If You Think Coachella Abandoned Rap, You’re Not Paying Attention

Yes, the Kendrick Lamars, Lil Babys and the Cardi Bs of the space aren’t headlining this year, but rap gems remain an active part of the space.


Image via Getty/Pusha T at Coachella 2019


It’s tempting to say otherwise, but make no mistake: Coachella 2023 is as rap-heavy as ever. Seriously—it’s in the numbers. Since 2016, the iconic concert series has listed an average of about 15 hip-hop acts per festival, with this year’s edition landing at around 20, or 21 if we include the polymath Frank Ocean, who’s inextricably linked to the genre in many ways as a former member of Odd Future. Last year, there were 16. The festival before that one, there were 17. So technically speaking, there’s more hip-hop than there’s been in a while. But something does feel different. The total hasn’t changed much, but the roster has, and that might explain some of the lukewarm reactions to the lineup when it was initially announced in January

Since its unveiling, fans have had plenty to say about the perceived lack of rap acts. “Coachella lineup kinda sucks this year but still going to make the best of it. why’d they drop the ball so hard with hip hop and rap acts,” wrote one Twitter user. “The Coachella lineup selection says ‘rap, you better step it up,’” quipped another. 

Despite frustrations from some, Coachella remains a big deal. You don’t get Bad Bunny, Frank Ocean, and BLACKPINK as headliners without serious music festival street cred. Yes, the Kendrick Lamars, Lil Babys and the Cardi Bs of the space aren’t headlining this year, but rap gems remain an active part of the space.

Amongst this year’s artists are a few hip-hop luminaries we shouldn’t brush past. Pusha T’s got Daytona and Clipse offerings to serve up, and It’s Almost Dry was arguably the best rap album of 2022. Metro Boomin’s Heroes & Villains gave him some competition, and he could bring out any number of surprise guests. A Boogie’s got hits for days, and GloRilla had a song of the year. $uicideboy$ are massive; Yung Lean is a cloud rap legend. Doechii is special, and Latto’s become a veritable star. And once again, they’ve got Bad Bunny, a Latin trap star who earned over $91 million in just a month from touring. 

“Because they’re gonna sell out regardless, they’re just gonna put random good artists on there versus people who are gonna push tickets.”

“Once you have a person like that, you don’t necessarily need nobody else,” says Grade A Productions partner Pete Jideonwo, himself a former concert promoter. A lot of people might not be fans of Coachella’s lineup this year, but Jideonwo says the array of performers is proof that festival organizers will usually opt for taste above all else. It’s a value system afforded by clout. “Coachella is becoming more of a discovery platform,” he says. “Because they’re gonna sell out regardless, they’re just gonna put random good artists on there versus people who are gonna push tickets.”

Coachella 2023 might not make Yeat or Post Malone fans happy but it does give space for other less publicized artists to shine—and gain ground with new fans. Years ago, Keith “Keefa” Parker, Atlantic Records’ VP of A&R, stumbled into a particular artist who left his mark at the festival. 

Soaking up the sounds of 2017 Coachella, Parker remembers the moment he laid eyes on Denzel Curry for the first time. Zeltron commanded the side stage audience with all the electricity of an established superstar, and from that day on, Parker knew the South Florida rapper would do big things. Moments like these are, in part, made possible by spurts of aimlessness, an underrated hallmark of festival culture. You wait and wander about festival grounds before your fave hits the stage, and there, you can find sounds you never knew you loved.

“People are really going to Coachella for the experience and the environment,” Parker says. “There’s just fans walking from tent to tent, but ultimately a lot of them end up watching people they’ve never seen.” 


Both Jideonwo and Parker note the benefits of putting on a dynamic performance at the festival. For his part, Jideonwo is also aware of a hidden truth about great Coachella sets: they aren’t cheap. “The last time we played Coachella, we spent almost $300,000 on the set. We spent more than we were paid,” Jideonwo says of one performance. “So I think that’s another reason why a lot of hip-hop acts might not do it.” 

“To me, it’s like the regular season and the playoffs,” Parker says, comparing the 8-year-old rap festival Rolling Loud to Coachella. “Rolling Loud is more of a cultural playground for hip-hop artists. Whereas with Coachella, your performance is scripted. If you’re gonna bring out this person or this person, this is planned out ahead of time. [For] Rolling Loud [it’s] like, ‘Okay, who’s all on the lineup on my day? Let’s bring this person out.” 

“Coachella [is a whole] different crowd where you gotta be prepared,” notes Jideonwo. “But if you kill it, you kill it.” 

With that in mind, newer artists like Latto, Flo Milli and GloRilla have the chance to turn their Coachella sets into coronations for rap stardom. The typical rap blockbusters aren’t there, but fans could be looking at the next ones. Latto and Flo Milli were previously named XXL Freshmen in 2020 and 2021 respectively, but with the pandemic in full effect, Coachella didn’t return until last year. Now, they’ll get the chance to show just how dynamic they can be as performers. 

