Rolling Loud Los Angeles Made Good Use Of Its New Venue In 2023

Just when I was beginning to worry that I had seen everything Rolling Loud has to offer, the 2023 festival in Los Angeles showed me something new. I don’t know if Lil Yachty’s Sunday night set will be a one-off curio or the blueprint for the evolution of the punk-rap festival’s format, but it delivered a level of production that more of the fest’s mainstays should at least think about adopting – especially those who want to grow beyond the limitations of its audience for that real four-quadrant appeal.

Meanwhile, Rolling Loud continues to be one of the best “starter” festivals around. Even compared to bigger-name, more local events like Coachella and Lollapalooza, Rolling Loud has probably the best handle on both its format and its audience, leading to a level of enthusiasm unmatched by any other festival in the increasingly crowded market. And while sticking so closely to its dedicated format led this weekend to long stretches of samey-sounding material and lots of lineup recycling in general, even this can be useful for the kids who are just getting their feet wet in the festival scene.

That demographic, actually, constitutes a lot of the Rolling Loud audience. This is purely anecdotal, but it didn’t surprise me to note that those attendees in my vicinity who seemed to have the best grasp on the timing of the festival’s sets and the chillest overall demeanor were those wearing Rolling Loud merch from prior festivals – but never more than a year old. It’s always fun to see the teen boys bounding from stage to stage with all the energy of a year-old golden retriever puppy when a leisurely saunter will do the job most of the time.

Likewise, for a show in early March, with a cloudy forecast and lows promised in the 40s, there are always so many young women trying to pull off the skimpy outfits they’ve seen on social media, only to end up draped in layers of merch tent hoodies to fend off the chills and light drizzles that skittered down periodically throughout the weekend. Rookie mistakes, surely – but the kind that I’m sure they’ll look back on fondly in the future, laughing at their youthful naivete as they bundle up for their more experienced festivals.

This year’s event brought a new location: the Hollywood Park area outside of SoFi Stadium in Inglewood. This was also the biggest improvement over the last California show in San Bernardino. First off, it’s just such a scenic venue, with a gorgeously-lit lake sprawling out from beneath the majestic dome. I’d have loved it if this view had been more incorporated into the orientation of the stage near it. Meanwhile, the wraparound setup reminded me of the first few Rolling Loud festivals in LA at Banc Of California Stadium but with a few changes.

First, the good: There was no dust or grass or rugged terrain to navigate, with the streets lining the stadium offering the food concessions, water stations, and rest areas all in an easily traversable thoroughfare with few choke points. Getting around the fest was a breeze. And including three entrances not only increased the sense of convenience but also the feeling that the organizers had prioritized safety, preventing bottlenecking in any one part of the festival grounds as new arrivals got themselves oriented.

Unfortunately, evoking the Banc Of California setup also leads to this year’s fest losing points. In 2018 and 2019, the stage positioning allowed VIP fans to easily get from the two main stages without leaving the VIP area, making it a true VIP experience. This year, the separation between the two main stages left the VIP sections cut off from each other. Meanwhile, all the VIP activations – a barbershop, tattoo parlor, and hair salon – were all situated at Levi’s Stage, leaving the amenities for the GoPuff Stage feeling a little scarce.

Meanwhile, the more underground Culture Kings stage was angled kind of awkwardly, competing with the sound from Levi’s and lacking a spotlight. While its positioning close to the North entrance seemed planned for more exposure for the more underground acts, it felt more closed off once I realized that it was more or less a straight shot between the Levi’s and GoPuff Stages. Once fans were inside, their only incentive to go anywhere near the third stage was if they really wanted to see Kamaiyah, RJ, or OT Genasis (although the latter certainly made the trip worth it with his sneakily hit-laden setlist and roguish, recklessly charming stage presence).

As far as the programming goes, I can’t offer many complaints – but I don’t know how many compliments I can give either. It didn’t feel like this year’s lineup was sufficiently different from any prior year; I’ve seen DaBaby, Future, Kodak Black, Lil Wayne, Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Rich The Kid, Ski Mask The Slump God, and Trippie Redd at previous Rolling Loud iterations, and while they were all mostly pretty good, it seems like most of the variety at the fest is in its midline performers. I did enjoy Tyga bringing out YG to perform “Go Loko” and announce their upcoming joint album. Compton.

Destroy Lonely was a new name to me but cut from the same cloth as goth-rock rappers like Playboi Carti, Trippie, and Uzi, he just didn’t seem to stand out – although he attracted a massive, truly exuberant crowd that speaks to the popularity of that sound at the moment. And, not to put too fine a point on it, but there are so many problematic names involved — including among the headliners — that it’d take another paragraph to point out the litany of abuse charges down the lineup.

At various points throughout the fest, it also felt a lot like watching performers doing karaoke to their own music. In some cases, like that of Coi Leray and Kodak, it seemed as though they were more intent on dancing while the song played than in actually rapping their songs (although that was still more entertaining than one local duo, whose stage presence was so lacking I won’t mention them here, so I won’t hurt any feelings). Still, I’ve been to a lot of “real hip-hop” shows, and to be honest, at least they gave something visual and appeared to be having fun. I’ve seen way too many rappers rapping at the floor while rooted to one spot to ever complain about Coi’s twerking or Saweetie’s choreo (Nicki Minaj’s pop-out during Wayne’s set was fun, but plagued by sound issues).

I was pleasantly surprised by Ice Spice. Say what you want about her monotone – which I think is really the primary complaint about her music, although her most vocal critics probably don’t have the vocabulary to pinpoint this – but her breath control is superb. She doesn’t write super complex bars, but she leaves so little space between them that I truly didn’t think she’d be able to rap them live. Not only did she do that, but she also nailed them, while actually utilizing the full stage and engaging with fans. Ice Spice is a star.

The only other knock on Rolling Loud – and this can actually apply to a lot of fests I’ve covered lately – is this weird commitment to cutting the one corner that absolutely no event should be cutting in the wake of Astroworld Festival 2021: Security. Not only was security generally scarce, but whenever it was in evidence, I didn’t have much faith in the guards to do much. On Friday night, scores of kids hopped the barricade into VIP, and while that certainly devalued the VIP experience, far more unnerving was how quickly that section filled up, creating another one of those potential crowd-crush situations. On Sunday, both during Uzi’s set and ahead of Future’s, I more than once overheard a PA announcement demanding fans take two steps back. To their credit, it seemed they were able to receive some degree of compliance.

I’d love to see more festivals work to get on top of these situations earlier, but as I wrote earlier, Rolling Loud seems to get its audience far more than some others. The organizers know that their audience is mostly excited kids overwhelmed by the prospect of their first concert, so they know exactly how to talk to them to get them to watch out for each other, pick each other up, and take stock of their surroundings – something kids have never historically been great at. But for those times when their inexperience gets the best of them, it’d be nicer to know that there are a few more responsible adults around to get things under control.

Still, it’s worth the live experience, even as the festival has begun to stream the main stages for 90 percent of the fest (Travis Scott’s comeback set was reportedly not streamed) (the stream did come in clutch when counterprogramming forced me to make a choice between two acts). The food, the views, the brand activations, the sense of community and camaraderie… all are essential parts of the experience (although for next year, I’ma need y’all to do some dribble drills before you jump on the basketball court, I’m embarrassed for you). And for anyone’s first experience, it’s very difficult to do better than Rolling Loud.

Some artists covered here are Warner Music artists. .