How did Rolling Loud festival become the “Disney World of hip-hop”?

The creators of Rolling Loud have spoken to NME about how it became the world’s largest hip-hop festival ahead of the second-ever edition taking place in Portugal this weekend.

Established in Florida eight years ago, the festival was created by hip-hop event promoters Matt Zinger and Tariq Chief. In 2010, Zingler and Cherif started to organise monthly parties in Miami headlined by some of today’s most successful rappers – such as Rick Ross, Travis $cott and Kendrick Lamar.

Rolling Loud was first held in a Florida warehouse and had six headliners; Schoolboy Q, Curren$y, A$AP Ferg, Action Bronson, Juicy J, and $cott. Now, the festival has not only vastly expanded at home but has spread across the world with events in Australia, Canada, and Portugal. This year it debuts in three new countries: The Netherlands, Thailand and Germany.


Despite scaling up, Cherif stated that the purpose of the festival is still the same – to “bring happiness to millions of people while promoting and nurturing hip-hop culture.”

“We started Rolling Loud because we had been throwing hip-hop concerts in Florida for five years across all the different sub-genres of hip-hop, and we started seeing there were a lot of fans that overlapped at all the shows,” Cherif explained. “We figured we could put a bunch of artists on one show and, and give all these fans a great experience.”

Ski Mask The Slump God
Ski Mask The Slump God. Credit: Rolling Loud / @simonchasalow

Another reason was to show off the local Floridian SoundCloud scene they were managing via their own touring company, Dope Entertainment. At the time, Cherif said that they “were building this scene in South Florida and we saw it coming together [so they thought] it was time to unify everybody under one roof.” Rolling Loud exposed some of the era’s biggest stars early in their careers, including XXXTentacion, Wifisfuneral, and Ski Mask The Slump God – the latter is managed by Cherif.

Floridian rapper Robb Bank$ has performed at Rolling Loud since its inception. Remembering the first ever festival, Bank$ said: “I enjoyed that one. I was basically a co-headliner on it and it was so small. If you asked Matt and Tariq how they felt about it, they’d say it was unorganised but I thought it was great. It was the first only hip-hop festival in Florida and that was big to me. They brought Travis $cott and others that have never been there in the city.”

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Since then, the festival has had a great emphasis on exposing new talent alongside huge stars. “We go deep on the up-and-comers and hometown favourites,” said Cherif. “We’re booking artists with 5000 followers that are barely streaming yet, but they sell out a show or two in their hometown. We try to curate the perfect balance of critical darlings, up-and-comers, legacy acts, A-listers, and everything in between.”

Understanding that “there’s eight billion people in the world” and “they can’t all come to Miami every year”, Zingler explained why he and Cherif wanted to take the festival around the country and the rest of the world: “We need to be all over the world because hip-hop is all over the world. Our DMs and IG comments and Twitter mentions stay flooded with people asking us to come to their city, state, or country.”

In 2019, Rolling Loud held its first ever festival overseas in Australia, with a one-day event headlined by Billboard chart-toppers Future and Rae Sremmund.

Then, after the break brought on by the 2020 pandemic, the festival also made its debut in Portugal. Talking about his time at Rolling Loud: Portugal, 26-year-old Dalvin James told NME what made it “the best of the best in hip-hop and rap.”

Central Cee
Central Cee at Rolling Loud: Portugal 2022. Credit: Rolling Loud / @srodriguez92

Having attended other hip-hop festivals such as Woo Hah! (now known as Rolling Loud: Rotterdam), Strawberries and Creem, and Wireless before, James wanted to “go to the pinnacle of rap festivals.”

“It was a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I could never recreate again,” he said. “Rolling Loud holds its weight. Everyone knows what it is and it delivers on that when you go there – that’s why people keep going. You expect to go wild.

“You expect to have the time of your life. You expect to see the biggest rap stars and experience [them] with people from so many different countries.”

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The Londoner believed he has “outgrown all these British [rap] festivals” and “wanted a different experience.” He had sought this before when, in 2020, he went to Woo Hah! festival and “was disappointed [that] a lot of the main acts didn’t end up coming – some cancelling on the day of the festival.” However, on the beach in Portimão, Rolling Loud was the “best festival experience he’s had”.

In April, the first-ever Rolling Loud: Thailand took place. In NME’s four-star review, the highly-anticipated festival – headlined by Cardi B, Central Cee, and more – saw “huge international headliners bring the star power at a festival that also serves as a nascent one-stop-showcase of Asian hip hop.”

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“We just got back from Thailand where it’s mainly a crowd that hasn’t been to our US shows,” said Zingler. “So to be able to cross continents and deliver that experience was very important for us.” Echoing our review, he articulated that Rolling Loud has the cult-like fandom it has because “[they] listen to what they want and do our best to deliver it.”

As well as thoughtfully curating the festival’s line-up, they are focused on making their own “metaverse in real life.”

With unique attractions like skate parks, barber shops and tattoo parlours at each festival under the ethos that “it’s not just artists and stages but about the experiential activations”, Zingler dubbed Rolling Loud as “the hip-hop Disney world”.

He continued: “Disney isn’t just Disney World. t’s Disney+, it’s multiple franchises of movies and TV shows, it’s merchandising, all that, and that’s what we’re looking at as we expand and grow Rolling Loud.

“The next step is just more international destinations and continuing to elevate our merchandising. We’re in stores nationwide at Urban Outfitters, Levi’s, Forever 21, and our merch at the shows and online are doing amazing.”

Last December, a Rolling Loud album was announced and is set to be released later this year. “It all goes back to this Disney of hip-hop concept,” Zingler concluded, “where we [provide] real-life experiences, produce content, merchandise, NFTs and Loudpunx, and just a whole cohesive universe that fans can step into, feel proud of, and be a part of.”

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In March, it was announced that Rolling Loud will not return to New York for the foreseeable future after Nicki Minaj, Future and A$AP Rocky headlined the festival in September 2022. Last weekend, the first-ever Rolling Loud: Rotterdam took place with a bill topped by Kendrick Lamar and Travis $cott.

Rolling Loud: Portugal returns this year from July 5-7 in Portimão, and will be headlined by Travis $cott, Playboi Carti and Meek Mill. The first-ever Rolling Loud: Germany will then take place on July 7-9.

Turnstile will be the first rock band to be booked for Rolling Loud, and will be playing at the Miami edition on July 23.