Less than a year removed from signing to Yo Gotti’s Collective Music Group, and just about six months after dropping “Tomorrow 2” with Cardi B, GloRilla now has the chance to perform the singles that transformed her life—on her biggest stage yet. 

Ascendant rappers should have every chance to shine in their moment, regardless of how other folks feel about the lineup. According to Parker, Coachella serves as at least one valuation point for an artist’s career trajectory. “Based on their live show there, you can kind of gauge like, ‘Okay, like this is somebody who is gonna be around.’” 


Having performed their first festival over 30 years ago, it feels like Cypress Hill qualifies as a crew with longevity. One pathway to increased relevance—and revenue — has involved a commitment to the festival circuit; that ongoing dedication began in 1992. Shortly after unloading their titular debut album, Cypress Hill, Sen Dog got the chance to solidify his crew’s rise as he took in the sights of an audience he didn’t know he had. He got his education while performing on the side stage at the 1992 Lollapalooza festival that included acts like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, and Pearl Jam. “Once we played there, I knew this is the crowd I want to cater to,” he recalls in conversation with Complex. “This is the audience. They love everything.” 

“That’s why I was like, we could go on tour for a year, just us guys and tour our asses off, or we could just do two tours with these bands and service way more people,” adds Sen, who cites the Beastie Boys as the first rap group he saw take this route. “So it became just like a thing of like, this is the no-brainers, let’s go do these festivals.”

“I have not seen a trend of hip-hop not being represented… We’re very much an employable force.”

Rap’s come a long way since Sen and Cypress Hill performed at Lollapalooza. Years later, in 1999, DMX delivered an iconic performance at Woodstock. Hosted in 1999, the first Coachella didn’t have rap A-listers, but it did have some hip-hop pioneers. At the inaugural event, the Jurassic 5 and Kool Keith performed for a crowd that probably hadn’t seen golden age rap artists before. From there, rap’s presence steadily increased, with acts like The Roots, Mos Def, Del The Funky Homosapien and Gang Starr coming into the picture by 2001. 


In 2010, Jay-Z became the first rapper to headline Coachella. Since then, acts like Kanye West, Dr. Dre & Snoop Dogg (2012), OutKast (2014), Drake (2015), and other rap superstars have also taken the stage. It reflects rap’s rise to prominence in both Coachella and on the festival scene as a whole. If there are threats to rap’s continued presence, they’re mostly theoretical. 

Over the last few years, spurts of controversy and tragedy have followed hip-hop at live events. At Travis Scott’s 2021 Astroworld Festival, multiple fans were killed in a stampede. That same year, Los Angeles rapper Drakeo The Ruler was fatally stabbed at the Once Upon a Time in LA concert. Even before those instances, folks have been apprehensive about rap-heavy events, with the New York Police Department preventing acts like Pop Smoke and other local artists from hitting the stage at Rolling Loud New York. Citing “logistical factors” they say were beyond their control, organizers for the annual festival canceled the 2023 edition. 

While instances of calamity pose risks to rappers’ ability to participate in music festivals, it doesn’t seem like there’s been a dip in their attendance. “I have not seen a trend of hip-hop not being represented,” Sen Dog says. “A lot of these shows that Cypress Hill does most of the time, we’re not the only hip-hop act on there. We’re very much an employable force.”

Coming off their recent performance at J. Cole’s extremely well-organized Dreamville Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina, EarthGang is also looking to continue their own festival run at Coachella. After taking the stage to perform with label mate J.I.D there last spring, the duo—made up of Johnny “Olu” Venus” and Doctur “WowGr8” Dot—is now looking to grab their own piece of eternity at the festival. Having dropped multiple well-received albums as part of J. Cole’s Dreamville label, they aren’t new. But Coachella gives them a chance to leave a powerful impression. 

“Coachella [is a whole] different crowd where you gotta be prepared…. But if you kill it, you kill it.”

“We’re bringing everything that we’re known for, the showmanship, the music, the artistry, the fashion, the crowd control, and leaving it all in the desert,” says Olu. “I hope to get a real chance to show what made us who we are,” adds WowGr8. 

For Olu, the upcoming set is a sort of career-reaffirming accomplishment that goes beyond changing trends and festival lineups. It also represents unfinished business. “Last year was very beautiful but it wasn’t an official EarthGang show,” he says, recalling their surprise appearance during J.I.D’s set. “I feel magic every time.” The duo is on the official lineup as a standalone act this year and partnering with BMW (which folks have their eye on as speculation rises around the potential meaning of Ocean’s classic orange E30 sighting) in their “Dare To Be You” campaign. The duo is, in many ways, using their platform with Coachella to do something a lot of these acts should, and hopefully will, be: “This year, we’re telling our story.”

Here’s a playlist for the road:


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