Rap and hip-hop fans around the world can rejoice — Rolling Loud has left its roots in Miami and has taken to the road. The music festival, which featured legendary rap and hip hop artists, including Travis Scott, Lil Wayne, Schoolboy Q and 21 Savage, arrived in the Bay Area this year, taking up residency at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View over this past weekend.
The festival was not without its fair share of dicey moments — XXXTentacion flat-out refused to perform a song to completion, Berkeley-based rapper Lil B took to the stage solely to deliver an impassioned monologue about an altercation he had with another rapper — and many of the performances were casual and spontaneous at best, lazy and sloppy at worst.
And yet, that was almost the point, or at least beside it. The hundreds of fans that rolled (loudly) through the various sets were there not for the astounding lyricism and fresh musicality that characterized these artists’ albums, they were there to see these artists in the flesh — attendees craved authenticity, energy and larger-than-life personality above all else, and the performers delivered. A vibrant and hyper-charged dynamic (if not a rebellious one) defined Rolling Loud’s presence in the Bay Area, and fans of the fast-growing music genre were sure to leave satisfied, whether the sets elevated performances or de-heightened them.
— Shannon O’Hara
Ugly God at the Loud Stage, 5 p.m.
Do you think Mozart was allowed to yell, “Fuck you Mozart!” at the audience when he performed for Empress Maria at the Hofburg Palace? Is Carnegie Hall hosting any upcoming concerts where artists can openly smoke blunts along with their fans? At the Rolling Loud Festival, rebellious Soundcloud rappers such as Ugly God are given a platform to lash out against traditional conventions of performance.
“Fuck you Ugly God,” the Houston rapper led chants as the audience loyally followed.
Only in his world is “fuck you” considered a phrase of endearment. But that’s what you would expect from a group of subversive artists like Ugly God that rose from the digital underground and are now being associated with “Hip-Hop’s Punk Movement.”
With incessant horns, police sirens, mosh pits and water bottles constantly flung up in the air, that labelling isn’t so far off. The crowd was very much punk-like.
Ugly God’s set would make the average person think they’re in a parallel universe or some absurd world — i.e. modern day California — where women and men alike shout sexually objectifying lines and thank him for it afterward.
“Thanks, Ugly God,” the crowd would repeat. What are we thanking him for again?
But to Ugly God’s credit, he does show understanding in something that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could never pull off, and that’s the art of improvisation.
His moves, if you can really call what he does “moves,” his chants and every horn sound effect blasted through the speakers are off the cuff, but Ugly God knows they’re enough to rouse the audience and keep them going.
Naysayers might retort that we should blame the low expectations of the masses for allowing something like Ugly God’s set to be considered an acceptable performance. The rapper took several liberties to let the backtrack play rather than actually rapping to the song, but the audience still welcomed him with open arms.
The critiques of Ugly God’s performance persona are valid. After all, just because the crowd responded positively to his deliberate and repeated use of homophobic slurs and vulgar phrases doesn’t make them acceptable. It’s still problematic, even if Ugly God’s goals lie in subversiveness, unconventionality and impropriety.
No thanks, Ugly God.
— Lloyd Lee
Lil B at the Wav Stage, 5:20 p.m.
Lil B. The BasedGod. A huge icon in the industry, this man’s legacy precedes him because of his careful crafting of revolutionary tracks, such as “Woo Woo Swag” and “Wonton Soup,” that made him go viral in the rap community. In fact, many of the rappers performing at Rolling Loud in some way owe credit to Lil B’s loosening of the genre’s boundaries, as his infamy grew to his slew of album releases full of songs with objectively terrible rapping but containing hilarious parodies of the rap scene, both criticizing and popularizing the kind of “swag-rap” that dominates hip-hop today. The Bay Area rapper also promotes a life of positivity and tolerance, unlike most rappers, and calls it “based.” As Lil B sauntered on stage, donning a blazer with no shirt underneath and peering through his sunglasses and long dreads, the crowd, thrilled, condensed to the front.
