In just a matter four years, Rolling Loud earned the crown as the premier hip-hop festival in the country. Curated by co-founders Matt Zingler and Tariq Cherif, Rolling Loud has played an integral role in boosting the economy Miami with its robust lineup and diversified acts. Last May, their starry festival -- which included performances by Lil Wayne, Future, Kendrick Lamar and Travis Scott -- wheeled in a whopping $76 million for the Miami economy, according to The Washington Economics Group.
After finding success in South Beach, Zingler and Cherif eyed expansion and later, took Rolling Loud to the West Coast last December. Both the Bay Area and Southern California reveled in joy once acts such as Post Malone, Future, Young Thug, and Gucci Mane graced their respective cities and delivered smouldering sets. Before Rolling Loud continues to dash its way around the globe, including stops in Hong Kong, Japan and the U.K. later this year, the festival will return back home to Miami this May for its fourth year in a row.
Last month, Rolling Loud announced the lineup for their three-day jaunt and caused a frenzy among its rabid fan-base. J. Cole, N.E.R.D., The Diplomats, Cardi B will make their Rolling Loud debut, while Migos, Post Malone, Future, Travis Scott, Lil Wayne will be some the returning stars hitting the Miami stage again. Before May rolls around, Billboard caught up with Zingler and Cherif about their forthcoming festival, some the mistakes they've learned during their four-year run, the lack female stars on the bill, and more. Check it out below.
This is the fourth year you guys are doing Rolling Loud in Miami. Why do you guys feel this year will top the previous three?
Matt: So every business has growing pains, and after doing three other festivals, we’ve had a lot issues, but we’ve had a lot success. It’s really about finding that equilibrium and that balance to be able to find the consumer the best experience possible, but also pritable. So I really feel like this year we’ve fine-tuned the event to the point that we are going to provide the consumer with the best experience possible. It’s Hard Rock Stadium so with the size what we can do from an industry’s perspective, from an artist’s perspective, from a consumer’s perspective is we can have a lot more space. It’s gonna be way more structured because we’re working with different companies every year.
We bring on new individuals that can help us grow to have greater value. And not to mention, I feel this year our lineup is very diversified. We were able to spend a lot more money on talent, due to the demand our festival, and I just feel like overall, from even the bottom line, we’re really hitting those individuals that are making movement in the industry.
Tariq: I think we curated the show a little better this year. Like he said, this year it’s a variety, we didn’t just stick to one sound. And like he said, down to the bottom lines each day, there’s no favored acts, like we approved each act, we curated each act. We just try to do better than yesterday, everyday. Just simple science, trying to get better and better.
You guys caused pandemonium when the lineup for this year's festival was revealed. Talk about some the reactions you received, especially from all the J.Cole fans.
Tariq: Cole and Russ are both very polarizing acts today. They’re both in super high demand for their fan bases, and people aren’t selling tickets like them, specifically for J. Cole, but for Russ as well. For the original Rolling Loud fan base, those are some polarizing acts, and we did see a little bit push back from that crowd, but at the same time, they’re still happy about the rest that lineup. It’s not only about the people that wanna turn up, or the people that wanna only listen to the music from today, which is a little less maybe substantial, you know?
We do cater to lyricists as well with this lineup, for people who wanna hear somebody spill their heart out and talk about the struggles in their community, and trying to make the world a better place. So the reaction from those artists’ fans was super positive, but like I said it’s polarizing. But that’s what we want, we want to cause that conversation. You know, you saw J. Cole just went to the OnSomeShit store to talk with Adam from No Jumer, like now he’s doing our show. Like next thing you know his album might drop, and you might hear some sounds that you’re not used to J. Cole rapping on. The music landscape is beautiful right now, and we just try to set the stage for people to come to play.
Tariq, you mentioned some pushback. Did you guys have difficulty compared to other years when picking this lineup, or was it an easier task?
Tariq: No, it’s never easy. Matt can attest to this, but it’s never easy. There’s always artists out there that we don’t get, that we try to get. There’s always the unicorns out there that we’re working on.
Matt: Yeah, I think that main hurdle when you’re looking at artists is that the music industry changes so fast. You got guys dropping new singles, new projects, new tapes before the event, and you’re trying to book them 8, 9, 10 months out in advance. They’re pitching and selling you on their new tape, they might even send you the music before it even drops, and they’re trying to fight you and tell you, “Hey, I’m bigger than this guy. I should be here, I should be here.”
