Depending upon the artists you choose, your Rolling Loud experience could go one of two ways. You could see the same headliners and subheadliners from last year — Migos, Travis Scott, Lil Uzi Vert — in the same massive, unpleasant crowd in either the searing heat of a Florida weekend or the confusion of poorly lit nighttime festival grounds. Or you could show up a bit earlier and see some of the lesser-known up-and-coming acts. They won't mumble and stumble through hastily planned sets and rap one lyric out of every five. They'll be coming with all the energy in the world, trying to prove they're hungry for hip-hop success. They might even dive into the crowd or throw a chain into the audience, and when they're famous, you'll be able to tell people you partied with [insert rapper name here].
So in the spirit of discovery, below is a list of ten excellent artists from the Rolling Loud undercard. (Because we couldn't include every one of the nearly 150 acts on the bill, here are a few honorable mentions you should also check out: rising Miami talents Sylvan Lacue and Space Jam the Pilot; hilarious "scam rapper" and self-proclaimed anime addict Guapdad 4000; a rare appearance from Raider Klan godhead, Florida icon, and certifiably insane person SpaceGhostPurrp; and Yung Bans, whose high-energy set was a highlight of last year's fest.)
Saint Jhn. Already blowing up properly thanks to millions of streams on songs such as "3 Below" and "Trap," this Brooklyn-born Guyanese-American spent years as a songwriter for artists such as Hoodie Allen, Usher, and even Rihanna. Saint Jhn is more of an R&B singer than a rapper, and his sonorous, slightly accented voice and charismatic stage presence — he's recently been performing while holding a shih tzu — give him an instantly recognizable appeal (basically, his BDE is off the charts). Famous fans include Post Malone, whom Saint Jhn opened for on tour in 2016, and, improbably, Chapo Trap House cohost Felix Biederman.
Young Nudy. Rap runs in the family of Quantavious Thomas, AKA Young Nudy, who just so happens to be the cousin of 21 Savage. The two grew up together in Atlanta's gritty Zone 6 and were both arrested in the same sting that nearly led to the London-born 21's deportation this past February. Of course, Nudy isn't letting that incident kill his career momentum: He's spent the past few weeks dropping some extremely wavy tracks from Sli'merre, an upcoming collab tape with Playboi Carti producer Pi'erre Bourne, set to be released May 8, just before Rolling Loud. Already we've heard "Mister" with 21 and "Extendo" with Lil Uzi Vert, setting the stage for what's sure to be the breakout rap release of the year. And if all that doesn't have you convinced, there's also the fact that, as Twitter power user Josh, AKA @ilooklikelilbill / @ilovesmokingmid, pointed out, Nudy looks a lot like Billy Ray Cyrus. Someone tell this man Nudy to drop an "Old Town Road" remix right quick!
Higher Brothers. There's a pretty good chance most of the crowd at Higher Brothers' set will be chanting along in Mandarin. The fearsome foursome of MaSiWei, Psy P., DZKnow, and Melo hails from Chengdu, the capital of China's spicy Sichuan province that has quickly emerged as the epicenter of hip-hop culture in the People's Republic. With a bit of help from the Asian-American label/talent agency/media platform 88Rising, whose roster also includes Rich Brian and Joji, Higher Brothers' grimy beats, outrageous visuals, and bilingual rapping have gained them a following in the States as well as features from the likes of Soulja Boy and Schoolboy Q. Sinophobes and anti-Communists may be suspicious, but any group that gets Denzel Curry and Ski Mask the Slump God on the same track gets our support. Men xìng fú!
Queen Key. Miami is no stranger to provocative female rappers — we did give the world Trina, after all. Though Tha Baddest Bitch won't be performing at Rolling Loud this year, fans looking for similar vibes should consider bending the knee to Queen Key. Hailing from the southern Chicago suburbs, Ke'Asha McClure combines the feminine bawdiness of fellow Illinois native Cupcakke (her Twitter banner is currently a spray-painted calligraphy work that reads, "Eat My Pu$$y") with blown-out, bass-heavy production and simple, laugh-out-loud bars more befitting the SoundCloud scene.
