The Miami-based Rolling Loud Festival is an anomaly. The independently owned multi-market festival features solely hip-hop artists and is owned by two 20-somethings who took their licks booking club shows in Florida. Now their business is on the verge of becoming a global phenomenon.

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Rolling Loud Southern California

Rolling Loud started three years ago to just 6,000 fans in Miami and this year attracted 120,000 over three days to see a lineup topped by Kendrick LamarFuture, Lil Wayne, Travis Scott, A$AP Rocky and many others May 5-7 at Bayfront Park.

“We were sold out super in advance. It was ridiculous,” said Tariq Cherif, who co-promotes Rolling Loud with partner Matthew Zingler.  “For us to sell out in advance in our third year at that scale, I was sitting there like wait, what. We’re supposed to have tickets at the door (laughing).” 

Paradigm’s Erin Larsen, who books Lil Uzi VertPlayboi Carti and other rising hip-hop artists (see also: Pollstar's Urban Live Explosion), says events like Rolling Loud have created more opportunity for artists.

“It used to be here or there you’d see Ludacris on something or Kanye on something, but it would take you getting to a certain kind of level,” she said. “I think you’re starting to see brands like Rolling Loud and others that are looking more to invest in hip-hop.”

This year, Rolling Loud has expanded into California’s Bay Area as well as the upcoming Rolling Loud Southern California, Dec. 16-17 at NOS Events Center in San Bernardino. 

The bill includes major stars like Future, Migos, the red-hot Lil Uzi vert, Gucci Mane, and Post Malone, but Rolling Loud’s pride and joy may be in its ability to field a lineup of true up and comers that may not otherwise have such a platform before they blow up, with a deep lineup of  50 to 75 artists like Lil Wop, Yung Bans and Chaz French.

“We just knew what the properly crafted lineup would do,” Cherif told Pollstar of Rolling Loud’s growth. “It’s not an actual equation, but we kind of know – if I spend this much, have this much big talent with this much up-and-coming talent with the right media and the right lineup, I will generate this amount. You kind of know.”

The event has become known as a premier showcase event for hip hop artists and regularly makes headlines when crazy things happen during shows.

Cherif and Zingler talked to Pollstar about Rolling Loud’s beginnings, its explosive growth and some standout performances.

Is there any other event like Rolling Loud right now?

Cherif: No. We were the first of the “modern” hip-hop festivals. There was Rock The Bells 10 years ago and that sort of thing, but that was a whole different vibe. These days with what’s going on now, we’re the first and we’re the only ones to be taking it to multiple markets and to do it the way we do.

Zingler: We’re kind of in our own lane and we have our own goals. Our goals are to take this event into major markets internationally. As of right now we are going to be in Asia in 2018. We have Japan and China and dates in Europe in 2018 in well.

Lineups are based on the country and what’s happening locally. We always like to have local acts. Internationally, everything’s a little different. And a lot of these guys can’t travel, due to legal issues. It’s difficult to get people into China, it’s all government stuff.

  

With so many festivals out there already, what makes Rolling Loud stand out?

Cherif: Our differentiating factor is that it’s 100 percent hip hop. By doing that, we’re able to book all the up and comers. The combination of the top-tier talent along with the underground and up and coming champions results in a melting pot. It’s this a perfect equation that makes it pop off.

 It pops off in other ways when you combine genres for other festivals, they do just fine combining genres, but there’s something about having all one genre that you get this core following that is unlike any other – the amount of engagement you get, the amount of merch sales, the followers and likes and comments and all that. It’s unlike I’ve seen on other festivals.


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Photo: Photo by C Flanigan / Getty Images

Lil Yachty Rolling Loud - Lil Yachty performs during the Rolling Loud Bay Area at Shoreline Amphitheatre Oct. 22. 

  

What’s your previous experience and how does your Dope Entertainment fit in?

Cherif: Dope Entertainment is a separate company, it’s our first company, that we operate still separately. It’s the hip hop concert tours that we book in Florida. We started in 2010, with shows like Rick Ross, and Curren$y, the Big Seans, Mac Millers, Wale, that type of stuff, Ab-Soul, Earl Sweatshirt, A$AP Ferg. We were touring all these big hip hop acts, Kendrick even before anyone else was booking Kendrick, when he was doing 700 tickets in Tallahassee.

We knew we had this core following of people who were coming to all of these hip hop shows. Matt and I wanted to do a big show, but we always wanted to do an arena show at first. Because we really hadn’t thought of doing a festival.

We started getting hired by other festivals to promote their festivals. We said, “Wait a minute. We could do a festival. We could do a big hip hop festival.” And we just book all these guys that we know have fans, hard-ticket fans. We never really booked too much radio stuff, we always booked that underground, hard-ticket seller.

We know there is the crowd there. We can mesh them together. There’s the right amount of overlap. And sure enough it went off.

  

Was there a learning curve?

Cherif: You have to learn the hard way. You have to pay to play. You come in with your ears wet and think your first show is going to profit a bunch. You don’t know it’s not like that (laughing).

