Live Report: Rolling Loud Portugal 2022
Rolling Loud has snapped up every bucket list since its emergence in 2015, surging for the title of the largest hip-hop festival worldwide. Now taking to the mediterranean summer beaches of Portimão, Portugal, the line-up draws its attention to the like-minded synergy between UK and US rap, whilst prioritising the voices of the future. Handing the throne to J. Cole, A$AP Rocky and Future, the three days divide themselves between the more conscious wordsmiths and trap lords, whilst steering into the new directions of grime, punk-rap and dancehall.
At a stroll across the festival site, it’s a medley of tongues that fill a friendly crowd, leaping over language hurdles. All differing in their travels yet all the meanwhile sharing a love for broadly spanning hip-hop, it’s a conversation starter, for sure. In some ways, this distracts from the slightly jumbled start of mis-coordinated set times and microphone difficulties that may initially throw off the more focussed attendee, expecting to grab each performance start to finish. If you’re looking for elaborate food stalls, theatrical productions and cozy stages, this isn’t quite the festival to fit the bill. However, if you’re craving a super-charged lyrical masterclass, inviting special guests and crowds that are willing to bring the old-time field mosh pits to the sand (believe us, this is not an underestimated task), Rolling Loud soars in its execution. Bouncing between the Loud and Punx stage, you’ve got to be ready to dive head-first into the unexpected.
Set for a jump-start is Ivorian Doll, making a bold entrance met with “I-V-D” chants from fans who are pushing towards her long-term goals of becoming an international artist. Confessing her debut to the main stage, there is a sense of nerves that spill across the performance which, at times, feel slightly chaotic however, it’s an energy that is seemingly welcomed.
The more intimate Punx Stage undoubtedly packs its own punch. “The answer is yes, I am hot, but we move.” In a refusal to surrender his identity behind a re-vamped mask designed by Lucien Clarke, M Huncho shares a finesse for auto-tune, weaving between old and new material whilst inviting the likes of Nafe Smallz to the stage for ‘Broken Homes’. Detailing a fondness for Portugal and calling it his second home, the rapper moves comfortably though his performance.
It’s this same presence that resonates most poignantly across the dancehall charm of Shenseea, cherry-picking her new-found dancers from the crowd. The Jamaican singer brings playfulness to the forefront, taking charge with the rapid-fire verses of ‘Lick,’ meanwhile flaunting her vocal range on the infectious ‘Lighter’.
As the hours pass, crowds thicken and phone signal weakens for AJ Tracey, who is on sunset-soundtracking duties. Although it’s slightly disheartening to see the MC so far detached from his grime uprise, it’s the addictive ‘Butterflies’ and the garage resurrector of ‘Ladbroke Grove’ that, when combined with rooftop bars and sea-salt mist, make for a match made in heaven. With crowds roaring “Oh…Thiago Silva,” AJ never fails to work a crowd.
Now taking a turn into an evening of trumping headliners, all eyes are on Roddy Ricch who charges into his set with big drums and electric guitar solos. Finding a balance between stripped-back renditions of ‘Die Young’ and amping up the likes of ‘Ballin’ with his band, the performance marks both Ricch’s versatility and relevance amongst his contemporaries. Voicing an unconditional admiration for Nipsey Hussle, the rapper closes on the grandiose strings of ‘The Box,’ urging for puffs of flames across the stage and ceremonial choirs on the hook.
Despite technical difficulties, J. Cole equally gets his crowd’s stamina up to scratch with a setlist that dips into the nostalgia of ‘2014 Forest Hills Drive’ whilst juggling the more recent work of ‘The Off-Season’ and banger features. Unafraid to let his samples flex their way across the stage, it’s of no surprise that Cole is particularly considered in his delivery despite the, at times distracting, wavering microphone levels. Offering his main slot to the rising forces of Bia and Bas, it’s a performance that lets Cole’s legacy do the talking whilst shining a spotlight on the voices of rap’s future. If you weren’t following ‘No Role Modelz’ line for line, word for word, in the nicest way possible, shame on you.
Not many artists in the UK yield the cult-following of Lancey Foux, who goes on to deliver one of the best performances of the festival’s three-day stint. Setting pace with the turbo-verses of ‘DON’T TALK,’ the genre-defying enigma crashes through the walkway with an energy that can only hint towards the making of a rockstar. Although previous projects have battled against comparisons in the footsteps of alternative acts, it truly feels like Foux is carving his own space in rap on an international scale. Other celebratory moments land at the Loud stage for swagger duo D Block Europe, who once again flaunt their rampant toll on clubs and festivals. Reaching for the closing track, Young Adz sneaks in: “new album on the way, you know what I’m sayin…”
As the evening starts to creep its way forwards it’s Baby Keem who takes a firm stance, needless of braggadocio jewellery or logos to single-handedly carry a crowd spoilt for choice. Although at times the rapper’s understated approach plays a role in its own flaws, feeling far too static on the likes of ‘family ties’, it’s also one that makes the anthem ’16’ all the more radiant. At just 21 years old, there’s no doubt that Keem will figure a balance, foreshadowing the golden voice of new age hip-hop.
