On Sept. 15–16 at Oakland’s Coliseum grounds, a poster of P-Lo, the hyphy heartthrob, greeted Rolling Loud’s thousands of attendees as they entered the venue to witness an intergenerational lineup of Bay Area rappers and industry heavyweights like Travis Scott and Pusha T.
“The Bay is very important to the history of hip-hop,” Tariq Cherif, co-founder of Rolling Loud, told KQED Arts. “You know, a lot of the modern independent hip-hop scene was built and modeled after what guys in the Bay were doing.”
Since its debut in 2015, Rolling Loud has become the world’s largest traveling hip-hop festival, with editions in Miami and Los Angeles. But in 2017, its inaugural Bay Area event at Shoreline Amphitheater didn’t go off without a hitch: beloved Berkeley rapper Lil B was physically assaulted, allegedly by another rapper’s entourage, and some Bay Area rap fans and promoters lambasted the event online as a result.
Rolling Loud 2018 in Oakland, however, took a different tone: the two-day festival celebrated and uplifted the Bay Area’s regional sounds, with high-energy performances by over a dozen Northern California artists, including E-40, Kamaiyah, Saweetie, P-Lo, Mozzy and ALLBLACK.
The critical mass of Bay Area and Sacramento artists kept the fest from feeling generic and gave it a distinctively local flavor. Without these acts, Rolling Loud Oakland would have blended in with the festival's other editions, where Travis Scott, Young Thug and Jaden Smith have already performed. The crowd looked familiar, too: neon fanny packs, NBA jerseys and white-girl cornrows resembled Instagram in real life. And as it often happens at music festivals, many non-black concertgoers seemed to feel disconcertingly at ease saying the n-word as they rapped along with their favorite artists.
At Rolling Loud's Saturday kick-off, ALLBLACK didn’t let fans forget they were at a show in East Oakland, his home turf. He’s an emerging regional star on his way towards carrying Oakland’s sound beyond the 510. His set narrated his life experiences as a black man growing up in a neighborhood called the Murder Dubs, with an aggressive flow that blends the Town’s earlier music movements of mobb and hyphy into a forceful signature sound.
P-Lo, fresh off of a national tour with Oakland-born chart-topper G-Eazy, performed an energetic homecoming set. His memorable line from his track “Put Me on Somethin’,” “Last year they ain’t even like the Bay,” served as a reminder of the Bay Area’s fight for recognition in the national music scene. After the hyphy movement, the Bay’s relationship to mainstream hip-hop weakened. But the recent rise of artists like G-Eazy, Kamaiyah and Saweetie, all of whom have major label deals, indicates a shift. Bay Area artists have long fought for a seat at the table, and the numerous local artists at Rolling Loud certainly felt like a step in that direction.
When G-Eazy joined P-Lo to perform their collaborative Bay Area anthem, “Power,” P-Lo shouted to the crowd, “You proud to be from the Bay... because I’m reppin proud Bay Area sh-t.” He and his DJ, Cal-A, tore up the crowd like only some boys from the Bay could, gigging in the audience as they closed their set. To the side of the stage, members of HBK Gang and ALLBLACK went dumb in solidarity.
Later, Saweetie and Guapdad 4000 performed an unreleased collaboration during the “Icy Girl” rapper’s set; the sense of community among the local artists was palpable. For a weekend, Bay Area rappers set aside differences and performed as a united front as the industry’s underdogs, holding their own among a roster of mainstream artists.
This year’s Rolling Loud featured a notable increase of female rappers, including Kamaiyah, the reigning queen of the Bay Area rap scene.“I f-cking made it in Oakland, we ain’t never seen anything like this before,” she said as she opened her set. She grew up not far from the Coliseum, on 73rd Avenue.
Mozzy’s set linked his hometown of Sacramento to the Bay; he brought out “Do Better” rapper Prezi, who reps San Francisco’s Hunters Point. North Oakland’s Mistah F.A.B, a crucial figure in the Bay Area rap scene, came out during Mozzy’s performance to show the crowd how to “Ghost Ride It” with his instructional hyphy-era anthem.
“Them Bay Area rappers is legendary to me, I got F.A.B. coming out on my set,” Mozzy told KQED Arts backstage. “Rappers ain’t show nothing but love and I’m appreciative to take the stage after so many that have came before me.”
E-40, godfather of Bay Area hip-hop, brought the spirit of the hyphy movement to Rolling Loud with “Tell Me When To Go.” As he spat the famous lines, “Jesus Christ had dreads / So shake ’em,” a new generation of Bay Area rappers, Kamaiyah and Slimmy B of SOB x RBE, watched in awe. When P-Lo and Nef The Pharaoh joined E-40 on stage to play “Bling Blaow” and “Put Me On Somethin’,” the joyful performance resembled a symbolic passing of the torch.
At Rolling Loud, Bay Area rappers proudly defined their space in a culture where their contributions have been historically ignored. The authentic sounds of the Bay transformed Rolling Loud, the world’s largest hip-hop festival, into a weekend in East Oakland where the region’s rap stars truly shone among a lineup of mainstream acts.
More photos from Rolling Loud