Sirens erupted from the stage as chants of “MOSHPIT!” repeated through the crowd, scores of rambunctious, sweaty hypebeasts dividing themselves up to collide against one another. The audience quieted to an apprehensive lull as thousands of hungry fans awaited the distorted 808s, hypnotic melodies and most of all, the raspy, high-pitched voice of Playboi Carti, the instigator of the riot that members of the crowd would soon find themselves lost in.
Everything went quiet. With cries of “SLATT! SLATT! SLATT!,” what was once a gathering of Playboi Carti’s cult-like fanbase became a warzone as he ran on stage dressed like a “bat out of hell,” drenched in designer leather. Off-kilter notes played from what sounded like a toy piano as Playboi Carti began his set, bouncing around the stage to his mosh anthem, “R.I.P.” As the song reached its end and the herds of Playboi Carti “stans” began to tire, sirens interjected once more. They continued on as Playboi Carti sent a message to the hackers that continuously steal and leak demos of his highly-anticipated album Whole Lotta Red, yelling at them to “stop stealing (his) s—,” and then unleashing a bloodcurdling scream as the strange image of a two-headed winged rabbit flickered in red behind him.
As he strode and dashed from left to right across the stage, his fans followed along, bashing into one another as if Playboi Carti’s energy was directly feeding into their own. And it’s easy to see why he would have the sort of charisma that he does. The 23 year-old SoundCloud superstar began his music career by skipping his high school classes to record and quickly emerged as one of the most influential young rappers. The artist put a spotlight on what old hip-hop heads call “mumble rap,” along with his frequent collaborator Lil Uzi Vert, changing the sonic landscape of popular music by introducing the mainstream to the beats of rap producer Pi’erre Bourne. Although Playboi Carti began his music career at the age of 16, he has proven that he still has not yet reached his peak as he continues to experiment and evolve musically — his continued viral success with songs like “Pissy Pamper” sustain his relevance and ubiquity.
Highlights of the set: “Long Time,” “Pissy Pamper,” “Neon”
— Zach Cruz
“I came here to have the best night of my life,” said Lil Mosey to the crowd midway through his set — and the 17-year-old artist from Seattle delivered. One of the freshest and youngest faces at Rolling Loud, Lathan Moses Echols — better known as Lil Mosey — brought the heat with his fearless performance, strutting across the stage with seasoned swagger. Recently inducted into the prestigious XXL 2019 Freshman Class identifying the 11-most promising rap artists, Lil Mosey is in good company with artists such as Megan Thee Stallion and Gunna, who also took the stage at Rolling Loud this year.
Repping a Rico Nasty shirt and black sweatpants, Lil Mosey didn’t let the crowd’s lack of awareness of his lesser-known songs faze him. He rapped the hook of “Bust Down Cartier” from his 2018 debut album Northsbest with the crowd before fully launching into it, so that the audience knew what to sing along. Mosey’s signature nostalgic type beats that accompany his natural mumble make Northsbest effortlessly catchy. The crowd seemed to agree, as they bopped along and sang the hooks of most of the songs. “Noticed” was the biggest hit of the night. Mosey played it twice and the crowd loved it, chanting every word on both rounds.
Lil Mosey left the crowd with some words of wisdom: “Whatever you do, do what the f— you want to do. If it’s positive, do it.” This was reflective of Lil Mosey’s own journey — the rapper dropped out of school to focus on his career after his hit single “Pull Up” took off, reaching over 25 million views over a year after its release. Mosey’s onstage charisma was surprising given his age, and the momentum he’s been riding since before the release of Northsbest affirmed his place in this year’s XXL Freshman Class, stirring up excitement for what’s to come.
