Cardi B wasn’t the only one Offset made uncomfortable with his antics at Rolling Loud this past weekend. I could feel it around me in the crowd, a palpable tension that caused a shuffling of the feet and the exchange of nervous glances. What is he doing?
Sure, some of the 40,000 fans in attendance participated in the “take him back” chant led by Offset and 21 Savage on Friday night — all young men, it should be noted. But mostly, there was a sense of distress and mild embarrassment. We understood: You messed up, you want to make amends. But this? This was not what anyone paid to see.
What most of the attendees did pay to see was a showcase of rap’s rising talents and for the most part, that’s exactly what they received. I proudly watched Uproxx picks like Reason, Roddy Ricch, Rexx Life Raj, Tobi Lou, and Kash Doll come into their own, controlling the massive crowds like putty in their hands. That some of them were making their festival debuts only made their stagecraft all the more evident and impressive. Lil Wayne, headlining Friday’s show, ran expertly through his massive collection of hits, barely scratching the surface in a set truncated by a late start and LA’s firmly-established curfew. I genuinely left wanting more, which is a bit of a rarity after a full day of festivities.
Despite that fact, the first day of the two-day fest was plagued by a few of the same logistical issues that frustrated fans at September’s iteration in the Bay Area. Barriers and rules seemed mutable and inconsistent and on more than one occasion, press was blocked from the photo pit or other sections for no apparent reason. We were given conflicting instructions by event staff who seemed as confused as we were by the constant reshuffling, and crushed by the insistent shoving of the thousands of young fans pushing their way to the front of the stage. Generally, I’ve always avoided the middle sections of crowds for just this reason, but on Friday night I was reminded exactly why. Fortunately, it seemed as though staff learned on the fly the second day; some retail was removed from near the Zen stage, allowing more room for the crowd to spread out and alleviate the overcrowding.
Of the sets we took in over the weekend, I found myself astonished the most by the sheer magnetism of Ski Mask The Slump God, whose lyrics the crowd seemed to know word-for-word, despite their velocity and complexity. Wiz Khalifa, Ty Dolla Sign, and Nipsey Hussle all turned in magnificent performances backed by bands, which only proves that more rappers should invest in some live backing, which provides that extra oomph that stage shows should always bring.
Juice WRLD was the clear MVP of the fest, bouncing from stage to stage to make appearances alongside his contemporaries around his own uproarious set. But somehow, all of that is being drowned out in the discussion, since it seems all anyone can talk about is Offset and Cardi B.
From using his “Ric Flair Drip” guest appearance during 21 Savage‘s otherwise sleepy set to publicly beg forgiveness, to his uninvited appearance during Cardi’s set, Offset made himself and their relationship drama the center of attention. Social media lit up with discussion and debate about his tactics, Cardi’s discomfort, and conspiracy theories which hypothesized that it was all just a publicity stunt designed to drum up excitement for Offset’s now-delayed solo debut.
The festival itself was berated online for allowing Offset to interrupt Cardi’s set as the sole female headliner, for tweeting out an initial seeming acknowledgment of beforehand knowledge of Offset’s planned interruption, and for putting Cardi in such an awkward position by granting Offset the logistical access to the set with flowers and a mic. That same access is part of the reason for the rumors of an elaborate, wrestling-style work at play, but for now, I think we can take the proceedings at face value.
Unfortunately for Offset, there’s no shortcut to reconciliation, especially if it turns out that the rumors of his infidelity are true. Broken trust isn’t repaired by a single, public, “romantic” gesture designed to peer pressure and embarrass the recipient into accepting your overtures. You have to put in the work. If Offset is sincere, it’s understandable that he’d want a second chance (or whichever number of chances he’s on by now), but that doesn’t give him the right to double down on the public embarrassment he’s already foisted onto his wife or hijack an entire audience’s experience for his own selfish gratification. Not to mention interrupt her history-making performance as a female headliner at the event to focus back on the heteronormative roles for women.
With that being said, I’m sure most of the fans at Rolling Loud still enjoyed themselves immensely. Once the festival hammers out some of its worst tendencies it will likely end up being one of the top tier music festivals in the world (I, for one, would like to see a lot less of noted abuser XXXTentacion‘s face everywhere, and hear a lot less of his music in every single DJ’s sets). It remains the best showcase for rap’s up-and-coming talent as well as veterans, picking up where Rock The Bells left off by enthusiastically embracing youth movements and skillfully matching up the vibes of its performers. The best thing the festival’s promoters can remember to do going forward is to focus on the music and leave the drama at the door.