Is it possible for an aspiring rapper to become an influential promoter and the co-founder of the largest hip-hop festival in the world—one that Diddy himself has called the “Hip-Hop Super Bowl” and the “Woodstock of Hip-Hop”?
If your name is Tariq Cherif, the answer is yes.
Cherif, a rapper-turned-artist manager from Miami, Florida, along with his current business partner, Matt Zingler, debuted Rolling Loud in 2015. Three years on, the father of two, husband and rap festival gamechanger has learned a lot along the way.
“Trying something [new] leads you to something better,” Cherif says, over the phone, in reference to his attempt at a rap career. “It was part of the reason why I dove in so hard on all things rap. If anything, from my experience in trying to make something good, I know how hard it is. I know [good music] when I hear it and I know how to speak the artists’ language.”
For Cherif, losing tens of thousands of dollars on his first show with Zingler—a Rick Ross after party in South Florida in 2010—wasn’t enough to lose faith in his vision. In fact, the monetary loss merely motivated the pair to figure out how to never again find themselves in the same position.
“I would look up to [artist] managers and see how they’d do business, like Matt Bauerschmidt and Cortez Bryant,” says Cherif, citing two veteran figures he now considers his peers.
After a few years of building solid relationships in the music industry as promoters willing to put on shows both big and small, Cherif and Zingler took the leap in 2015, launching Rolling Loud as a one-day festival. Since then, the event has garnered worldwide attention, having hosted Rolling Loud in Australia in January 2019. What began as a 6,500-attendee event now hosts over 40,000 festivalgoers, selling out every single festival.
For those seeking to get involved in the music business—or change their role within the music business—Cherif abides by a no excuses approach: “There’s a million things you could do to get your foot in the door.”
Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, can be learned from below.
DJBooth: How did you recognize that you weren’t destined to become a rapper?
Tariq Cherif: It’s about being honest with yourself upfront if you really think your music is good or not. You have to really feel like you have something to say and can make a real impact because it’s a cluttered landscape right now.
Sticking with the topic of honesty. How does an artist know when he or she is ready for an opportunity like performing at Rolling Loud?
You have to have a plan, especially if you’re an up-and-coming artist. You better have something that’s going to resonate with the crowd. As well as the talent or the experience in performing to be able to come on stage and get them to give a song they’ve never heard before a chance. No matter how good your music is you have to break the ice and be able to turn the crowd into fans. You don’t necessarily need a black and white call-to-action, like telling them to come to your next show.
Performing at Rolling Loud can also just be an aspect of your overall marketing plan. There’s just so much more than performing at one show to really propel your career. As quickly as you can go viral is as quickly as you can fall off.
I’m a fan of creating a core fan base. One of the artists I manage, Wifisfuneral, he’s never really gone viral, but he’s doing his thing and has real fans that are engaging with him. He’s selling real tickets at shows.
What area can most artists do better in to propel their career forward in 2019?
I’m still trying to figure it out myself with my artists, to be honest with you, because I think you can always learn something. There’s always a new artist doing a different style campaign that you can learn from. But I really think the most important thing first and foremost is to have the best body of work you can and have stacked clips as ammunition in the tank with singles, music videos, and a mixtape or album.
With the right roll out, the way you hit the public, the way you craft the public perception, if you really care for it, if you’re able to do it, and if you have resources like money, you could be profitable very quickly. If you’re able to get on all the platforms and get a massive social campaign via influencers or hip-hop Instagram accounts, and you have good content to feed them and money to pay them to post it, that’s going to get out there. Couple that with a touring plan. There’s a million ways to build and there's a bunch of people in every city that have good relationships.
What is something you’ve learned while managing Wifisfuneral that made you say, “Yeah, I’m never doing that again”?
I mean... I think people would expect me to say the record deal. I wouldn’t sign a deal again because I’m pretty anti-label but that was a learning experience, too. I wouldn’t change what we did. I just know that the label generates a bunch of money weekly off Wifisfuneral and it’s like, damn, if he were still independent he would be making that. On the other hand, we don’t know if he’d be generating that much streaming money if he were independent. I think he would but maybe not to the same degree. I still love the label, though. With all that being said, regardless of the dollars and cents, it’s been great having a team to work with.
