loves Bocelli, loves Billy Joel and Elton John. Is that me? That’s what I’m most interested to see.”
Rolling Loud is, however, still a very impressive music festival on its own. Its flagship three-day Miami event in sold upwards of 40,000 tickets per day and its inaugural one-day event in Australia – Jan. 27 with a bill including Future, Rae Sremmurd, YG and Tyga – sold out in hours. Rolling Loud remains strong in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, promises a New York stop later this year, and, once they can successfully navigate all the red tape, will continue to expand globally. Likewise, it very much has a strong lineup, with representatives from the upper echelon of the genre this year such as hotter-than-ever Travis Scott, Kid Cudi, Migos, Cardi B, Lil Wayne, Juice WRLD and many others as well as the up-and-comers deep on the 100% hip-hop bill – many of whom will likely go on to become stars.
“This is probably our biggest, best lineup yet and the most eclectic at the same time, with a lot of different styles on there,” Cherif says of the Miami bill, which takes place May 10-12 at Hard Rock Stadium. “We’ve never had Kid Cudi before, that’s huge for us. And then having Travis Scott right now, you got probably one of the top festival acts you could see. We’re super stoked on the lineup.”
The undercard is deep as well, peppered with solid draws such as Young Thug, Lil Baby, Playboi Carti, Beast Coast (Joey Bada$$ with Flatbush Zombies), Denzel Curry, Smokepurpp and many others.
“A big part of our lineup is if you go five lines deep, we have artists that are still massive, selling out 3,000-cap venues on each day,” Cherif said, adding that the event is sold out but, while working with the proper local authorities to release more tickets, he couldn’t publicly disclose how many tickets had been sold so far.
Scott Dudelson / Getty Images – Cardi B / Offset
Migos member Offset interrupts Cardi B’s set at Rolling Loud Los Angeles at Banc of California Stadium Dec. 15 in what appeared to be an unscripted attempt at getting her back. It’s just the latest high-profile media moment to take place at the taste-making hip-hop event.
With hip-hop being arguably the freshest, most popular genre at the moment – from a Super Bowl halftime show stopper by Travis Scott, standout Grammy moments by Kendrick Lamar to Childish Gambino, Post Malone and Cardi B topping major festival bills and headlining arena tours – there is still pressure to put out a lineup that satisfies both the casual and underground fans. Financial realities, too.
“I really do believe that we will always book who you want to see and who’s hot, but everything needs to be at certain prices, and we want to make sure we can provide that same experience for people at the right price,” Zingler says. “Because, as the years go by, the talent grows. If you look back at some of our fliers from the past, some of the guys that were billed really small are now headlining Triple A’s and doing multi-nights, and you can’t have all of them on the same show.
“I think for us, from the lineup perspective and future bookings, Rolling Loud is really focused on the experiential and also about booking the next Travis Scott or Post Malone. We pride ourselves on platforming talent and showcasing up and coming talent that will be the next big thing. I think we do a great job at that, and that’s what separates us from a lot of other festival properties.”
The duo became friends back in grade school, growing up together in Florida learning the ropes of party planning by putting on keggers. They later graduated to putting on hip-hop club shows with their Dope Entertainment, putting on shows by artists that would become hip-hop stars, such as Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt and A$AP Ferg among others. “We were touring all these big hip-hop acts, Kendrick even before anyone else was booking Kendrick, when he was doing 700 tickets in Tallahassee,” Cherif said. “We were pushing, pushing, pushing booking tour after tour and a lot of the time losing money, selling 50 percent of the room. We were promoting a lot of artists that are now killing it.”
The first Rolling Loud in 2015 was in a warehouse, “it was all we could afford!” but quickly grew, with its third year selling out with Kendrick Lamar topping the bill. Even then, not everyone believed in or understood the vision.
“It’s really funny. Everybody was like, that’s not a festival, that’s a rap show,” Zingler said, laughing.
Cherif added, “Even on the third Rolling Loud that had Kendrick, but definitely the first two, when we said we’re doing a big hip-hop festival, people would say, ‘What? Why would you do that?‘ Now, people are trying to figure out how they can do it.
“We sold out that year with 40,000 people per day, so it was huge, don’t get me wrong, but we sold out a couple weeks before the show and were still promoting pretty hard. Now, we sell out in a couple hours.”
