Rolling Loud Festival finally made its way to NYC this past weekend, taking place at Citifield in Queens under sunny skies. Home to a handful of the artists on the bill (A$AP Rocky, Sheck Wes, etc.), New York was the perfect backdrop for the festival; it almost felt like a homecoming weekend for these performers. Before the crowd even filed into the festival, chants of excitement burst at the seams from every attendee young and old; groups of friends started hollering on the inbound 7 train. Though the first day had its downs (delayed set times, artists being removed due to NYPD investigations, etc.), the strongest acts of the day resurrected the festival with their infectious energy. All aboard the Rolling Loud express.
All photos by Joyce Jude
The New York native Sheck Wes kicked off the day with intent—he was determined to make every single person in the crowd a fan by the time his set finished (as if they weren’t already). Howling into the sky, the crowd was ready for him to transform into the Incredible Hulk. Sheck started his set with an unreleased track “Bill Clinton,” which was received with unanimous cheers. He followed up with songs “Chippi Chippi,” “Gmail,” “Fuck Everybody,” and “Live Sheck Wes.” As expected, the highlight of his set came when he performed “Mo Bamba,” an irresistible fan favorite. As he did at Governors Ball earlier this year, Sheck delivered his best to every person in the crowd.
YG opened his set with a heartfelt video tribute to the late Nipsey Hussle, a long-time friend and fellow artist whom he worked closely with. After the somber in memoriam, YG wasted no time getting the party started. He warmed the crowd up with “BPT,” “Suu Whoop,” and “Handgun” — all of which showcased his slick, west coast rap style. As a live performer, YG was on beat with clear articulation and had delivered his verses heavily, while conveying his passion for and dedication to his art. It’s no wonder he’s a seasoned veteran in the rap game and has unquestionable longevity. His charisma and stage presence dominated the stage and shook the crowd. The songs “FDT” and “Stop Snitchin’” both had their own skits; YG brought a fan (“Harry Potter lookin’ kid”) on stage to yell an obscenity to the president for “FDT,” and the concert screens flashed Takeshi 69’s face for “Stop Snitchin.” He capped the night with “Go Loko,” which featured a live mariachi band that played as he walked into the crowd of embracing fans, and “BIG BANK” in classic YG party style.
It is a bold move for an artist to open with their biggest hit, but the D.C. artist confidently kicked off his set with the soothingly passionate vocals of Miguel in “Lotus Flower Bomb.” Despite playing the Sauce stage, the smallest of the three at Rolling Loud, Wale oozed magnetism with his smooth verses over slow melodic jams. He also brought out a backing vocalist to sing the chorus for “Bad”, “PYT”, “Matrimony”, and his new hit, “On Chill,” from his recently released album to keep the audience engaged throughout his set.
Arguably the most anticipated artist for this whole weekend, Travis Scott brought his signature fiery energy to a set that did not disappoint. The rapper opened his set with a playful retro ‘50s-like family commercial video for a theme park called Astroworld, the namesake of his third studio album. The tone immediately shifted as the stage lit up with a giant LED chandelier and matrix-esque lights, which flashed colored carousels and butterflies. Travis opened with “Stargazing,” hopping across the stage to view a sea of cell phones lit like the night sky. Everything about his performance screamed futuristic, a quality that parallels his genre-bending music. Throughout the show, there were hallucinogenic camera effects abound the screens, intense auto-tuning permeated Travis’ vocals, and impressive synth work by his producer Mike Dean, who was on stage live with him, accompanying his live tracks. Mike Dean even had his own solo, performing a synth interlude that led into Travis’s new single “HIGHEST IN THE ROOM,” which shot straight to No. 1 in the charts the day after the festival and became his second number one single to date. Travis displayed energy that proved why he is lauded as one of the biggest rock stars in the hip-hop scene. The energy endured even through a seemingly rough misstep - while performing “Butterfly Effect,” Travis fell on his back mid song and hurt his knee. Though he wrapped his set early, presumably due to immense pain, he endured the injury and closed his set with three of his most popular anthems, “Antidote,” “Goosebumps,” and “SICKO MODE,” all of which had the audience singing the lyrics to melodic hooks word for word.