He rose the mic to speak: “Hey man, A Boogie and his whole crew just jumped me in the back, man, and beat me up in the back, man. That shit crazy, man. But I’m going to tell y’all like this — it’s all love, I don’t promote violence, I’m never with the violence. So I love them and it’s all good, you feel me? It’s all good. I said something about Boogie’s music, and they all got mad and they jumped me. … I got jumped by like 10 motherfuckers. Me by myself.”
A ubiquitous sea of confused faces started to look around, questioning each other on what had just occurred. New York rapper A Boogie wit da Hoodie, known for his hit “Drowning,” had performed his set just before Lil B. Part of the 2017 XXL Freshman class, A Boogie is a fresh face in the scene, and before this, there was no obvious beef between the two.
Lil B continued: “It’s all love though, like I said it’s all love. And I got love for everybody. So I just wanted to tell y’all because they stole my shit and everything so I can’t even do my show because they stole my shit. But I say it’s all love though and I love them and I love y’all. This is just a testament to show just because somebody do something to y’all don’t mean you got to retaliate. It don’t matter. God is good, I’m alive. We all alive! It’s your boy Lil B, shout-outs to the Based God! New Lil B music soon, man. I’m about to hit this doctor make sure I’m all good, man.”
And then he walked off stage.
— Hansol Jung
Playboi Carti at the Loud Stage, 7 p.m.
Plaid scarf adorning his neck, orange satchel around his shoulder, and tats on his neck and his arms, Playboi Carti has a singular stage presence. This isn’t because of his physicality on stage — which is all but expected at a rap show — but because of his ability to succeed with the exact opposite, too: he can make a lazily leaned posture look like the coolest thing since the advent of punk rock, casually bumping his head and jovially doing a half-boogie across the stage all while drawling along to his simplistic, yet slapping bars.
Fresh off of his self-titled debut, Carti is now the trend – cosigned by A$AP Rocky, constant collaborator of Lil Uzi Vert and one of the early pioneers of the not-so-affectionately dubbed “mumble rap,” Carti can afford to get cocky. He’s 21, rocks Raf Simons and acts like a modern-day rock star.
While his lyricism edges on the boringly repetitious side, his carefully crafted hazy dream-fueled sound characterizes his music and propels it to such popularity. His obvious attention to the presented aesthetic is what allows him to craft such an intriguing performance; the use of hauntingly playful melodies on loop, interjected with Carti’s aggressive, superfluous and egotistic bars, contributes to a drug-inducing atmosphere that is both undeniably groovy and uniquely relaxed. His voice is mostly monotone, but is inflected smartly to let rhymes hit crisply, setting the audience under a temporary trance that creates an eager desire for the next line to hit their eardrums.
Opening his set fittingly with the first song on his album, “Location,” a song that samples an Allan Holdsworth song, “Endomorph,” from 1989, Carti sets the scene with Holdsworth’s jazz fusion sound, tightening it with a beat and then letting his head bump in unison with the crowd. Succeeding this, he dropped the beat for his breakthrough hit “Magnolia,” and the roar of the crowd milly-rocking fueled the rest of his set, where he even bumped his old SoundCloud hits, like “Broke Boi.”
An attractive tone, in tandem with his attractive visuals, instills an inherent likability in his performance unique to only several rappers in the scene. Yes, he likes diamonds and chains, but he isn’t tacky or overdone, and this minute attention to fashion and appearance allows him to reach a much wider audience than most new-wave rappers — not just mosh-ready, angsty teenage boys.
But then again, it’s hip-hop. So, in the words of Carti himself, “Open the fucking mosh pits … psych the fuck out!”
— Hansol Jung
XXXTentacion at the Wav Stage, 7:30 p.m.
“We’re in San Jose, right,” XXXTentacion said on a stage in Mountain View.