And then, all sudden, they do a deal with us, and the content based f placement is their current standing, and then they grow so much and the other artists may not be as relevant. So all the sudden, everybody’s like, “I should be here, I should be there. I know we agreed on that, but you know that’s bullshit, and I don’t know if I wanna do the show anymore.” So you have to know how to work the artists’ personalities, and make sure you’re appealing to everybody and negotiate.
So that’s the downside booking out as far in advance as we always do, but that’s also kind our expertise. Like we’re very well versed in the industry, and we know what’s gonna be dropping, and what’s gonna be hot and what’s not. And we really do our best to give the artist the placement that they deserve, and the proper billing. It’s not just about where their name is in the lineup, it’s about who’s the same day and who’s opening before them and after, and which stage they’re on. I mean it’s just so much.
That reminds me when 2 Chainz was beefing with Governor’s Ball about his placement on the flyer.
Tariq: Well they did him wrong, they had him way too low.
Have how you guys been able to avoid that kind thing?
Tariq: We haven’t avoided it. We have that conflict every time.
Matt: We fight it everyday. Everyday.
Rolling Loud manages to appeal to a variety audiences including the legacy acts (NERD, Dipset, Wayne), mainstream stars (Travis, Uzi, Future), newcomers (Trippie Redd, Lil Skies, Slump God), etc. Which group appeals to you both the most?
Tariq: For me, it’s like Lil Wayne is my favorite rapper. But I think, in general, the legacy acts pull my heart strings a little bit more, like I got to make sure I’m there for that because I’m gonna feel some type way. I’m gonna put myself back in 2010 when we were really really bumping these artists and remember where I was at that point in my life, and then see where we are now and be so happy to be doing business with these legends. I could cry about it right now, so that’s the heartstrings.
But low-key, I probably have more fun, but you know Migos set is super fun, Lil Yachty is super fun. Lil Pump? Like woah. So for me it’s like pulling the heart-strings versus having a lot fun. It’s like a good movie.
Matt: If I said that I actually get to go and see a lot the shows, I’d be lying to you because honestly, I’m running around the whole time man, and I barely get to see a lot music. But I will say from a diversity standpoint, like when I curate this lineup, it’s who we f--- with. Like we understand and care about who the general public likes, but it’s still our shit. And like we feel like we’re tastemakers.
So for me as an individual, I’m a huge huge Dipset fan, I have the whole pink Dipset jumpsuit. And I told Cam'ron when he was with me last week], he’s gotta send me the shower curtain, and a custom pair pink Timbs just to rock with that jumpsuit. So for me, I insisted on Trick and Trina. I insisted on Juvenile. That’s the shit I grew up on. I grew up on the Chronic album from Dr. Dre and I really wanted to touch into my roots, back to when I was a little badass in the streets, you know rocking the CD’s that I couldn’t even buy because I was 12.
You guys received some complaints about the lack women on the bill? Last year, there were three and the year before two. You upped the number to 12. How important was it for you guys to rectify the issue, especially with the current climate we're in where females feel discriminated against in the industry.
Tariq: You know what’s f---ed up? People are still gonna be like, "12 out 120, it’s still not enough representation!" But like, we’re not gonna book anybody based on their gender. We book based on great music, and we apologize if we slipped up on missing some great talent, you know? But the fact is there are fers that have been denied. We’ve been trying to book Cardi B for a year. We just finally got her. Stuff doesn’t always work out. So just 'cause someone’s name isn’t on the flyer, doesn’t mean we weren’t trying. We’ve been trying to book Trina. This is just the first time it worked out.
And thankfully, the game is in a place where there are a lot dope female acts expressing themselves, and really speaking and having a voice in the rap game right now, and we’re really looking to highlight that, while not making it a political thing. Like anybody looking to get political about it, go talk to a political magazine because we’re here to just throw a great party. Like we started this throwing parties. The first event we ever did was raising money for Hurricane Katrina when we were in high school, and we made like $5K f a party.
But shout out to the female MCs. Don’t ever label us as disrespecting women because that was never the goal, and we’re only gonna highlight more women in the future. We’re not keeping a tally on how many. I didn’t know it was twelve until somebody said it was twelve. I just knew that we booked some dope ass artists that were male and female. Like come on, it’s 2018, why are we getting caught up in that?