What is the most important part of the music industry that doesn’t get discussed enough?
There’s all kinds of things that don’t get stressed enough. I think one of the biggest things is mental health. Not only mental health but just health period. Artists get signed and their labels expect them to be Superman or Superwoman and show up everywhere, take overnight flights here and there, just always be ready to be on the go. Then there’s no offer for counseling for any drug problems or anything. They’re just like, “Whatever, that’s your problem. We don’t manage your personal life, we just do your business.” Also, money management. There’s a lot of young kids getting signed right now and I’m just worried about where they’re going to be in a few years if they don’t get the right counseling on a variety of aspects of life.
You mentioned in a previous interview how it can get depressing for an artist when things go quiet. As a manager, is it your job to keep your artists motivated?
Yeah, man. It can go from terrific to tragic real quick. Money can be rolling in and you spend a bunch of it. Then something happens where you gotta spend more for something that came up in your life and the money gets low. You just finished promoting the last thing so you gotta work on your next thing because your last thing isn’t really hot anymore so you’re in a rut. But you know what? Sometimes pressure makes diamonds and that’s when you get some great music too.
In that same interview, you mentioned your disdain for working with artists who don’t have a good team around them.
Least favorite on the promoter side, yeah. To play a show of Rolling Loud’s size you need to properly advance the show. That comes down to multiple factors. You need somebody advancing your hospitality requirements, your production requirements, your arrival time and all that. You also need to respect the rules that the festival puts out (for example: how many passes you get). Some artists’ teams are really good at that and at communicating ahead of time. Then there’s some artists’ teams that don’t communicate at all until last minute. I get that when it’s a small tour. That’s very hip-hop. But when you’re playing a festival, if you want to maximize the experience there’s a big job to get done.
You’ve cited G-Eazy as an artist who has a really good team. What makes his team special?
Matt Bauerschmidt and Jamil Davis put together a great team. They went from touring in Matt’s mom's van. I remember when they pulled up to Tallahassee and performed at a house party. I’ve had their CD since 2007 or 2008. They just constantly had “a system,” which is to put out a project, tour it, and promote it to your greatest ability. Pick up as many gigs as possible, especially early on, as well as opening acts and slots, all while shooting videos and promoting those. Test out Facebook and YouTube ads, all that type of stuff.
Then they grew and got bigger and did the same thing with their next body of work. As they did that they built out their team. Their first real headlining nationwide tour they brought production. They had a production manager and brought lights on the road. They always just scaled up everything along the way and have been super organized with their communication. I’m sure they’re the same way on the label side and music making side.
I’ve always counted on them to move real smooth. There’s a lot of other teams that are just as smooth. Wiz and Travis Scott’s teams are amazing. Future’s team is super on point. Future is never late. He was late in 2016 for us because he missed a flight but other than that he’s never late. His production manager will yell at me so hard if we’re late on our side but I like that. They care. They know that a set time was published and they don’t want to upset the fans. If Future goes on at 10, they want him on at 10.
What should artists and their teams take into consideration when approaching a festival?
I’m going to be biased. On my side, they should take into consideration that money doesn’t grow on trees and that we have limited space on stage and they can’t bring one hundred people [with them], or anywhere near that. But I mean, on the fan side, they need to consider delivering the best show possible while staying safe and be on time. Just respecting the whole family nature of the event. You’ve got thousands of people there to see you perform. You gotta respect that and deliver, which most of them do.
For those who are reading about you managing artists and also running Rolling Loud and want to create at that same scale, what advice would you give them?
Do it! Yo, you just gotta do it, man. Try doing something. The worst that can happen is it doesn’t work out. You could try the same thing again and change what you think might have went wrong and do it better or you could try something else. Maybe trying something leads you to something better. You could intern, go get a job, stack money and start your own thing. You can learn some type of service to provide for artists, whether it’s graphic design or social ad management. There’s a million things you could do to get your foot in the door with. At the end of the day just do something. Get off whatever is distracting you and start somewhere.