After three iterations of Rolling Loud in the Los Angeles area with remarkably similar lineups, you’d think the traveling festival might be all out of surprises. But its latest iteration — this time, in a new location after a forced hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic — proves that the show’s organizers still have a few tricks up their sleeves, beginning with the new venue at the National Orange Show event center in San Bernardino.
One of the biggest surprises of the weekend was Kanye West’s guest appearance during Future’s headlining set on Sunday night, but Rolling Loud didn’t need big-name pop-outs to make an impression. Many of the billed artists at the Power 106 stage, such as KenTheMan, Teezo Touchdown, and Snot, were able to leave an imprint on the crowd as assuredly as the headliners’ special guests.
In particular, Chance The Rapper-co-signed Teezo Touchdown caught my eye as an unusual artist with a flair for the dramatic, who clearly puts a lot of work into his presentation — even if it’s a little off-putting at first. Teezo’s hype man, presenting himself as a boisterous coach character, did an almost 5-minute skit to begin the Texas artist’s set, which was a gamble given the short set times at Rolling Loud in general.
But Teezo, whose “gameday” outfits usually consist of an elaborate arrangement of nails — yes, like the kind from the hardware store — draped all over his football jersey (with pads!) and hair, backed up the eye-popping imagery with songs that the crowd clearly enjoyed. KenTheMan also left me with the sense that she’ll be climbing the Rolling Loud totem pole in due time thanks to her fun, engaging set.
Ever since my interview with Latto for Uproxx’s latest cover story, I can’t unsee the performance disparity between men and women rappers and who’s expected to do what onstage. For instance, Teezo’s set wound up being the most elaborate one — for the most part, the other male rappers kind of just stood there, reciting their lyrics and occasionally stage diving or yelling at the crowd to open up a mosh pit.
Meanwhile, the women I saw — Ken, Rico Nasty, and Flo Milli — went all out, either bringing dancers or other bells and whistles to their sets. Certainly they were a lot more dressed up than the guys, who mostly opted for some combination of jeans and shirts — although plenty wore jackets as a concession to chilly desert temperatures (Saturday night saw lows in the 30s).
With the new venue, which was likely a concession to the pandemic planning needs of the usual LA venue in Exposition Park, the layout was cozy and the organizers did a pretty okay job of incorporating permanent structures like the Orange Pavilion into the festival. The pavilion was turned into the Loud Factory, packing in a skate park, basketball courts, a bar, and a screen displaying the live Twitch feeds fans could escape the weather and get off their feet at the picnic tables positioned inside without missing sets from their favorite artists.
Meanwhile, with so many of my personal favorites like Cordae and Lil Nas X deep in album mode or committed to the Jingle Ball Tour, I got a chance to check out acts I might have ordinarily skipped, like Teezo. The mid-line artists at the Punx and Ciroc stages wound up offering the most entertainment value, as Kalan.FrFr and Drakeo The Ruler lived up to their billing, and undercards like Ty Dolla Sign perfectly set up the headliners, J. Cole, Future, and Kid Cudi.
Some notes, though: Sound issues plagued a number of acts, although they were quickly cleared up, so props to the sound and video teams. I wasn’t able to truly figure out the parking situation until the last day, but that may not be an issue at future iterations of the fest if my theory about the pandemic forcing the venue change pans out. The age limit on this year’s fest, despite being prompted by tragic events elsewhere, actually led to a more enjoyable fest for everyone. There was enough room to spread out, crowd crushes were basically non-existent, and there seemed to be a generally more respectful, chiller vibe than I got used to at previous Rolling Loud festivals. That one, maybe they should keep.