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For its first festival in New York City, Rolling Loud packed the parking lots adjacent to Citi Field with tens of thousands of screaming pre-teens, middle-aged hip hop lovers, and everyone in between. Rihanna, Kevin Durant, Philadelphia Sixers co-owner Michael Rubin, Alchemist and “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” actor T.J. Atoms were a few of the stars backstage who shined as big as the stars onstage. A$AP Rocky and Travis Scott reaffirmed their statuses as two of the preeminent live acts in hip hop with astounding sets. The weather was perfect for a festival and there were fun attractions like hooping on a basketball court or trying out Action Bronson’s new ice cream.
Rolling Loud NYC was packed with fun. It was just wrapped in mayhem.
As the festival was getting underway, a notice from the New York City Police Department to the Rolling Loud organizers was released and requested that artists Pop Smoke, Casanova, Sheff G, and Don Q not perform at the event. While vitriolic chants of “fuck the police” — not uncommon for New York City hip hop crowds— weren’t incited by the rappers onstage in defiance, a few spoke up about how disappointed they were in the decision to remove those rappers.
“I wish they could’ve been here because that’s the essence of the town right there. Cas might be the hottest nigga in New York right now. How do you take him off the bill? That’s corny. Sucker shit happens for bigger shit to happen later,” Dave East told REVOLT TV after his set. “I think Cas is in Miami right now doing [Club] Liv. So, you can’t stop what God got planned for niggas.”
The police presence was felt at Rolling Loud beyond the removal of artists. You could hardly go a few yards without seeing a group of them in NYPD windbreaker jackets and plainclothes roaming around. They would even cut through the crowd to get backstage, while certain artists such as Sheck Wes and Moneybagg Yo performed.
People smoking weed at festivals is common enough and didn’t affect how well the event was run. Even though Rolling Loud prohibited drugs being brought in, the event also had a gigantic, fake joint on display for people to take pictures by in the VIP area. What did make the copious weed-smoking so startling was the innumerable amount of times police officers simply ignored people smoking.
One person was in the middle of rolling a joint in one hand while showing VIP security his ID in another as a gaggle of police officers sauntered past him into the area. Another guy who was smoking, while watching Sheck Wes send the fans into a pandemonium, saw a police officer pass through a freshly expelled smoke cloud without as much as batting an eye. It was hard to not get the feeling that the NYPD was only at Rolling Loud to hunt for rappers and their associates when you saw how openly they chose what to care about.
Few artists electrified the crowd like one of the biggest rising rappers in the world right now: DaBaby. He arrived at the festival grounds less than an hour before his performance on the Fashion Nova stage and still gave one of the most memorable performances. If you were at Rolling Loud, you would understand why his latest project KIRK debuted at No. 1 — it was thanks to his personality and fan connection... and bars, of course. He performed songs like “POP STAR” and “INTRO” for the first time in NYC and the crowd knew every word to each. That personality was on full display with him jumping into the crowd before performing and then throwing his boots into the crowd.
The Fashion Nova stage had most of the biggest artists perform and it was one of the biggest missteps by the festival. Unlike the other two stages, this stage had a long runway that cut into the middle of the crowd and ideally would give more people better views of the artists. Here’s the problem: When you give people more ways to get closer to the artist, they will push to get even closer to the artist, regardless of space.
Twenty minutes before Rico Nasty’s 3:50 p.m. set on Saturday, fans in the front on the right side of the stage were being squished by those behind them, pleading with security guards to have someone get on the mic and make an announcement for people to move back. At least 20 people had to be removed from the crowd for safety issues before the rapper’s performance was halfway done. One teary-eyed woman was carted off in a wheelchair at the conclusion of Sheck Wes’ set. It got so bad, Ski Mask The Slump God got on the mic and told everyone to turn around and walk backward.
One of the most heartbreaking images from the festival was that of a young woman with her chest pressed against the steel barricade fighting back tears, while waving her hands in the air still trying to turn up during Rico Nasty’s performance. No other stage had the sheer volume of people removed like the Fashion Nova stage, yet there was no notice sent out by the Rolling Loud organizers to attendees of the Sunday show about either its hazards or how fans should act in order to prevent the sort of injuries and discomfort clearly on display the day before.
Besides bringing the biggest artists together, Rolling Loud has always been a great place for lesser-known acts to gain new fans. That’s what Philadelphia hip hop and R&B artist Bri Steves did by captivating the crowd with her golden door knocker earrings, a crown of locs and see-through top as she poured her heart into every song. Her 1:25 pm set drew a rather large crowd.
“Honestly, we [figured out the setlist] right before I was about to go onstage. I was like, ‘[DJ] Aktive. What songs are we doing, bro?’” Steves told REVOLT TV. “We did a few songs and then changed it up as we were performing. We went with what the crowd was messing with.”
She’s a Rolling Loud alum, having performed at the festival’s Miami date in May 2018. “The feel is different. Miami is a party city. New York is the birthplace of hip hop. So, it’s a little grittier. That’s why I like New York a lot better,” she explained.
Between acquiescing to the police’s demands to remove rappers and the unsafe Fashion Nova stage, that New York City grittiness wasn’t always handled the best way. While it was more mayhem than magic at Rolling Loud’s first NYC event, it’s hard to downplay how big of a moment the festival was for both New York City and hip hop, as a whole.
“It feels good. They had to bring it to New York. I feel like this is where the culture started. It feels good to have all of these different artists from different places come to the city,” Dave East added.