When hip-hop is mentioned in the festival scene, Rolling Loud is sure to follow. Since its inception in 2015, the Miami-born festival has taken itself across the U.S and even worldwide, with stops in Portugal, the Netherlands, Australia, and even Toronto later this year. Sporting one of the deepest talent rosters in the game, Rolling Loud’s exponentially growing size does more than just allow more impressive headliners like Kendrick Lamar, Future, A$AP Rocky, and more. It shines a brighter spotlight on the up-and-coming talent within the underground scene, with this space in hip-hop seeming more relevant than ever before.
Over the years, we’ve seen acts start off lower on the poster and then rise up in the years that follow, like Rolling Loud 2019 in Oakland, California where you could see artists like The Kid Laroi and 24KGoldn in the early stages of their now flourishing careers. Or even 2018’s Rolling Loud in L.A with Roddy Rich and YNW Melly before their big breaks. There’s something gratifying about seeing a performance earlier in the day at a festival and just knowing that you’ll see them again down the road.
For this year’s Rolling Loud New York, I’ll be highlighting some underground acts that you won’t want to miss before they blow up. With a festival lineup so vast in appeal yet ultimately rooted in the city’s hip-hop scene, there’s a lot to appreciate at the biggest hip-hop festival in New York this year.
In the age where the rap community is obsessed with labels, ratings, and comparisons, it’s surprising to see a rapper who stands out, and not just for the virality of doing so. Babytron is the enigma of the moment in the genre. Coming from Michigan and sounding like it, the 22 year-old spits some of the most head-turning, smirk-inducing bars that you can hear from any caliber of artists. It’s not just his cadence and comedic rhyming that make him stand out either, it’s his endless range of beat choices and clear appreciation for varying genres. From Harry Potter samples to a song with literally 21 different popular instrumentals, he thankfully knows no bounds. His references are so characteristic and absurd, it feels immune from even an attempt at critiquing if it works or makes sense. Because more often that not, it does. You’re just not in on it (and that makes it better).
Lil Zay Osama (Saturday)
Chicago-born rapper Lil Zay Osama is already a mighty standout in the city’s hip-hop scene, as his seamless blend of drill and melodic R&B were on full display in his 2021 hit album Trench Baby, with features from G Herbo,Doe Boy, Lil Tjay, and more. After getting more aggressive with Trench Baby 2 that same year, he proved to everyone that he was more than just a Chicago rapper. But at the center of it all is a relatability in his lyrics and soulful cadence that add layers to his authenticity. Fresh off releasing a new single featuring Lil Durk, the 25 year-old is one of a few representing The Windy City at Rolling Loud this September, and rightfully so.
GloRilla has had the unofficial anthem of the summer. In the absence of mainstream summer hits that would typically roll around in late-May or early-June, GloRilla and producer Hitkidd’s “F.N.F. (Let’s Go)” quickly took the internet and industry by storm, getting her signed to Yo Gotti’s CMG label and bundles of viral moments, like Travis Scott dancing to her song. It even hit number 91 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it’s no fluke either. You don’t have to go far beyond the F.N.F. music video to see the potential in how fun her Rolling Loud performance can be. Especially since you know this is the just the beginning for the 22 year-old Memphis star.
Being one of the few rap ensembles to take the Rolling Loud stage in New York, Barely Legal are also probably the newest as well. Starting in 2019, the Tampa collective harnesses four rappers and four media creators, bringing attentive awareness to the true scope and creative possibilities of being artists. Fresh off playing at Rolling Loud Miami, they’re just getting started introducing themselves and finding their performative strides. The group’s TikTok page is filled with vignettes of them in the studio, the dichotomy of their part-time jobs and their artistic careers, and more short videos that also happen to document the rise of one of my favorite young acts to take on Rolling Loud New York this September.
Yvngxchris is the success story that many kids dream of. Starting off on TikTok just messing around with comedy skits and then falling into music, the songs he was making started gaining quick and consistent traction, despite starting off recording from his phone. The perpetual success steamrolled into him signing with Columbia Records and even garnering Pusha T as one of his managers. Fresh off supporting fellow Rolling Loud New York performer Lil Tecca on his nationwide tour, Yvngxchris is clearly ready for any stage that he’s supposed to play, as evident by the countless videos of him running around stage and getting the crowd relentlessly hype during the Tecca Loves You Tour, I can’t wait to see the 17 year-old rock Rolling Loud this year.
JELEEL! is the backflipping feel-good rapper that hasn’t missed a landing yet. I’m not exaggerating either, just check out this clip from Rolling Loud Miami this year. It’s one thing if he was just an electrifying performer, but his music truly slaps to the highest degree, as he reaches the highest octaves on top of raging trap production. His giddy social media presence and photogenic smile are just the icing on the cake for a rapper who really could get by with just his thunderous theatrics. But bangers like “UNCIVILIZED! (GO!)”and “JELEEL JUICE!” deserve their enunciated capitalization, and I can’t wait to hear them live.
Rolling Loud New York takes place at Citi Field in Queens, New York from September 23 – 25.