What Is the Real Function of a Hip-Hop Festival?

Donna and Yoh discuss the central point(s) of hip-hop festivals.
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ASAP Ferg at Something In The Water Festival, 2019

A$AP Ferg performs at Something in the Water festival in Virginia Beach, April 2019.

Festivals are fascinating, to say the least. Upcoming artists have the chance to nab droves of new fans. Legacy acts have the chance to reintroduce their music to a new generation of listeners. And we, the fans, have the opportunity to get nice and drunk. 

With so many spinning plates, this begs the question: What, exactly, is the central point of a festival? Is there one?

All these questions and more are answered by DJBooth Managing Editor Donna-Claire Chesman and Senior Write Yoh.

Their conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

yoh [10:09 AM]

Hello, DonnaCReads. How are you, friend?

donnacwrites [10:10 AM]

Good morning, Rolling Yohoud, I am okay. I finished a great book of poetry by Kenneth Koch this morning and I'm bumping my beloved Megan Thee Stallion this morning. 

How are you? Exhausted from the festivities?

yoh [10:14 AM]

Always appreciate your poet recommendations, I'll be digging into Kenneth Koch soon. And yes, I'm exhausted, but keeping busy instead of curling into a ball of tired. What's on your mind this wonderful Thursday other than our favorite Houston hottie?

donnacwrites [10:16 AM]

Since I lost you to Rolling Loud for a few days, I wanted to talk about festivals. You went as media, not as a fan. And you have a wholly different experience as a result. With that perspective comes a newfound understanding of the function of the rap festival. So I'd like to lead with: What, exactly, is the central point of a festival? 

yoh [10:28 AM]

I like this question a great deal. Well, from my experience, no two festivals are alike. With Rolling Loud, a prominent rap music festival, the intention is a gathering of the young, hip, and thriving artists in the industry. It's where you go to see popular headliners like Migos or Travis Scott, and a culturally significant artist like Kid Cudi, alongside a plethora of big and lesser-known acts. If you want a melting pot rap experience, Rolling Loud covers those bases. 

It's not the same as seeing artists on tour, but the atmosphere that's created by having so many options over a three-day period on three different stages is an experience that is not available everywhere. Going to see the Ironman movies isn't the same experience as going to see The Avengers. That's what a festival provides the fans—the excitement of all these possibilities under one umbrella.

donnacwrites [10:33 AM]

Rolling Loud seems to serve a handful of functions being that it's focused exclusively on rap music. I appreciate how the festival provides a blend of upcoming artists looking to secure new fans as well as legacy acts who can continue building on what they started all those years ago. Rolling Loud serves an important role in keeping hip-hop history alive for the new generation of fans in that way, while also bringing up the latest crop of talent. It seems like the perfect invention, a meeting of the minds for an entire genre.

Now, the kicker: what doesn't Rolling Loud provide?

yoh [10:45 AM]

Good question. I'm not sure. All my gripes with the festival dealt with distance, but I know that can't be helped. What I would like to see more of, and not just from Rolling Loud but all music festivals, is the inclusion of legacy acts. Not just as headliners—I understand why they wouldn't close out the show every night—but giving them a good time slot to rock before a sizeable crowd. This year DMX had a set on Sunday. It was a later in the day, and the reception was great. There was so much joy and enthusiasm on his face to perform a song like "Ruff Ryders' Anthem" in 2019. And then seeing his picture with Lil Nas X was the cherry on top. That couldn't happen anywhere else. I want moments like that for Big Daddy Kane, Run-DMC, Scarface, De La Soul, and more. Give them a chance to show the kids why they're legends.

I know you haven't attended a huge festival before, but what is something you would like provided to further push the live hip-hop experience?

donnacwrites [10:48 AM]

As I've said before, the best thing an artist can do to enhance their live experience is to learn how to perform. That means no performing over your own vocals. On stage, you're an entertainer. Your job is to not only curate an experience we could not get in our bedrooms but one that could only happen at the festival grounds. If you're performing over your own vocals, what difference does that make from me listening to your vocals from the comfort of my home? I want to see upcoming acts use festivals to secure fans for life by stepping outside of the comfort and using show tracks.

I'd also like to note that it would serve artists to tailor their release schedules to festivals. If you're at the point in your career where you're being booked at Rolling Loud, take that as a cue to drop music ahead of the event. This way, you get to perform new material, and fans get to see all of their favorite songs. The way fans at a festival react to all your new works will be a great gauge for how you should solo tour your records. Festivals, in that way, are a great testing ground for what works and what doesn't.

yoh [11:03 AM]

I agree! To expand on what you said about performing without a vocal track, I would love if more seasoned performers would plan a special set for festivals. I would be more inclined to see an artist in festival settings if I knew the show would be different than seeing them on tour. I'm not talking about drastic changes, but crafting an experience unlike what fans would get anywhere else.

Kendrick is great at plotting festival releases. J. Cole did this with KOD. Hearing the project at Rolling Loud last year, just a few weeks after its release, changed my opinion of the project. Cole also dropped his single "Middle Child" right before performing half-time at the NBA All-Star Game. Creating moments with your music is how fans become even more connected with your art. The intention behind every move is how you reach a commercial or cultural checkmate.

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