Music festivals are bloated. Just pull out a magnifying glass and check out the lineup for Coachella. No one actually wants to see hundreds of acts. You go there because you’re interested in seeing a tiny fraction—but of course you’re paying to see them all. The major festival experience is, broadly speaking, a drug picnic in the grass, with perpetual musical accompaniment you tune into occasionally. My last time at Governors Ball, in New York, involved missing the only act I really wanted to see (Future) while I waited in line for security to check my bag. When I finally got in, I drank for five hours to kill time until Drake arrived.
There has to be some kind of a middle ground between seeing a single act at a small venue and seeing every touring act in the music industry. For the SoundCloud rapper generation, that middle ground is Rolling Loud in Miami, which just wrapped up its second year this past weekend at Mana Wynwood and hit capacity with 15,000 people in attendance.
What’s compelling about Rolling Loud is that the lineup coheres. There were two headliners: Young Thug and Future. Lil B played just before Future on the second night, but on a separate stage, so we’ll say he headlined, too. Obviously their fans overlap, but the headliners also serve as umbrellas for almost every other act on the bill in terms of influence and taste. Lil Yachty, for example, is a veritable descendant of Lil B, and was up there on the Based God’s stage rapping all the lyrics to “I’m God.” The bread and butter of Rolling Loud’s operation was this new class of buzzing rappers, many of which were likely playing one of their biggest stages yet.
Yachty, Playboi Carti, 21 Savage, Kodak Black, Lil Uzi Vert: These acts represent the new people’s choice. One can’t deny the effect of 21’s “Red Opps” on a group of 18 year olds. It is a rapturous violence. He could speak just the introductory words—“I pull up roll the window down”—and more than likely, if he cut out the music immediately, the crowd would finish the entire song without him, lyric for lyric.
Upon my arrival to the festival, I witnessed a symbolic moment. Yachty had just met André 3000. Two Atlanta rappers, both known for pushing the envelope in style and sound, on opposite ends of their respective careers, separated by two decades but present for the same thing: the kids. More specifically, André himself might have been there to support one of the opening acts, Divine Council, a young group championed by Erykah Badu.
Needless to say, Rolling Loud was a predominantly teenage thing. This isn’t unusual among music festivals but it was especially noticeable here. Most attendees never had to use LimeWire. I watched young girls get hauled off in ambulances and teenage boys pass out in Supreme box logo T-shirts. This is a music festival that is clearly growing up with its accompanying generation—and hopefully, with the city of Miami.
The lineup was primarily Southern, but it also remained loyal to South Florida. It made sure to highlight hometown heroes like Kodak Black, Robb Bank$, and wifisfuneral, and it had an entirely separate stage dedicated to smaller local acts. Though that stage was never packed like the two main stages, it often carried just as much energy, perhaps as intentional compensation. This was the Citrus Rap stage, affiliated with a blog run by the same people as the festival itself. At one point, one of its acts announced to its very committed crowd, who had sacrificed seeing whichever established acts were playing on other stages at the time: “Let’s show them that the Citrus Rap stage is the stage to be at, too!”
Rolling Loud was a predominantly teenage crowd… Most attendees probably never had to use Limewire.
While the Coachellas, Lollapaloozas, Governors Balls, and Pitchforks have developed followings and ballooned into massive events that temporarily shift the landscape of their respective cities, Rolling Loud is still in its infancy from an operation standpoint. Long lines with minimal security had kids fighting over spots. There were no screens for the people in the back. There was no wi-fi and AT&T data didn’t work throughout the premises. But these were minor setbacks when you got to see Lil B throw his $1,000 Versace shirt into the crowd after premiering his Metro Boomin collaboration and before leading an ad hoc speech on positivity. Early May is also an unfairly temperate time of year for Miami, and for the most part, everything ran according to schedule.
When I was leaving the venue on the second and final night, I heard two 20-something women exchanging frustrations. “We’re old, Nicki,” said one, shaking her head. “I don’t get the youth,” responded the other.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the street, Benjamin Kickz, of DJ Khaled Snapchat fame, was about to get in his convertible BMW. The 16-year-old “sneaker mogul” wore a T-shirt that read “BOOMIN,” as is his characteristic response to Khaled asking him, “How’s business?” Looking down, I noticed sandals on his feet. One read “BOO,” the other, naturally: “MIN.” He climbed into his convertible BMW and drove away.