You know, despite how good the lineup looks, I saw some complaints about the exclusion Bhad Bhabie, especially since she’s from Florida.
Tariq: That wasn’t conscious, like we didn’t consciously not book her. And I wouldn’t say we wouldn’t book her in the future. It just didn’t work out this time.
Matt: You know what it is though, in our defense, certain acts are not being realistic with their booking practices. So all the sudden you have an artist who has no tour history, who has never played a venue, who has never done a nationwide tour, who has never done a supporting tour, and they play certain venues like a nightclub, who pay this and that, and they don’t wanna do it for less than that. Realistically, it’s not just like are they available and can they do it. It’s more like, "Are you available? What’s your price? Why are you telling me this is your price?" and making them justify it.
We get really good prices on talent because artists now wanna play our show. It’s not like this is a situation where it’s like, "What’s that fest again? Oh yeah, I did that." Like no dude, you have to look at our festival as something that’s gonna platform you as an artist. You’re gonna have a huge demographic in front you, you’re gonna get increased plays on your Soundcloud, or your Spotify, and get more engagement on your social media when you leave. Not to mention, you’re gonna be able to sell your merch. You make merch money too.
Tariq: And we let artists sell their merch all weekend, not just the day they perform.
Matt: And people collab at our shows, artists meet artists they’ve never met before, they build relationships because they’re there for so many days and we take such great care these acts. That’s really what separates us from other events, and that’s really what separates us from a booking perspective, as well, from other events. That’s why when an artist comes back, and says some crazy number that’s completely unjustifiable based on what another act on the bill has done the show for, we’re not really interested. We’re like, ‘look man, this is the best we’ll do for you, I’m so sorry you can’t be a part it, but hopefully you can see the value in our brand, just because we saw the value in yours.’ Not one artist sells a ticket; sixty artists together sell a ticket, and make it worth something.
In previous years, you guys dealt with rain, artists complaints about performing time, money, lineup misses and more. In your fourth year doing Rolling Loud, how have you guys been able to minimize your mistakes, or at least the variables you can control?
Tariq: We just don’t quit man. At our first event ever, we took a huge L. This was 2010, it wasn’t Rolling Loud. We didn’t quit then and we will never quit. Like I said, everyday we just try to do better than the day before. We learn from our mistakes, we try to empower our team and the people around us properly, so we don’t micromanage ourselves out business. And we just try to do our best, and we’re the best at it!
Like no shit, that’s why there’s no hip-hop festivals. They can not go through the situation what happens if a stage gets shut down because it’s too rowdy? What are you gonna do when a certain act refuses to go on the stage unless you give them more money? Are you ready to have those conversations? Are you ready to be in the field? Are you ready to deal with rapper egos? Are you ready to have people be really mad at you even though you might not have done anything wrong?
Like hip-hop is still hip-hop, and a lot these corporations are afraid. Like they want in on the money because they see it, but they don’t know how to respect guys from the street and speak to them like equals. These big wigs and these guys from Live Nation, they’re multimillionaires, and they’ve never seen a day in the street. They meet a street manager and they don’t know how to talk to them. But we’re right there with them. We came from the bottom just like you, and we’re here with you. There’s a lot respect. We get into it with people, but we come out it respecting each other more because we faced the issue head on and get through.
Matt: But that’s why Tariq and I are so important on site, and that’s what people don’t understand. Without Tariq and I, there is no such thing as a Rolling Loud because not only are we ready to handle those situations, we have the authority to handle those situations. So there’s a big difference to having owners the festival on site that are representing their best interests and their brand that can move however they need to move to have full authority over everything, then it is for another event that’s so disconnected--you know you have your stage manager guy, then you have your head hospitality, then you have some head security Joe Schmo guy, and then you might have your talent buyer.
But we’re all those in one. So when you’re talking to us, we know what we paid you, we know what you want, we probably worked with you in the past. You know the value us because there’s not just one Rolling Loud anymore. You got two in California, there’s almost five set in Asia, and at least four to five in Europe. They have to look at the big picture with us, too. Like, “These guys go out everywhere, they have a great brand, I’m always safe, I always have a great show, they always put it on for me, I get my cool chains, they take care me in the green room, I have no issues.” Like it’s a walk in the park. It’s a walk in the f---ing park. And that’s why guys like to play our shit. And that’s it.