Despite sweating profusely, the wildly entertaining 29-year-old rapper didn't appear uncomfortable during our midday interview with music streaming service and stage sponsor Audiomack at the fifth annual Rolling Loud Music Festival in Miami, Florida.
Blac was engaging without being overly animated; humorous while maintaining a laid-back demeanor. He has a smile that could sell Middle America more cups of coffee than Wayne Brady.
After revealing his favorite Lady Gaga record—"The Fame”—the Memphis-born social media humorist acknowledged Miami's cruel humidity and requested a towel. He wiped away the sea of water running across his forehead and returned his gaze to the three cameras before him, ready for more of my questions; no complaints or visible irritation; a man who arrived to work.
If, following our interview, André 3000 asked me, "What's cooler than being cool?" I would have replied, "a rapper."
Rolling Loud 2019
Over the course of three days, underneath Audiomack’s cozy press tent, one by one various festival performers left air-conditioned trailers to join me in the smoldering oven just as Blac Youngsta did. Maybe, it was the abundance of jewelry, but many of our interviewees managed a similar, unaffected cool.
Bottles of water, Gatorade, Bumbu Rum, and Belaire Rosé were made available on arrival, all refreshments that kept Audiomack’s modest staff hydrated and sane as talent sporadically appeared for interviews. I quickly learned of the unspoken, humbling patience that's vital when conducting live interviews at a music festival. Plans change at a moment's notice; waiting for confirmation may take a lifetime; every promise is uncertain. Behind each commitment fulfilled, there is a sense of relief and appreciation.
Press is an option for artists, not a requirement, and still, daily, we waited. The waiting is what you don't see.
Unlike last year, the media press area at Rolling Loud in Miami was tucked away in seclusion, significantly closer to the artist's lounge area than any of the festival's three stages. Instead of witnessing performances live, we were only able to hear the hip-hop gala unfold. Atlanta’s own wunderkind J.I.D made a joke while on stage about wanting to catch Lil Baby perform “Drip Too Hard” with Drip Harder-collaborator Gunna, but, unfortunately, their set times overlapped. Working behind the scenes makes you realize how responsibility takes precedence over desire.
On Sunday, the final day of the festival, a young woman reached the media tent without the correct credentials, in search of the Loud Stage headliner, Kid Cudi. She was a student with no real industry ambitions, just trying to finesse beyond general admission barriers to see her favorite artist in the flesh. It's funny how all roads leading backstage aren't a direct route to music’s biggest names. Ironic, too, how little glamour can be found backstage when the search for stars leads you back to Earth.
Hours before meeting the young woman, to my surprise, festival security mentioned having to perform "a sweep" due to kids sneaking backstage. I wondered, what were they seeking? Their favorite artist? An open bar? Was it the mystery that enticed them? Did they see security checking wristbands and believed they were guarding a world far more sacred than general admission? I figured they didn’t want to work, and unfortunately, that’s all our area offered.
Watching kids try to sneak backstage reminded me of the various cartoons where characters would romanticize the teacher's lounge as if it were a far more special place than it actually is. Sure, there's a chance you'll observe or meet a celebrity, but it's far more likely you'll face a bunch of exhausted creatives who work for production, publications, and record labels. What's considered exciting is entirely subjective, but throughout my time backstage, besides a random selfie with someone famous, nothing backstage or in V.I.P area was worth being kicked out of the festival—or worse, arrested.
As the young woman continued her hunt for her favorite Ohio-born Moon Man, I met Andrew Barber of the legendary blogsite FakeShoreDrive for the first time; we laughed over tweets I received from Kanye’s Kids See Ghost co-star after he vehemently disagreed with one of my 2014 op-eds. Here was a man who didn't sell a single album, but who was ingrained in the blog era that supported Cudi's rise to prosperity. Not everyone will recognize how important bloggers were to modern rap music—to the change they brought to the music industry—but I do.
Meeting Barber is a memory I’ll cherish alongside hearing GoldLink tell stories in his trailer, seeing how proud J.I.D’s team looked after he lit the stage ablaze, entering the festival grounds to the sound of Genius' own Rob Markman delivering his Rolling Loud debut performance, watching DMX stomp across the stage like Odin in buttered Timberland boots, and spending countless hours backstage with friends, peers, and the passionate team at Audiomack. There was no glamour for the Gram or viral photos for Twitter; not even a huge, groundbreaking story for DJBooth. Rolling Loud was a collection of rare, individual moments that, for most, would be considered mundane, but to me, they were unforgettable.
Frank Ocean said it best on “Sweet Life,” “The best song wasn’t the single,” and for me, the best part of Rolling Loud wasn't any sole performance—not that I was able to enjoy more than a few. The festival isn’t as festive when the purpose of attending is to work. From photographers to the cleaning crew, production teams to the background dancers, everyone present at the festival performs a duty that affords a distinct experience unlike those who arrived strictly to watch as spectators. We see with a different pair of eyes; hear with a different set of ears. Yet, the music space requires us all to be there. We all contributed something to the industry ecosystem.
No matter what your role is in the music industry, however, you never stop being a fan. Being a fan is how we all arrived and how we all will leave. The fan in me, admittedly, will experience life-long regret missing Young Thug bring out Gunna and Lil Baby and failing to see 2019 breakout stars Lil Nas X, DaBaby, and Megan Thee Stallion. Yet, for every moment I missed, there were interactions, conversations, and meetings I couldn’t experience anywhere else.
I've attended hundreds of shows and festivals over the past six years, but Rolling Loud was my first unabated glimpse at the secret life that takes place behind the music. It’s not always the most joyous or the most exciting; it's occasionally stressful and full of high jinks and uncertainty. But it was, by far, the most fulfilling.
By Yoh, aka Rolling Yoh, aka @Yoh31