If rappers are the new rockers, X aims to be the new goth rocker. He’s shaved off his eyebrows, looks disturbingly pale, rarely smiles and came out on stage with a silver chain wrapped around his throat, looking like a noose. He’s lately dyed his infamous black/blond hairstyle an ashy gray, to make the message clear: Take me seriously.
His set was barely a performance. He played all the way through one or two songs, which is impressive, considering most of his songs barely go over the two-minute mark. And while the DJ hit play on their MacBook, X was content to just vocally coast off the pre-recorded track.
Right after “Jocelyn Flores” stopped playing, X immediately hopped off stage to bask in his fans adoration. X “assumes a cult-leader authority over his die-hard battalion of stans,” and nowhere was that more apparent than on Sunday.
X quit performing and waited for the audience to mosh. His tone escalated from a stern, “I don’t perform until this corner to that corner is pitching, bro,” to an angry, “Everybody sit still stop moving sit still do not move, do not move!”
At some point he successfully made it into the crowd, where he was apparently tackled and pulled down into the masses, and got into a fight with a fan. The fight, which involved several punches to both their faces, ended bizarrely in a hug.
He never made it through the set. During “Depression & Obsession,” X decided to climb the scaffolding bordering the stage, and hung off of it, backwards, about 30 feet in the air while performing. Security then cut the power to the stage, and men clad in black escorted X offstage.
XXXTentacion is a spectacle, much like a car accident.
— Adesh Thapliyal
Travis Scott at the Loud Stage, 9:45 p.m.
With Lil B’s announcement that he was “jumped” by A Boogie wit da Hoodie and his crew, and after XXXTentacion beat his own fan and got his set cut short by security, Travis Scott’s performance seemed oddly wholesome and tame in comparison to those of other Rolling Loud performers.
A large black curtain covered the stage, while fans restlessly waited for “La Flame” to make his appearance at Rolling Loud. And after 45 minutes and a couple of “Where the fuck is Travis Scott?” later, the curtains dramatically drop to reveal a large fierce eagle with a spotlight dangling from its talons.
Just what the fans wanted right?
On stage, Scott is known, or rather even notorious, for his exaggerated movements — he typically jumps up and down and brings his knees towards his chest while his dreads accentuate his movements. This energy, along with his tendency to dial up the volume of his vocals on every one of his songs, brings out the best in Scott and his audience.
However, that ability to energize the crowd was hindered on Saturday by his limited movement, as he stood on top of a robotic bird, which ultimately amounted to a lot of effort for little return. Kudos to the prop designers, it was a pretty cool looking eagle. But it wasn’t enough to justify his 45-minute-late appearance.
To say that Travis Scott soared on top of the eagle would be an exaggeration. It would be more accurate to say that he dangled on top of the bird as it anticlimactically swayed from left to right.
It was more than sufficient when Travis Scott stuck to the ground while rocking a safety harness — counterintuitively not worn to secure him on top of the bird, but rather as if it was the latest trend in streetwear — and danced along with his audience.
But maybe this set design was truly for the rapper and his artistic expression rather than for the audience. When asked about the meaning of the title to his second album, “Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight,” Travis Scott told Billboard that it was a reference to the city he grew up in, “It’s a social connection trap from what you want to do and how you want to express yourself. I feel like everyone just gets constricted by their parents or just, life.”
And now that Scott is heralded with a platinum album record and 19.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify, he’s no longer a bird in the trap, but a high and dangling animatronic eagle in Mountain View, California.
At the very least, we should credit Scott for maintaining a little bit of his jumpiness and loud vocals even while precariously levitating above the stage.
— Lloyd Lee
Lil Uzi Vert at the Loud Stage, 8:15 p.m.
Lil Uzi Vert lit up an impressive amount of blunts on stage. Maybe that’s the reason why he couldn’t muster up the energy for a decent performance.
