Three minutes after I walked through the gates at Rolling Loud, Blueface had already convinced a half dozen women to take their shirts off. Three hundred feet away, a pair of dancers were hanging upside down from side-stage stripper poles while two mosh pits broke out simultaneously as Gunna prepared for his set.
Everyone at Rolling Loud New York came to party.
A few hours earlier, though, the traveling hip-hop festival’s first year at New York City’s Citi Field in Queens got off to a shaky start with the news that five of the city’s artists—Casanova, Pop Smoke, 22Gz, Sheff G, and Don Q—had been pulled from the lineup because of a letter sent to Rolling Loud organizers by the New York Police Department.
“The New York City Police Department believes if these individuals are allowed to perform, there will be a higher risk of violence,” NYPD assistant chief Martin Morales wrote. Rolling Loud organizers fulfilled the request and dropped the artists from the bill, but co-founder Tariq Cherif explained that their hands were tied and they needed to cooperate if they ever wanted to bring the festival back to New York. “All the public sees is the letter,” he explained on Twitter. “Way more happened behind closed doors. If we want RL to return to NYC, we have no choice but to comply. That’s the position we’re in.” Cherif also promised to pay the artists' full booking fees and send them offers for future Rolling Loud festivals in other cities.
Throughout the two-day festival, it was clear that Rolling Loud’s goal was to be as accommodating to its host city as possible. Sunday night, standing on stage before Lil Uzi Vert performed, Cherif handed out water bottles and urged everyone to give fans in overcrowded areas more breathing room. “Do you want us to bring this back to New York?” he asked, hinting that his goal is to turn Rolling Loud New York into a recurring event. The crowd responded with the same kind of enthusiasm they had whenever a DJ played anything by Travis Scott.
Armed police officers were stationed at festival entrances and event security maintained a strong presence. 60,000 tickets were sold for each day, which resulted in instances of uncomfortable overcrowding on the festival grounds in Queens, but the weekend was largely devoid of fights and there were no notable reports of violence. Beyond the NYPD letter, Rolling Loud’s first visit to New York went off without incident.
Five years after the festival’s inaugural event in Miami, the spirit of the South Florida SoundCloud rap scene that birthed Rolling Loud was still at the core of the New York City edition. Ski Mask The Slump God and XXXTentacion’s “Take A Step Back” has become the festival’s unofficial theme song, and DJs played it between sets any chance they could get. The track’s simple chant—“Fucked up, fucked up, fucked up, fucked up”—serves as a dutiful mission statement for a crowd that showed up with one thing in mind: moshing. “Open the pit” was yelled from stage more often than anything else all weekend, and high-energy performers like Denzel Curry thrived in the raucous environment.
Decorative palm trees lined the festival grounds, and Miami will forever be at the core of the event’s DNA, but Rolling Loud organizers made an effort to represent New York’s traditional roots as well. The Wu-Tang Clan took advantage of a prime Saturday night time slot to deliver a setlist of hits that spanned multiple decades—even Lil Pump fans like yelling along to “Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin’ To Fuck With”—and New York artists like Jim Jones, Young M.A, and Action Bronson filled out the lineup on both days (although they were relegated to the Sauce Stage, which drew considerably smaller crowds than the other two stages). New York A-listers like ASAP Rocky and A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie drew the weekend’s biggest crowds, and melodic newcomers like Lil Tjay gave a peek at the city’s future. The absence of Pop Smoke, 22Gz, Sheff G, Casanova, and Don Q was noticeable, though, and DJs responded by repeatedly playing Pop’s “Welcome to the Party,” to the delight of his hometown crowd.
If the tone of Rolling Loud New York was set by anyone, though, it was Travis Scott. Miles away from Citi Field, teenagers wearing ASTROWORLD merch filed into the 7 train early Saturday morning, setting the stage for a festival that at times felt like a Travis Scott show with dozens of openers. Throughout the weekend, the wildest crowd responses came whenever anyone played a Travis collaboration (Young Thug’s “Pick Up the Phone” was a notable example). And despite injuring his knee midway through his set, Travis’ Saturday headlining performance was the highlight of the weekend—at least according to dozens of kids who each excitedly recounted their first-hand moshpit experiences as they walked over the Roosevelt Avenue bridge late Saturday night.
Despite a rocky start, the Rolling Loud New York experiment was a success—one which will likely earn it a return trip to the city in future years. Far from a traditional NYC rap experience, it was a two-day event that catered to the genre’s youngest fans, with an eye squarely focused on the future. If you went to Rolling Loud New York for a peek at the next decade of rap, the takeaways were clear: It sounds like Travis Scott and A Boogie, it feels like a mosh pit, and it unfortunately comes with the same police frictions that have followed the genre for decades.
As we await potential Rolling Loud New York festivals in the future, here’s a look at five of the most memorable moments that happened in its first year:
ASAP Rocky’s homecoming headlining set (with a little help from 50 Cent)
Returning to New York City for his first full performance since a controversial month-long detention in a Swedish jail this summer, ASAP Rocky was all smiles on Sunday night. Parading around the stage with bras hanging from each of his arms, Rocky repeatedly told the New York crowd how much the city means to him. “When it comes to this New York City shit, this shit shaped and changed my whole fucking life,” he explained, before playing The Diplomats’ “Dipset Anthem.” Then he ended the festival by tipping his hat to the city: first, a guest appearance from Queens legend 50 Cent, followed by a performance of “Yamborghini High” with the rest of the ASAP Mob, dedicated to the late ASAP Yams.
Travis Scott performing through an injured knee
“I ain’t gonna lie, I think I just broke my knee right now,” Travis Scott told the crowd midway through his Saturday night headlining set. “But this show can’t stop just yet.” After injuring himself, Travis momentarily paused to tape up his leg, but he never stopped performing. From the crowd, it didn’t end up making much of a difference, and the mosh pits resumed as usual. As Travis wrote on Instagram a few hours later, “The ride never ends.”
A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie’s whole set
Before Sunday night, I had never witnessed an A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie performance with my own eyes. I had seen the impressive sales figures, and I had heard his influence on a whole new wave of young New York rappers, but I hadn’t seen the impact in a physical environment. Streaming numbers are one thing, but would it translate to real-world success? The answer is an emphatic yes. Taking the stage at 6:30 p.m., A Boogie wasn’t an official headliner, but he felt like one. The crowd was bigger and more energetic than anyone (outside of Travis) all weekend, as New York fans moshed to hits like “Swervin” and “Mood Swings.” At least to this subset of fans, A Boogie runs NYC.
Young Thug bringing out Gunna for “Hot”
I don’t know the ins and outs of physics, and I won’t pretend to understand how concrete works, but I swear I felt the ground bounce in the parking lot at Citi Field when Young Thug brought out Gunna for “Hot.” If it wasn’t already clear what the biggest song from So Much Fun is, we all have our answer now. Thug has another festival banger in his arsenal.
Denzel Curry’s wild midday set
It’s never easy playing a festival stage when the sun is still up, but Denzel Curry beautifully handled his Sunday afternoon set, whipping the crowd into a frenzy long before ASAP Rocky had a chance to shut things down. Even in New York, Rolling Loud has a sweet spot for wild performances from South Florida rappers.