Tyga brought nostalgia to the festival this weekend, getting the crowd wild with his most popular party hits from 2011 to 2014. His experience as a performer, with unparalleled stamina and energy, reiterated that he is a seasoned veteran on the stage. Tyga wasted little time on speaking to the crowd in between songs, and instead kept the energy high by rapping songs back to back to back with consistent articulation. He brought his signature hedonistic party vibes, as pole dancers twerked on stage and on Tyga for songs “Swish,” “Make it Nasty,” “Dip,” and “Rack City.” The party ended with his most recent hit single “Taste” while the sun set behind him.
Juice WRLD proved to be one of the more popular sets of the weekend, as the crowd filled up the space long before the start of his performance. His show had ample star power, as he constantly brought on special guests, including Lil Tecca for “Ransom,” Clever for “Ring Ring,” Fivio Foreign for “Big Drip,” Seezyn for “Hide,” and Ski Mask the Slump God for “Nuketown.” Using a live band and frequently harmonizing with audio vocals, he showcased his unique pop style and lovelorn melodies through songs such as “Armed and Dangerous,” “Hear me Calling,” “Black and White,” and “Robbery.” The highlight of his set came when he closed with his most anticipated song, “Lucid Dreams,” singing with a backdrop of a starry night sky as the audience held their phone lights high — creating an allusion of space. Juice WRLD, known for being an emotional artist in a genre dominated by masculinity, left some encouraging and heartfelt words for his supporters before exiting the stage, “Whoever you are, wherever you’re from, whatever you wanna be...rapper, doctor, lawyer, anything...you can do it if you set your mind to it. If I can do this, any of you can do it. Don’t let anyone tell you what you can and cannot do!”
You could feel the tension and excitement of the crowd as everyone waited for A$AP Rocky to embrace his hometown stage after a month-long detention in Swedish prison. Even the sign of his signature testing logo flashing on the large screen triggered uproarious shouts from the fans awaiting him. As if to build suspense, Rocky started late, but when the fog cleared, the silhouettes of a giant mob appeared to ever-crescendoing music. It evoked an atmosphere so bombastic you’d think the Marvel Avengers were about to assemble for battle. One by one, the hazy figures ran off in every direction, revealing Rocky, who stood heroically center stage. His mob of white ski mask-clad friends ran to the end of the catwalk and to both sides of the stage, diving into the crowd head first fearlessly. Rocky followed closely behind hyping up the audience, throwing his head back and yelled “Yeeaahhhhhhhhhh!” as if to initiate the crazy mobbing that would inevitably ensue.
He started the show with “A$AP Forever,” “Praise the Lord,” “Telephone Calls,” and then his new single single “Babushka Boi”, during which he disappeared with the stage blacked out mid song. As if summoned by magic, Rocky reappeared dramatically, jumping atop one of three floating cars on stage and performed heavy hitters “Gunz N Butter” and “OG Beeper.” Slow motion, flashing visuals of cars spinning out of control and crash test dummies smashing through glass complemented with red smokey lights and synchronized bursts of flames accompanied many of these songs to create the perfect mosh vibe in A$AP Rocky aesthetic.
A$AP Rocky escalated his set with multiple guest appearances; the first being with A$AP Ferg. The two’s chemistry together was infectious - one that could only be borne from years of rag-tag brotherhood. Together, Ferg and Rocky performed “Plane Jane” before seamlessly transitioning to “No Limit,” and then a crowd favorite, “Work.” The second surprise guest also had the crowd going wild, evidenced by the imagery of A$AP Rocky triumphantly holding clusters of bras that have been thrown on stage in a fist held high while he and Swae Lee performed “No Type.” With his last special guest, old school met new school hip hop as 50 Cent and Rocky performed “What Up Gangsta,” “I Get Money,” and “Big Rich Town.” To cap the night, a moment of silence and prayer was given to the late A$AP Yams, followed by a performance of “Yamborghini High” with fireworks and very slight rain, marking the bittersweet end of New York’s first Rolling Loud.