Rolling Loud founders Tarif Cherif and Matt Zingler’s specialize in fortune telling. The Hip-Hop festival creators have placed several bets on the most important artists in music dating back to their earliest days as concert promoters in Florida where the two went school. They mostly have paid off in major ways considering Rolling Loud is now the biggest Hip-Hop festival in the world. Cherif attended Florida State University momentarily before dropping out to raise a child. Zingler was 150 miles south at the University of Florida, Gainesville, but the two’s relationship was sustained by a kindred business mindset that went back to their meeting in the fourth grade when Cherif moved to Florida.
“We always bonded over business, to be honest. Working on projects whether it was throwing a party or pulling some type of moves in college — college kid stuff,” says Cherif during a phone conversation.
The pair kicked off their incredible journey in 2010 during what has become known as the blog era — a time when Hip-Hop music and culture blazed through the internet and social media communities thanks to writers aggregating tastes in a way hardly explored before. Cherif, a consumer in the decade-old wave found himself obsessing over the new crop of emcees at the time including Big Sean, Wale, and Curren$y — members of the 2009-2010 XXL Freshman classes and dominators of website front pages during the blogging heyday. Each of the artists mentioned now share a cult following that can be traced back to their proliferation around the web and university campuses, but nearly a decade ago, there lied a white space where the rappers could be booked for college shows.
“When we were in the college, there were promoters, who were college kids, that were getting some money together and booking a EDM DJ and booking a local nightclub and selling the tickets. Seemed like simple science but nobody was doing it with my favorite rappers at the time,” says Cherif.
Not only were was there an opportunity for Cherif and Zingler to make money, Cherif saw throwing Hip-Hop shows as a chance to accomplish his goal; working in the music biz.
“Ok, that’s what I’m gonna do and eventually if I keep doing that, I’ll be doing business with the people that are in the industry I want to be in. I’ll be in that industry and I’ll figure out other stuff,” the former Florida State enrollee says about committing to working the rap concerts.
Today, Cherif is doing just that but it’s his initial venture into the music world that’s occupying most of his time nowadays. A part of our conversation even makes clear there are still unannounced acts performing during the LA festival, such as Blueface, the hottest young rapper in Los Angeles who couldn’t be found on the official lineup announcement. Cherif confirmed the “Deadlocs” rapper, who was added later, will in fact take the stage. Hiccups as such are just part of the process in perfecting the three-year old event.
Part of that perfecting process includes making Blueface-type amendments and making sure the pulse of the respective Rolling Loud host city is felt by the attendees, which can mean checking Twitter mentions to see what they may have missed.
“It’s not as important to put the hometown hero on the show as it to put the hometown underdog that’s on the come up. That is what we see the real power that our festival has.” the co-founder says.
Cherif, Zingler, and their supporting cast pore over details such as the art installations chosen and how concertgoers will get around the venue most efficiently. This iteration of the festival shows its evolution: for the first time, the crowd will be allowed to walk through the stadium on which the event is held to help facilitate flow and crowd control. In addition, this year Los Angeles will be the first Rolling Loud to see a useable basketball court on the Exposition Park and Banc of California Stadium grounds. Plus, LA fans will be the first to experience a new set of delay screens equipped with extra knock that stretch more than halfway into the crowd, giving latecomers a feeling of unification with those in the pit.
That community feeling is what Cherif thinks separates Rolling Loud from any other current live experience.
“If I’m a fan, what I’m trying to experience at Rolling Loud is some super lit mosh pits or big vibing to the music. Just imagine 50,000 people all singing or rapping to your favorite song, jumping to the beat. That energy is undeniable. It’s like everybody on your playlist but it’s not only them performing, everybody there listens to your same playlist. So it’s a bunch of people just like you that you never met before all on the same wavelength,” Cherif breaks down.
Some of the super playlisted names at LA’s Rolling Loud this year include Post Malone and Cardi who are almost guaranteed nominations at this year’s Grammys. Other rappers tearing down the stage in DTLA include Juice WRLD, Gunna, and Blocboy JB whose smash hits in 2018 have brought them millions of streams and heaps of attention.
Previous festivals have put fans in front mega rappers like N.E.R.D, Migos, Rae Sremmurd, Travis Scott, and Kendrick Lamar, who the pair booked in a 1,500 capacity venue in their home state around the good kid, m.a.a.d city era. They only sold 800 tickets.
“I knew what I was dealing with,” Cherif reflects. “This guy is a top tier who will be mentioned in the same sentence as Lil Wayne and Tupac. So I knew that back in 2012.”
Now Kendrick is the biggest rapper in the world and Rolling Loud stands as the biggest festival for the genre. That artist growth is something the festival banks on for their prosperity and posterity. Cherif called it the “story of the festival.”
“What we hope, and what we’ve seen happen with other artists is they’ll be on those last few lines this year and put in a bunch of work and have music take off. Then all of a sudden, next year they go up a couple lines. That has happened multiple times and its the coolest thing,” he adds.
And it’s happened with Lil Pump, Saint JHN, and Playboi Carti since the event’s inception. Creating that ecosystem is pivotal to the wellbeing of Rolling Loud and could be the reason why previous Hip-Hop festivals like Rock the Bells fizzled out; their inability to pump new energy into the culture that returns to them more inflated than before.
“I need that to keep happening or else the festival won’t have longevity because we need to be able to keep booking 100% rappers,” Cherif says.
In the festival’s case, they’ve been able to explode into the zeitgeist alongside Hip-Hop which, in recent years, has grown indubitably to the biggest music genre in the world. Next January, Rolling Loud will go international for the first time with a showing in Australia where they can put back on display their commitment to Rap. Any blow to the culture would devastate Rolling Loud as we know it. Their dependence on the music Cherif and his team grew up enamored with, now dictates their livelihood and that of millions around the world.
Who would have thought Hip-Hop would take it this far?
I listen to music. I write about it. I like hot sauce on my chicken.