Pollstar Live! Coverage 2020: Rolling Loud’s Tariq Cherif Reflects On Past, Present, Future

Black Coffee Productions
– Loud Roller
Tariq Cherif breaks down Rolling Loud’s success for the Pollstar Live! audience.

Rolling Loud’s Tariq Cherif didn’t build an international hip-hop festival empire without charisma.

“Who’s ready to rage?!” the young promoter shouted as he walked onto the stage of the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom with Pollstar managing editor Ryan Borba to begin the final day of Pollstar Live! 2020.

Cherif’s candor lived up to his bluster during his conversation with Borba, which was an installment of the conference’s “Rainmaker: NextGen” series.

Over the course of a half-hour, Cherif detailed how he and Rolling Loud co-founder Matt Zingler have become some of the most powerful figures at the intersection of the live industry and hip-hop, and where he sees the sector going next.

But first, Cherif reminisced about his and Zingler’s history as scrappy Florida upstarts at the last decade’s outset, booking shows with every rapper they could and sweetening the deals by organizing three-show runs through Tampa, Miami and Orlando.

“I was the greatest ticketseller,” said Cherif, with more than a whiff of nostalgia. “I would even have weed dealers selling tickets. Like, ‘You know how you sell weed? Put the tickets next to the weed!'”

Cherif and Zingler hustled, and had plenty of business savvy, targeting Facebook marketing manually before it was a feature on the social network. Zingler now has 1.5 million Instagram followers; “He’s a rock star,” Cherif said.  

With Rolling Loud, which launched its first iteration in Miami in 2015, the duo used its experience with the market to build a successful hip-hop festival – and one that’s rapidly expanded beyond its Florida roots.

“At the time, nobody gave a shit,” explained Cherif, referencing the industry, but fans gravitated toward the event.

Its first year drew 6,000 for one day and lost $100,000, he said, but the 2016 iteration, a two-day affair that moved 15,000 tickets per day, made that back and turned a profit. When the event expanded to three days in 2017, drawing 40,000 attendees each day for a lineup topped by Kendrick Lamar, Future and Lil Wayne, Cherif said agents finally started calling Rolling Loud, instead of the other way around.

“After that show, we were thrown onto the map,” he said. “The whole hip-hop community was in love with our show.”

The festival has now staged events in Oakland, Calif., Los Angeles, New York City and Sydney, but despite its rapid expansion, it aces challenges. Hip-hop booking fees continue to rise – “It’s analogous to the EDM boom,” Cherif said – and continuing to assemble splashy lineups can be challenging, given the genre’s relatively small pool of major headliners.

“There’s only so many headliners we can book that are at that colossal level that we’re expected to deliver,” …. “When you’ve had headliners like Kendrick Lamar, Travis Scott, Post Malone, Lil Wayne, anybody in that caliber, not having them or people as big as them, your lineup looks like shit, because they’re comparing you against yourself.”

Cherif colorfully illustrated the conundrum with an analogy to the rock world.

“It would be like if I had Guns N’ Roses and Metallica and whatever other white people shit, and I did that a few years in a row, and then I came back and gave you some new band that is hot, but not as big as those iconic bands,” he said. “You’d be like, ‘What the hell is this?'”

Rolling Loud wants to help emerging artists grow to be the headliners of the future, but that’s been complicated by tragedy.

“Unfortunately, our festival has lost five artists that died, a few of them that I think would’ve grown to have been headliners,” said Cherif, alluding to artists such as Lil Peep and Juice WRLD, who both died from overdoses.

“You don’t wanna be corny,” he said. “I don’t want to just come up here and be like, ‘Don’t do drugs!’ But, you know, pills kills man. … We’re looking at, like, ‘Pills Kill’ might be a program that we launch.”

But Cherif still thinks the future is bright. Though he compared the current rap boom to EDM’s explosion about a decade ago, he thinks the former genre has more staying power, due to timely lyricism, long-entrenched hip-hop culture and a committed core fanbase that will likely endure.

He’s looking for young associates to help him and his small team keep their fingers on the pulse – “I gotta find the 20-year-old me,” he said with a laugh – and while he said more domestic expansion for Rolling Loud is unlikely, he sees more international growth ahead, from Asia to South America.

To wit: On Wednesday, Rolling Loud announced its European debut, which will take place this July at Praia Da Rocha Beach in Portimão, Portugal, with a lineup topped by A$AP Rocky, Future and Wiz Khalifa.

“We did book Portuguese rappers, British rappers, French rappers and German rappers, because you gotta respect the locals where you’re going,” Cherif said. “But when you’re doing a show overseas, they don’t wanna see their show. They want to see Rolling Loud, which is a U.S. show. It’s definitely, primarily, our flavor.”

As for the stateside copycats that have staged events with strong similarities to Rolling Loud?

“That was frustrating,” Cherif said. “But at the same time, it showed me we’re doing something right that other people want to participate in. Let them do their thing. It drives competition and it keeps us on our toes.”