Highlights of the set: “Noticed,” “Burberry Headband,” “Kamikaze”
— Roshni Rawal
“Lil Boat, Lil Boat, Lil Boat, Lil Boat” blasted from the speakers and chanting returned fervently from the crowd. And this continued until it was no longer the moniker, but the man himself — Lil Yachty — out on the stage. His signature red braids and beads were swinging, and his gold grill peeked out as a big, goofy smile landed on his face as he launched straight into “Dead Man Walking” — his recent collaboration with Quality Control. Lil Yachty yelled out “ROOOOOLLLINGG LOUDDDD,” addressing the crowd passionately as a flashing cartoon Lil Yachty ran toward the crowd on the screen behind him. “We’re about to go f—— dumb,” he shouted, and a voice in the crowd responded, “YES SIR.”
The self-proclaimed “King of the teens,” the 22-year-old Atlanta-based artist embodied this off-beat, carefree persona, gracing the stage with his quirky dance moves and self-assured bubblegum trap.
Lil Yachty’s ability to think out of the box when it comes to his musical and personal style is attributed to his rise to fame. The rapper rocked a hoodie and knee-length shorts both covered in 15th-century artwork, a graphic version of Leonardo da Vinci’s “The Last Supper,” splayed across his chest. Lil Yachty’s loopy, dinky beats and casual lyrics were a breath of fresh air at Rolling Loud in comparison to some of the more intense headliners.
Energy levels were high as 10k.Caash joined Lil Yachty for “SwajjurKicks,” the audience laughing as both turned out their best dance moves. And when a huge mosh pit in the center of the Dryp stage opened one final time under Lil Yachty’s instruction, the crowd went wild, bouncing with hands in the air as the familiar keyboard and “brr” noise of “Minnesota” filled the arena. Lil Yachty left the crowd the way he entered, with a resounding “Lil Boat.” Lil Yachty’s performance was 100% sunshine, and the repetition of his moniker throughout the set was a reminder that his virality is a result of his distinct personality.
Highlights of the set: “Wanna Be Us,” “Ice Tray,” “SwajjurKicks”
— Roshni Rawal
The High Hemp Stage brimmed with restlessness as the crowd waited for Juice Wrld. He was supposed to be performing after rap legend Young Thug but, in an unsurprising turn of events, Young Thug was absent from his own set. Juice Wrld was ready to take on hyping up a crowd that was almost as angsty as his own music after a one-hour wait. The guttural sound of gunshots permeated the crowd and the audience held finger guns in the air as Juice Wrld’s voice filled the stage, repeating the phrase “gun ‘em down.” It was the perfect opening to “Armed and Dangerous,” off of Juice Wrld’s debut album Goodbye and Good Riddance. Juice Wrld strutted across the stage, his Louis Vuitton bathrobe dragging behind him as the crowd cheered.
“I ain’t gon’ lie … Rolling Loud Bay Area is the littest of them all,” Juice Wrld stated before launching into “Fine China” from his collaborative mixtape with Future, the flickering pink storm clouds behind him anticipating the incoming hysteria. His verse, “It’s her body or nobody, I refuse to compromise / So if she leaves, I’ma kill her, oh, she’ll die / Did I say that out loud? I’m so crazy about mine,” is a trademark of Juice Wrld’s music, which is filled with heartbreak and brutal emotional pain. The insanity in Juice Wrld’s songs is disturbingly contagious — his songs emote, as well as his performance.
Juice Wrld’s performance of “Lucid Dreams,” the hit single that brought him into the mainstream, electrified the crowd. He switched the smooth guitar that adorns the track for intense rock. At times, Juice Wrld screamed into the mic, evoking the unique cross-genre emo rap he is known for, influences stemming equally from artists such as Chief Keef and Black Veil Brides. Soon after “Lucid Dreams,” Juice Wrld genuinely thanked his fans and called them “family.” Leaving the stage, he communicated a surprisingly optimistic message, saying, “You can do whatever you want in this life,” citing himself as an example. Juice Wrld’s zealous performance paralleled the drug-induced delirium and anguish that make up his lyrics, but his interaction with the crowd tempered the madness of his music, establishing him as a serious, strategic player in the rap scene.