Kirk Knight & Nyck Caution. How long have you been sleeping on Pro Era? The New York label and collective will have a big showing at Rolling Loud. Founding member Joey Bada$$ will perform with fellow Brooklynites Flatbush Zombies as Beast Coast, but fans looking for the next big thing from the borough will also definitely want to check out these two rising talents from the diverse group, whose psychedelic, new-school take on the old-school hip-hop style continues to impress. Nyck Caution, who is Jewish and Italian and hails from the suburban neighborhood of Mill Basin, plans on following up his 2016 debut, Disguise the Limit, later this year. Kirk Knight, meanwhile, grew up in the Caribbean enclave of Flatbush and has family roots in Grenada and Antigua; he both raps and produces, and his beat for "Plain Jane" by A$AP Ferg went platinum. The pair does perform and record together under the name Nyck @ Knight, but they're listed separately on the bill and will presumably play their own sets.
Matt Ox. Teen rappers are de rigueur in the late-2010s rap landscape, but when 12-year-old Matt Ox debuted in 2017, he was something much more ridiculous and unprecedented: a tween rapper. His fidget-spinner-filled video for "Overwhelming" became an instant meme, both because of the novelty and his surprising talent. Now 14, Ox is still one of the youngest voices in trap music, but he's also establishing cred beyond the gimmickry of his age. His 2018 release Ox certainly hops all over the current trends in rap: blown-out bass and cloudy production, lines about sauce and drip and clout, and so on. But the quality can't be argued with, nor can the features: Key!, Valee, and even onetime enfant terrible Chief Keef. Clearly, this Ox is about to charge forward.
Speaking of rappers who started young...
Brianna Perry. Truly an underappreciated veteran of the Miami hip-hop scene, Brianna Perry has been in the rap game since the age of 7, recording at the studio of local label Poe Boy Records. Trick Daddy and Trina took her on from there, and soon she found herself shuffling from label to label, first on Trina's Diva Records, then on Missy Elliott's the Goldmind Inc., and finally on Atlantic, which is stuffing its roster with younger Floridians such as Kodak Black and Bhad Bhabie. Feeling underappreciated at the major label, she returned to Poe Boy for her latest release, Fortune Cookie, which includes features from Offset, Gunna, and BlocBoy JB. No matter how young or old, Perry continues to prove that, with enough skill and motivation, age ain't nothing but a number.
Big Baby Scumbag. Blessed to live in Miami, we sometimes forget there's a whole part of the state just north of us that might as well be a different country. Big Baby Scumbag, who hails from the neighboring kingdom of Tampa, is here to elucidate us on this strange land of theme parks, orange groves, and even more sunburned Midwestern tourists than we already have. His video for "Dale Earnhardt" shows him grilling outside, eating ramen noodles ("bitch, I like the taste!"), wearing NASCAR memorabilia, hanging out with actual goats, and flexing in a swampy thicket. So strange to see how the other half lives.
Bones. We're in dark times, and that means it's a good time for rap. Artists such as $uicideboy$ and XXXTentacion have gained massive followings by turning up the edge (for better or worse). In this new group of dark hip-hop, Bones might be the most morose and gothic of the bunch: Just watch the moody video for "TakingOutTheTrash" and try not to be chilled by a macabre miasma. He's also one of the most prolific: As part of the collective Seshhollowaterboyz with Raider Klan vets Xavier Wulf, Chris Travis, and Eddy Baker, and under names such as Oregon Trail, Surrenderdorothy, and Ricky A Go Go, he's already released more than 60 projects since 2012. In person, he's apparently not quite as dark and creepy — he lives in sunny Los Angeles with his fiancée, whom he met at Disneyland, and his real name is Elmo — but don't let that distract you from his musical malevolence.
DaniLeigh. Raised in Florida, Danielle Curiel moved to Los Angeles at the age of 16 to pursue a song-and-dance career. She had an unexpected break early on thanks to none other than Prince, who put her in his "Breakfast Can Wait" video in 2013. Before his death, the iconic rock star gave her plenty of advice on keeping her voice in the music business, and she took it to heart, choosing a hip-hop path over being pushed into pop music. Her debut LP, The Plan, shows the results of staying true to herself, and the authenticity paid off when the single "Lil BeBe" hit number 26 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay Chart.
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.