words by: Yousef Srour (Int. Music Director 21-22′)
In the concrete jungle of the Hollywood Park Grounds, Rolling Loud California has emerged as a key festival for hip-hop fans. Especially hip-hop fans of West Coast music. In the age of internet rap superstars, leak/snippet culture, and early rappers not having the financial capacity to tour, Rolling Loud becomes a yearly opportunity to see all of your favorite artists congregate in one massive three-day festival. KCSB went to Rolling Loud California 2023 and this is what we saw:
Soulja BoyAlthough he didn’t refer to himself as Soulja Boy once during his set (opting for Big Drakeo instead), the performance was one of the best of the weekend. He played cultural phenomena from the Y2K-era, from “Crank That,” “Kiss Me Thru The Phone,” to “Pretty Boy Swag.” These are songs that have lived past the 2000s and the 2010s; you can hear “Crank That” at any nightclub in downtown Santa Barbara, and as Soulja Boy showcased his iconic dance moves, you were instantly transported back to 2008.
Ski Mask the Slump God
Not my favorite set of the weekend. He performed a thrash melodic song where he sang over a slower, rage beat but that was really the only part of the performance that separated this from his 2018 performance at Rolling Loud in the Bay Area. It wasn’t phenomenal, but it was mainly songs that were in tribute to his fallen friends, XXXTENTACION and Juice WRLD. Great throwback though.
Chief KeefChief Keef’s name alone creates anticipation. Is he going to perform? Is he going to be late? What songs will his setlist comprise of? The possibilities are endless for one of the most influential names in drill music. I’ve only seen Chief Keef perform once before, and the second time I was going to see him, he bailed on his set at Smoker’s Club Fest. But just like in 2018 when I saw him at Rolling Loud in the Bay Area, Sosa is almost guaranteed to show up for Rolling Loud.
With that, the performance is unpredictable. All eras of Sosa are fair game. Just like how I rang in the New Year’s Day of 2020, Chief Keef walked out to “3Hunna” from Finally Rich. Ranging from various 4NEM tracks and older cuts like “Macaroni Time,” the highlight of the performance was his live rendition of “Bitch Where.” This was allegedly Keef’s first time performing the track, and it held the same homecoming comfort that 4NEM’s album opener held when it was released. Headlining his own stage, a packed crowd hailed Chief Keef the king of drill, once again.
Curren$yWeed smokers rejoice, Curren$y puts on a hell of a show. Obviously the most fitting show at a music festival named after rolling joints, the everyday rapper commands the stage like a pro. At 41 years old, his age is only obvious in the sense that he knows that the only way to give a proper performance is to pull out all of the stunts: a live band, fitted in his signature Jet Life apparel, smoking a joint while he complains that “funky fingers” (the bassist) is taking over set. He played cuts from his new project with the Alchemist, Continuance, Pilot Talk, and even Fire In The Clouds. Truly a generational rapper.
Lil BabyLil Baby’s one of those few artists where every time I watch him perform, I become more and more mesmerized by the sheer impossibility of his flow. I still don’t know how he has the breath control to perform songs like “Freestyle” and “We Paid,” but every single time, he delivers. Honestly, I’d have more to say if I wasn’t so focused on every piece of jewelry Lil Baby was wearing. Almost each of his fingers had a diamond ring, and his diamond-encrusted chain sparkled under the spotlight.
I had my worries about the Weezy set because I remember hearing that Wayne could be a difficult performer, but this completely blew me away. He has so many hits, it’s bewildering to think about how he could perform all of these certified classics from hip-hop history with the same energy he’s had for years. And, on top of that, he was incredibly kind to the audience, repeating “thank you” after every single song. Whether it was “A Milli” or “Uproar” or “Lollipop,” Wayne crowned himself the king of hip-hop as soon as he stepped onto the stage in his Cam’ron inspired pink fur coat.
Did I mention that his surprise guest was the equivalent of a Rolling Loud headliner? Wayne brought out Nicki Minaj. Minus a couple of sound mishaps, the audience heard “Truffle Butter” and “Chun-Li” live, in a rare Nicki sighting. It doesn’t get better than that.
Ice SpiceJustice for Ice Spice. Her discography is small, so I wish she performed some of her hits like “Boy’s A Liar Pt. 2” or “Munch” twice. But that being said, her 12-minute set was everything I hoped it would be and more. People were lined up to see the performance with Ice Spice flags and cardboard signs that said “Ice Spice > Beyoncé.” Her fans are die-hards, and frankly, she deserves it.
BabyTronIt’s interesting seeing BabyTron perform because he’s the “Punch God;” he doesn’t record verses in full, instead choosing to record one-liners. Watching him perform, his breath control was incredible as he ran through tongue-twisting lines over an infinite number of beat switches. He even performed “Emperor of the Universe” where he raps over 21 beats at a time. For my favorite surprise of the night, ‘Tron brought out Certified Trapper to perform their new song, “Long Nights,” for the first time. Dog Shit Militia. ShittyBoyz. You already know what f*ck’s going on.
Lil Uzi VertYou can tell that Lil Uzi Vert has leveled up since the release of “Just Wanna Rock.” From the last couple of times I’ve seen him, Uzi typically likes to incite mosh pits and stage dive and create chaos, whereas now his goal seems to be making the crowd dance. Whether it’s Jersey-club influenced anthems or delivering unreleased music to his fiendish fan base, Uzi gave a performance of a lifetime in his red leather jacket and spiked hair. Cue Uzi shoulder roll.
Lil YachtyThe crowd for this performance did not do justice to the immense quality of this set. Unsure whether Yachty would perform old songs or give the second-ever live rendition of Let’s Start Here., that question was quickly answered after Yachty walked out to “the BLACK seminole.” featuring a full, all-female psychedelic rock band to back him. They shuffled through “Poland,” “the ride-” and “IVE OFFICIALLY LOST ViSiON!!!!” and a few others, before Yachty determined that it was time to open up the mosh pit again. If you were skeptical about the quality of Yachty’s new album, this performance reiterated Yachty’s newfound vision in music.
Classics. So many classics. I knew almost every song that Future performed, and so did the majority of the crowd. His music has embedded itself into hip-hop culture, whether it’s old hits like “March Madness” or new singles like “PUFFIN ON ZOOTIEZ” (even though he didn’t play “Codeine Crazy,” despite my shameless screams). The highlight of the night was his performance of his song, “Superhero (Heroes & Villains).” After only performing the song a handful of times so far, it’s clear that the song will go down as a future classic* within his discography.