Highlights of the set: “Graduation,” “Mannequin Challenge,” “Lucid Dreams”
— Roshni Rawal
Young Thug appeared all over Rolling Loud, performing with many of the artists that he has influenced and mentored. For the current generation of Atlanta street rappers, Young Thug has served as a blueprint for longtime success, constantly keeping his sound fresh through countless features and the notorious amount of time he spends in the recording studio. Since his humble beginnings, Young Thug has never had a hard time standing out, splashing onto the Atlanta scene with street classics like “Lifestyle” marking mumble rap’s introduction to the mainstream. In many ways, 2019 has been Young Thug’s biggest year, seeing the highest-charting song of his career, “The London,” as well as his first number one album on the Billboard charts, So Much Fun, releasing to praise from critics and fans. This year, Young Thug set out to become a superstar. He not only managed to earn the respect he’s deserved for so long but he also released one of the best albums of his prolific career.
Arriving a little more than fashionably late, Young Thug missed his set to instead make a brief cameo with Juice Wrld for “Mannequin Challenge,” as well as a longer performance in between Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert’s sets. Kicking things off with “Just How It Is,” it was easy to see why Young Thug has experienced a surge in popularity as of late. He has a natural charisma that exudes humility and gratitude toward his fans and haters alike. Not to mention the auto-crooner’s ear for infectious, sing-song melodies that left thousands of fans singing and swaying along to Wheezy’s infamous 808s. Young Thug shared a lively rapport with the crowd’s front row, as audience members barked for their idol to sing the Barter 6 classic “Halftime.” Young Thug responded, muttering the hook of the song and then confessing that he could not remember the rest of the lyrics. Herds of teenage boys admire Thug’s honesty; the fact that he is unapologetically himself. In a time in which this is becoming rarer and rarer, Young Thug is emblematic of the kind of artist hip-hop needs: a risktaker, a thinker, an icon.
Highlights of the set: “Just How It Is,” “Hot,” “I’m Scared”
— Zach Cruz
Lil Uzi Vert
It’d be a massive error to underestimate Lil Uzi Vert. Despite what his name might imply, Li Uzi Vert carries colossal starpower. Following a tumultuous year of release delays and mass confusion, Uzi’s long-awaited second album, Eternal Atake, found itself in limbo with fans speculating whether or not it would ever truly be released. Coupled with a messy relationship with his former record label, DJ Drama and Don Cannon’s Generation Now, Lil Uzi Vert has had a tough year with only two of his songs officially being released. At this past weekend’s Rolling Loud, however, it felt as though he was gearing up for something truly special — as if he was booting up for war.
The energy displayed in his performance proved that his fanbase had stuck by him, as synths whirred like an alarm of the future, crowds of ricocheting fans sang the opening lyrics to Lil Uzi Vert’s 2016 breakout hit “Money Longer.” Lil Uzi Verts’s crisp auto-tune serenaded the audience as they sang every word back to him; his carefree, lively spirit infecting his listeners with the need to dance. While his setlist was often lyrically dark, dealing with heartbreak and drug reliance, his ability to craft and perform earworm hooks and complex flows was tangible evidence of Lil Uzi Vert’s superstardom.
Sweaty little hypebeasts drenched in Supreme, BAPE, and Off-White collided during the rapid-fire flow of Lil Uzi Vert’s drill-influenced call for help, “Free Uzi.” Toward the end of the night, Uzi brought out his close friend and frequent collaborator Young Thug, hitting his iconic shoulder roll to the glorious trumpets of Thug’s “Hot.” As the distorted piano keys of Lil Uzi Vert’s megahit “XO Tour Llif3” showered the crowd, Young Thug snuck up behind Lil Uz Vert, whispering what appeared to be words of affirmation to the youthful artist. Seeing the two onstage together felt symbolic, as if Young Thug was passing his mic onto the next generation of artists, a new breed even weirder than the one that came before it, and in his set, Lil Uzi Vert exemplified that perfectly.
Highlights of the set: “Money Longer,” “The Way Life Goes,” “Watch”
— Zach Cruz