Rolling Loud doesn’t do things by halves. That’s the impression, anyway, at the sprawling Legend Siam theme park in the beachside city of Pattaya in Thailand – the location of the US hip-hop festival’s first-ever edition in Asia taking place April 13-15, or right smack in the middle of the country’s new year celebrations and joyous, water-soaked Songkran festivities.
So it’s gratifying to see Rolling Loud come correct with a huge festival site, two massive stages with gargantuan, crystal-clear LED screens, a bonfire’s worth of pyrotechnics and fireworks plus bone-shaking sound systems – not to mention all the food, fashion and brand pop-ups and experiences, from an apparel customisation shop by festival sponsor Levi’s to a skate park by whiskey brand Monkey Shoulder, expected of any music festival today.
All the better for Rolling Loud’s multi-faceted showcase of the biggest of names in rap – international A-listers whom you’d struggle to find headlining their own shows in Asia, let alone all in a single place over one weekend. All the different flavours of star power on offer are striking. Choosing the path of straightforward excellence are the sturdy A$AP Ferg, who hardly misses a bar and effortlessly commands the crowd, and the no-nonsense Central Cee. An anomaly on a line-up heavy on American artists, Cench gives a no-frills demonstration of why he’s the UK’s most exciting rapper right now – especially with his megahit ‘Doja’, which prompts a deafening singalong and several mosh pits.
On the nonchalant end of the spectrum is the impish Lil Uzi Vert, who leaves the crowd-hyping to the DJ and opts for coy banter (one song in: “Now it’s time for me to turn into a rockstar”). After a cool-as-you-like performance of emo rap classic ‘XO Tour Liif3’, an unexpected rendition of their verse off Migos’ ‘Bad and Boujee’, Uzi jumps on the DJ platform to do the TikTok dance to their latest hit ‘Just Wanna Rock’.
Sporting a mullet and dressed in a glittering sweatsuit, Lil Uzi Vert appears impervious to the scorching temperatures and intense humidity. Those who persist through the heat impress. “How do you say ‘hot’ in this country?” the ever-cheeky Cardi B asks the crowd before calling crew members to fix her wig and kicking off her heels. She spends most of her headline set with a hand pressed to an in-ear monitor; apparent tech problems mean she often raps behind the beat. But what she lacks in precision she more than makes up for with choreography, charisma and conviction, spitting her lyrics so hard she gives even the fun bangers a tinge of fury.
Others take tech issues in their stride. Cardi’s husband Offset (who suavely but unwisely comes dressed like he’s ready to join My Chemical Romance’s black parade) also struggles with his microphone pack, though he ups the stakes by scaling scaffolding during his own performance of ‘Bad and Boujee’. When the backing track cuts out for valiant party-starters Rae Sremmurd, Swae Lee seizes the opportunity for an a cappella showcase of his pipes.
And fans embrace their favourites at Rolling Loud Thailand, tech problems and all, by bellowing along to hits like ‘Sunflower’ and ‘WAP’ and inciting exuberant mosh pits – especially during Travis Scott’s feverishly anticipated set. Things are cranked to 11 for this final headliner: the plumes of flame spout higher, the cryo jets erupt faster and the screens flash in an ever greater frenzy as Scott charges through hits like ‘Butterfly Effect’, ‘Sicko Mode’ and ‘Goosebumps’ – and, with Offset’s help, a live debut of an unreleased collaboration.
The massive US and UK stars – many of them making their debuts in Thailand and, for some, in Asia – might be the big draws at the festival but they’re just half the story. Those who come early and stay late experience Rolling Loud Thailand as a nascent one-stop-showcase of Asian hip hop and grab-bag experience of the leaps and bounds the genre is making in the diverse region.
East and Southeast Asia gets a good look in this year, from local legends like Thailand’s F.HERO and Thaitanium and Malaysia’s Joe Flizzow, to ascendant stars like Cambodian hero VannDa, Japan’s charismatic Awich and Singapore’s swaggering Yung Raja. Though often relegated to short daytime sets in the sweltering heat, they make the most of the opportunity: Thailand’s fun-loving Youngohm is backed by a live band, a rarity at the festival, while Indonesia’s Ramengvrl takes the chance to premiere unreleased material.
It wouldn’t be a showcase of rap in Asia without artists from South Korea, who fans go buck-wild for – as evidenced by the ear-splitting screams every time B.I hits a sultry dance move or the copious number of bras Jay Park picks up during his set with his H1GHR Music crew. There are plenty of surprises and exclusives in store at these sets, from B.I inviting Sik-K out for an unreleased song, to Jessi and Jay Park’s breaking-news announcement that she’s signed to his label More Vision, to Jay Park bringing out Jessi and Thai star MILLI for his twerk anthem ‘Mommae’. It’s exciting, to say the least, to see Asian artists make connections before our very eyes.
One young Asian star who shines bright this weekend is 20-year-old MILLI. Having performed show-stopping hour-long festival sets elsewhere, she has just 20 minutes to bring her A-game at Rolling Loud. Vivacious and athletic, she delivers a bombastic showcase of her 2022 debut album ‘Babb Bum Bum’ and even calls back to her culture-changing performance of the song ‘Mango Sticky Rice’ at Coachella a year ago.
In Indio, California, she chowed down on the beloved dessert onstage – in Pattaya, her hypeman brings out an actual mango and she uses what looks like a lacrosse stick to deliver it to one lucky fan in the crowd. It’s a hilarious, what-the-hell moment that rolls together talent, charm and humour – everything you want from a hip-hop performer. If it keeps going, Rolling Loud Thailand could become the festival in Asia where you get all that and more.