Aside from the business side, all the intricate things of producing a concert – now doing 1500-cap show for us is easy. Our staff just does it.

Back in the day we learned the hard way. You have to take care of hospitality, have to make sure the production is set up and advanced with the artist and etcetera and etcetera. We had to figure that stuff out.

But we did that, and we learned that for years, until 2015, for four and a half solid years of perfecting throwing concerts in the hip hop space before we did our big one, our first big one.

We can never look back from there. Now we have this other brand, Rolling Loud, let’s go. Let’s build this.


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Rolling Loud - founders Tariq Cherif and Matt Zingler

It’s not all that easy though right?

Cherif: We definitely stress the hell out. But it’s the entertainment industry, there’s always a problem. A rapper always wants to pull out of a show because something happened and you need to fix it. Or you can’t blast off fire during someone’s set because someone playing after the set changed their production at the last minute. So the fire marshal says no more fire before this set.  So you have things like that. Aw man! I have to deliver this news. That stresses me out.

Or in Miami our show almost didn’t happen for what I would call a clerical error. We did everything we had to do and the show ended up happening, but it was very stressful. The entertainment industry is not for the faint of heart. You will lose and you will struggle.

I wouldn’t say you usually win, I’m too young to say that. Hopefully you usually win if you have a good career. We’ve taken a lot of losses on our come-up.

How do artists feel about being included on the bill?


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Young Thug Rolling Loud -  Young Thug performs during Rolling Loud Bay Area at Shoreline Amphitheatre Oct. 22. 

Zingler: I had a conversation with Young Thug in San Fran, and he had talked to me about how he loves playing our shows because we were the first festival he ever played.

Same thing with Lil Yachty. We were booking Lil Yachty, I think we paid him 1,500 bucks. Same thing with Kodak (Black) and 21 Savage, a lot of these guys, Suicide Boys, all these guys popped their cherry at Rolling Loud at Miami. None of these guys were getting on these events and festivals. Because being multi-genre, the allocation of capital goes toward other styles of artists as well. You can’t book as much underground and niche hip hop as we do.

So it’s kind of interesting to see what the artists think about our show and how they feel about it. and it’s become a staple show and it’s a big deal to get on it. We got a call from Jaden Smith’s camp, and he said Rolling Loud is the only festival he wanted to play. That to me is impactful from an influencer like him. And it shows where we’re heading. We’re going in the same direction as Coachella potentially because people want to play our show. If you’re on it, you’re hot.

We’re very exclusive in who we book. If you’re on it, you’re relevant. If you look at our past fliers over the years, you can see how the artists we booked have turned into massive acts. So a lot of people look at it as, hey if I’m on it I’m going to blow up. They believe in the brand.

How do you determine who’s going to be on it then?

Cherif:  We have our back and forth internally. But it’s some type of balance. Number one, do we like it? Nine times out of 10 we’ve got to like it. There’s certain exceptions when it’s undeniable that the fanbase is there and it doesn’t violate our core values of being strictly hip-hop. So there’s that. So after that, in close second is engagement. I’m really into social media and Spotify and SoundCloud and what their numbers are. Not necessarily total but compared to their followings. And what’s going on monthly and weekly for them.

 After that, Matt is well connected with a lot of nightclubs, hearing what’s playing there and seeing what is resonating with people. And obviously we throw these monthly shows. From booking so many shows, and seeing what our DJs play, you see what pops off.

Those are the main ways you figure it out.

Recently, the playlist has started becoming a thing, but not as much as people would think.

It’s fun for me still. It’s what I love. I like the music, it’s what I choose to listen to and I find myself listening to. It’s fun to stay on top of what’s current, because it’s good music.

You should be proud of being independent, but do you ever see teaming up with or selling to the big players?

Cherif: You’d be stupid not to read an offer. We’ll read the offers. Can’t promise what will happen after that.  We like being independent, it’s great, but we got kids too. Matt has expenses, (laughing).

Zingler: We’re not stubborn we’re just reserved. The reality is that we’re not really looking to sell. When you’re trying to buy something that’s not really looking to sell, you lose a little leverage.

  


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Photo: Photo by C Flanigan / Getty Images

Rolling Loud Lil Wayne - Rapper Lil Wayne performs during the Rolling Loud Bay Arena at Shoreline Amphitheatre  Oct. 22.

What Rolling Loud artist sets really stood out and what are you excited about for the San Bernardino event?

 Cherif: Post Malone has the No. 1 record in the world. I’m excited for his set in San Bernardino. Dre London (Post Malone’s manager) is my homey. That’s my dog.

 Travis Scott is crazy. His performances are insane. Future puts on a hell of a show.

 Lil Wayne, come on! Both times we did Lil Wayne have been ridiculous. He has so many hits.

 Then you got some of these underground guys. Lil Pump! Lil Pump shut down the Bay Area. It was crazy, it was nuts. He had the full crowd jumping, just insane.