In 2019, two deeply influential forces in live American music will celebrate two very different anniversaries. On one side, the hip-hop festival Rolling Loud, currently at the height of its popularity, will celebrate its fifth birthday this month at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. On the other, Vans Warped Tour, the once-popular traveling festival of punk, emo, hardcore, metalcore, and a few dozen other -cores that became a gathering place for scene kids and angst-ridden teens, will celebrate 25 years with a truncated, three-city run before shutting down for good.
One might think these events have nothing to do with each other. But if you consider why one prospers while the other fades, you begin to notice that Rolling Loud, in terms of audience, structure, and style, is simply the new Warped Tour.
This idea might sound crazy at first — what do a bunch of rappers have to do with a bastion of punk rock like Warped Tour? What do these things even have in common? Quite a lot, actually.
For one, though Rolling Loud began in Miami, it has quickly ballooned into a franchise festival with various installments happening in multiple cities throughout the year. Much the way Ultra — another Miami-born, genre-specific festival — expanded to include satellite festivals in far-off locations such as Japan and Croatia, in 2017 Rolling Loud began holding secondary and tertiary events on the West Coast. Rolling Loud Bay Area bowed in October of that year, while Rolling Loud Southern California followed in December. It’s not exactly what Warped Tour did, but that wouldn't really be possible — can you imagine trying to corral dozens of high-profile rappers, each with an ego the size of a bus, across the country for months on end for a tour on which they weren't the one and only main event?
There’s also the fact that, as it expands, Rolling Loud seems to deliver very similar lineups. Many of the same artists who played in Miami last year will return this weekend: Lil Uzi Vert, Migos, and Travis Scott, the last headlining two years in a row, with only the day of his set changing. This is also true from location to location: Cardi B will play Rolling Loud Miami 2019 after headlining Rolling Loud Los Angeles in 2018. Again, it’s not quite the same as Warped Tour, and if anything, the disappointing repetition might be due to narrowing lineups throughout the festival circuit. But it does help Rolling Loud establish itself as the premier festival on both coasts for the biggest names in hip-hop — a destination for fans of the genre that is, again, similar to what Ultra is for EDM.
Considering just these factors, it might seem Rolling Loud has more in common with Ultra, especially since they've both been kicked out of Bayfront Park. But the similarities with Ultra end when it comes to what actually defines a festival: the music.
One doesn’t have to look hard to see that young Americans — especially the angry, sad, angst-ridden ones who have existed throughout time but have seemingly grown in number and influence facing the awfulness of this decade — have, for the most part, abandoned rock and punk. Today, if a performer wants fame for making music, instead of picking up a guitar, he or she downloads a cracked copy of FL Studio and opens a SoundCloud account. And if they’re looking to confront rather than escape their issues — if they’re angry, sad, angst-ridden, or otherwise dissatisfied — they’re not going to Ultra or making trance. They’re making hip-hop.
Many have said rappers are the new rock stars — Kanye West did, and he certainly knows what he's talking about. But the new school of rappers that has emerged in the past year takes plenty of cues from punk and emo. In their own eras, punk icons such as Kurt Cobain and the Sex Pistols rebelled against the music establishment, and emo bands such as Panic! at the Disco and Fall Out Boy captured the hearts of millions of teens through a theatrical take on alternative rock. In 2019, those bands' analogs are rappers. Nihilistic, mosh-worthy party rappers such as Lil Pump have taken over for the punks, while an entire subgenre of emo rappers — from Juice WRLD and Lil Uzi Vert (who's a huge fan of Paramore) to the late Lil Peep — has sprung up to appease today's sad boys and girls.
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Essentially, the kids who would have gone to Warped Tour ten years ago are now going to Rolling Loud. The music might not seem similar. But the intent — rebellion, drama, self-expression — is the same as it ever was; only the tools have changed. Every generation needs its own release valve, and for Generation Z, it’s in hip-hop, and it’s at the festival that plays hip-hop.
Maybe Warped Tour would have survived if its organizers had realized this, if they had decided to book a few rappers each year and pivot toward the future. Then again, maybe it’s better they didn’t: Warped Tour was sunk in part by its reputation as a refuge for sexual exploitation. Rumors flew for years that musicians used the tour as a trawling ground to pick up female fans, many underage. This past May 3, Austin Jones was sentenced to ten years in prison for receiving child pornography, while the lead singer of Blood on the Dance Floor has been accused of sexual assault by dozens of women. In 2015, a petition to remove musician Front Porch Step, AKA Jack McElfresh, from Warped Tour garnered 13,000 signatures after he was accused of sexual misconduct.
That behavior is perhaps the most worrying similarity between the two events, worsened by the fact that Rolling Loud's artist bookings seem to condone such abusive actions. Before his death, XXXTentacion, who was accused of violent abuse by an ex-girlfriend, performed at two editions of the Miami festival, on the bill in 2017 and as a surprise guest in 2018. Kodak Black, who still faces sexual assault charges, appeared at Rolling Loud Los Angeles last year. It’s unfortunate that hip-hop's leading festival doesn’t seem to be doing much to protect women. Maybe it really is picking up the baton from Warped Tour, warts and all.
Rolling Loud Miami 2019. With Migos, Travis Scott, Kid Cudi, and others. Friday, May 10, through Sunday, May 12, at Hard Rock Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens; rollingloud.com. General-admission passes cost $429 via frontgatetickets.com.