Let’s be honest, Skepta simply does not miss. At a grasp, the microphone champion may as well be decked out in Ed Hardy head to toe, transporting the same hunger of his seminal Noughties freestyles across a next-gen crowd. Making an entrance with ‘Bellator,’ it’s an eery and, in some ways unexpected selection that invites the less obvious album cuts to own their spotlight. Maxing out on production for the flickering sirens of ‘It Ain’t Safe’, the performance accelerates into overdrive when paying homage to the rapper’s grime roots.
“It is Boy Better Know time…”
Sending crowds over the edge is Frisco and INFAMOUSIZAK’s recent collaboration ‘Bad & Clean,’ an underrated offering that is finally rattling the scene with its pulsing catchiness. It’s still Jammer, Frisco, Shorty and Jme, it’s still Maximum behind the decks and it’s that same finesse that has carried Skepta into untouchable territory.
A highly sought-after performance from Playboi Carti follows. It’s no secret that the visceral force has taken a turn in his career, now boldly staring in the face of post-punk and the avant-garde. This is meant to be a hyper-reactive flurry, throwing fans into the ultra-violet starkness of ‘Miss The Rage’ and entrancing ‘JumpOutTheHouse.’
Steering away from the conventions of performing, the culture shifter is no stranger to unintelligible outbursts, losing himself to the clouds of smoke as he physically embodies his whooshing production. There’s no doubt that Carti is truly tapping into the unknown, and in turn generating an unmatched spirit that has wiped out his competitors. As he marches off the stage, a quiet mumble says its goodbye. “I love you.”
There will be those who pounce at the chance to warn against Carti’s new direction, and that’s a clear indicator that they just don’t get it.
Closing the evening with a truly celebratory performance, one that keen fans may re-phrase as a listening party, is A$AP Rocky. Savouring his masses through unreleased material that merges the forces of Pharrell and Tyler, The Creator, the platonic relationship between the rapper and Skepta also makes its return. Sure, it’s been a few years since release of the A$AP Mob spearhead’s last project yet, there’s nothing that can take away from the surreal spells of ‘L$D,’ casting euphoria into the crescendo of the evening.
The final leg of the festival feels like one that’s finally surrendered to the exhaustive mosh pits, marching through weighty sand and the inevitable dehydration that comes with approaching the past evening’s unfolding. Nevertheless, it’s the likes of BKTHARULA that continues to hold the crowd’s energy in chokehold, with an audacious delivery and lagging bass that can only be described as nauseating. Bolting across the stage in punk-rock aesthetics, the riser pushes for one of the most exciting shifts in rap that feels ever more impulsive and raw.
If there’s one artist that can guarantee a fan base that has travelled long and far, whether that’s Germany, France or Sweden, it has to be Central Cee. The scattered flags do the talking. It feels like the UK, comparably, lacks the same sense of urgency that translates across the international crowds for the ‘Wild West’ rapper. It’s for this same reason that Skepta turned away from all UK festivals this year. Cup in hand, as Cench takes a nonchalant stroll down the walkway one can’t help but feel this is an overwhelming turn-out for the rapper’s performance, at times engulfed by the sheer scale of the Loud stage. The crowds are here for it though, roaring in a frenzy at every turn and, at the end of the day, that’s all that counts.
For those wondering, it’s a ‘Lil’ extravaganza, cramming Lil Skies, Lil Yachty, Lil Tecca and more into one evening. Yet, it’s Lil Baby who dominates the crowd from lingering off, racing though fiery features and the soul baring ‘Close Friends’ that summons the heartbroken, and maybe even the stubborn heartbreakers. Shifting into SoundCloud era nostalgia, Lil Uzi Vert is the grand composer who raised his commanding hands for ‘Money Longer,’ quick to strip down to shorts and shoes for a wholly immersive performance. Biting back at his crowd, the character makes for a smooth transition into the upper echelons of Future.
Now, the trap legacy of Future is an undisputed reality that, within its own right, is responsible for the emergence of mumble rap. With that being said, there is the sense that the Atlanta kingpin has become complacent across his performance, which is majorly indistinguishable from the original recordings and seems to avoid the transient bonuses of live music. It’s a discography that can stand alone, with ‘F*ck Up Some Commas’ and ‘Mask Off’ serving as a reminder of the cultural significance that has turned crowds upside down globally since their release. At this point, even when effort seemingly wavers the rapper can do, quite frankly, whatever he wants because… it is Future after all.
Transforming Portimão into the hotspot for blazing bars, heart-weakening bass and an array of performances reaching far and wide – Rolling Loud takes its crown.
Words: Ana Lamond
Photography: Mickey Pierre Louis, Sebastian Rodriguez, Kadeem Cobham