Uzi performed all the hits — “Money Longer,” “The Way Life Goes,” “XO Tour Llif3,” with barely any interest. Uzi yelled over the backing track, but his voice was flat, and he seemed checked out. Considering his previously wacky Rolling Loud antics, including backflipping 20 feet into the crowd in LA, his set was the biggest disappointment of the festival.
When Uzi brought Playboi Carti on stage to perform their duet “wokeuplikethis*”, he was easily eclipsed by the younger rapper, who bounced across the stage like the Energizer bunny.
Midway through his lackluster performance of “Bad and Boujee,” Uzi stopped the track.
“That’s turnt but that’s a little too mainstream. How many of y’all in the crowd know about Chicago?”
Uzi then brought out G Herbo, a drill rapper from Chicago, who also managed to overshadow the former in a thrilling mini-set.
All in all, Uzi’s performance was depressingly empty and skippable.
— Adesh Thapliyal
Lil Yachty at the Loud Stage, 6 p.m.
“Anybody had hate? Anybody had someone tell them they won’t do shit? On the count of three we’re gonna say fuck ‘em.”
We don’t deserve Lil Yachty. He’s charming, he’s fun, and he knows how to play festivals right.
He appeared with his trademark hair hidden in a beanie and prominently wearing a Selena tribute shirt that read “Siempre te recordaremos.” What other rapper would dare to display his undying love to a female pop star, and a queer icon to boot?
Yachty carefully avoided deep cuts, and kept all his tracks widely sing-along-able, to the point that he performed his features on “Broccoli” and “iSpy” rather than dip his toes into the obscure reaches of his discography.
And the crowd loved him. One fan in the crowd had his hair styled like Yachty, complete with glass beads. When Lil Yachty told them to mosh (as almost everybody did at the festival), the crowd actually listened. Who would say no? Lil Yachty’s a goofy performer, and he puts the audience in an agreeable mood.
As he played fan favorite after fan favorite, him and his “Sailing Team” crew hyped up the audience. They threw water bottles out into the crowd, and had them stage a gigantic water fight. The sight of hundreds of water bottles flung into the air was a festival highlight.
— Adesh Thapliyal
Lil Wayne at the Wav Stage, 7:45 p.m.
“I’ve been doing this shit for 20 years.”
Lil Wayne is 35 years old this year; he’s hardly “Lil” anymore. He has a formidable legacy behind him, in the form of his label Young Money, his acclaimed Tha Carter albums and the enormous influence he exerts among the next generations of rappers.
Almost all the headliners at Rolling Loud borrow directly from him in some way or another: the occasionally post-verbal rapping, the rockstar persona, or the goofy and wild lyrics.
The stage was bathed in red as Lil Wayne laid down his bars.
Wayne performs most of his music without a backing vocal track, a bold move that wasn’t imitated by any other headliner, bar a few a capella sections here and there. He also has a live drummer on stage, which adds a crunch and a presence to his music that the other headliners can’t get by playing their tracks off a MacBook.
His talented crew extends to his DJ, T-Lou, who skillfully hypes the crowd in a voice that sounds startlingly like Lil Jon’s. Lil Wayne throws it back, performing some of his greatest hits, like “6 Foot 7 Foot” and “Lollipop.” On the lightboard behind him is nostalgic clips from his music videos, showing Wayne a decade younger in the prime of his career.
The set was, essentially, a retrospective: a celebration of a career compressed in a couple of songs. Lil Wayne didn’t hold back on his delivery, and he never seemed to forget a lyric. He’s an old hand, and he’s here to show what it takes to survive 20 years in the rap game.
He ended his final song, a version of “No Worries” with electric guitar wails instead of synths, with this humbling line:
“Three important things before I get out this motherfucker. Number one, we all ain’t shit without the man up above. Number two, I ain’t shit without you. Rolling Loud, what’s number three? I ain’t shit without you.”
He bowed, said “thank you”, and walked off the stage to Whitney Houston belting out the chorus of “I Will Always Love You.”
— Adesh Thapliyal