Rolling Loud’s rise to coast-to-coast tastemakers has drawn the notice of the industry as well, including fellow hip-hop and festival promoter Sascha Stone Guttfreund, whose ScoreMore Shows (now a Live Nation affiliate) produced Travis Scott’s Astroworld fest and is promoting J Cole’s Dreamville. “I’m also so happy to see the Rolling Loud guys winning,” he said, adding that it’s “a great example of once-upon-a-time underdogs earning their success.”
Booking agents are clearly fans as well, and want to see their artists on such an influential event, including one fellow South Floridan who represents a major act on the Miami bill.
“It’s like P-Diddy said, it’s Woodstock for hip-hop,” said 33 & West’s JJ Cassiere, who represents DMX. “For that genre of music, it’s the festival, not just for headliners but for developing acts, too, which is really cool about what those guys are doing.
“Some festivals lack the lower portion of the bill and they’re limited on openers, but that festival is a monster.”
With an influx of hip-hop artists, and major contemporary festivals now long on the trend of hip-hop headliners, is there a worry of saturating not only the festival market but hip-hop as well?
“The marketplace can withstand maybe three big arena tours per year,” Cherif said. “We are kind of wary of that, but our edge against that is the up-and-coming talent and what we’ve been saying, that it’s still a lifestyle brand. Only so many artists can do arenas. … When a fanbase has seen you X many times already, it’s just math.”
“Anybody can go to an arena show,” Zingler says. “It’s the same gate, same parking, you have to deal with security, finding your seat and getting there. You may go onto the floor, but, ‘Oh my God ,there’s chairs on the floor. I thought I was going to party on the floor!’ Then there’s production. ‘What is that? I thought it was going to be something bigger.’ It’s not always what you think,” Zingler says, adding, “Then again, sometimes you put a rollercoaster inside like Travis or do something unique, and that’s cool.
“It still takes us all year to build and there’s always going to be a wow factor. Honestly, I see arena tours suffering before Rolling Loud suffers.”
As for just how big that expansion becomes, and not “wanting to shoot ourselves in the foot” by announcing international markets before everything is fully confirmed, Rolling Loud may hit 10-12 markets, Cherif says, “Just a sustainable amount.”
Zingler clarifies, “That’s total. We’re not going to have more shows in the U.S. because our goal is to hit the four corners and have them separate enough to not conflict with each other, and still offer the experience to those who can’t go to every one.”
Overseas targets include Asia, Europe and South America.
“On the business end, everything is turn-key and ready to go,” Cherif says. “That’s how high the demand is on the buyer side on the ticket side and everything. The barriers are bureaucratic, with challenges of getting artists into the country, different local laws and insurance and permits and all of that.”
With Rolling Loud being an obvious anomaly as a major but fully independent festival, questions of selling to a major corporation are sure to arise. <blockquote class=”instagram-media” data-instgrm-captioned data-instgrm-permalink=”https://www.instagram.com/p/Bq5whqMAUjl/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_medium=loading” data-instgrm-version=”12″ style=” background:#FFF; border:0; border-radius:3px; box-shadow:0 0 1px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.5),0 1px 10px 0 rgba(0,0,0,0.15); margin: 1px; max-width:540px; min-width:326px; padding:0; width:99.375%; width:-webkit-calc(100% – 2px); width:calc(100% – 2px);”><div style=”padding:16px;”> <a href=”https://www.instagram.com/p/Bq5whqMAUjl/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_medium=loading” style=” background:#FFFFFF; line-height:0; padding:0 0; text-align:center; text-decoration:none; width:100%;” target=”_blank”> <div style=” display: flex; flex-direction: row; align-items: center;”> <div style=”background-color: #F4F4F4; border-radius: 50%; flex-grow: 0; height: 40px; margin-right: 14px; 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“You’d be stupid not to read an offer,” Cherif told Pollstar previously. “We’ll read the offers. Can’t promise what will happen after that. We like being independent, it’s great, but we got kids too. Matt has expenses, (laughing).”
“We’re not stubborn, we’re just reserved,” Zingler added. “The reality is that we’re not really looking to sell. When you’re trying to buy something that’s not really looking to sell, you lose a little leverage.”
And, while making the rules and calling the shots, the leverage seems to be all theirs.