Why hip-hop festival Rolling Loud seems to be a hotbed for arrests

Nov 1, 2021
Originally published on November 2, 2021 2:26 pm

Updated November 2, 2021 at 12:41 PM ET

The rapper Fetty Wap was arrested last week at Rolling Loud New York, on drug charges. But he's not the first rapper to be detained ahead of the annual hip-hop festival, or barred from performing by local authorities. There exists, says journalist Jayson Buford, a continued pattern of law enforcement "essentially using rap lyrics to try to prove that rappers are violent people in real life."

NPR's Audie Cornish spoke with Buford about the festival's history and history of policing, as well as the wider world of live hip-hop.

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Last week, rapper Fetty Wap was set to perform at the music festival Rolling Loud New York. Instead, he was arrested on federal drug charges, and he's since pled not guilty and remains in custody. But this is not the first time a rapper has been arrested ahead of Rolling Loud or been barred from performing by local authorities. Jayson Buford was at the festival this weekend. He was reporting for Rolling Stone. He joins me now to talk more about it.

Welcome to the program.

JAYSON BUFORD: Hello. Great to be here.

CORNISH: So for people not in the know, how important is Rolling Loud? How big a deal is it as a festival?

BUFORD: Rolling Loud is the hip-hop festival. It's the annual hip-hop festival that happens every single year since 2019. It started in South Florida to kind of play, you know, the music that was going on around that time, which was SoundCloud rap. And it developed from that into, like, a festival that's in a bunch of different cities. You have it in LA. You have it in New York, and you have it in Miami. And so it's a huge deal.

CORNISH: So one of the things we've talked about in our introduction are the number of arrests that are happening. And you have talked about the idea that Rolling Loud is overpoliced. Our podcast, NPR podcast Louder Than A Riot, has talked about this quite a bit. But how does this pertain to Rolling Loud? What do you mean when you say overpoliced, and what does that look like?

BUFORD: It just means that when you go to Rolling Loud, the police are inescapable. They are all over the place. They're there when you walk in. They're there when you leave. They're there around the barricades. They're there even, like, in the parking lots, and there's a bunch of them. They line up together, and they're not helpful either. And so I think there's an ominous aspect to it that made me feel uncomfortable and made other fans feel uncomfortable as well.

CORNISH: Some of the arrests that have happened there have been of very high-profile figures. The most recent was Fetty Wap, which we mentioned, but can you talk about who else has been arrested or investigated kind of out of Rolling Loud?

BUFORD: Yeah. So Fetty Wap had the hit song "Trap Queen" a few years ago. EST Gee, who dropped "Bigger Than Life And Death" (ph) this year, which is one of the best albums of the year - and it had the lead single "Lick Back." He got arrested at Rolling Loud Miami. And in 2019, Pop Smoke from "Dior" fame and who tragically was murdered in Los Angeles in 2020, he also was prevented from performing at Rolling Loud. So those are some of the people that have had high-profile run-ins with the law at Rolling Loud.

CORNISH: As a music fan and music journalist, how does this dovetail to you with how hip-hop is seen as a genre? You kind of mentioned in passing the idea that the lyrics of hip-hop sometimes are held against the artist, even more so than behavior. And so given that you've been to other kinds of festivals, does it feel like Rolling Loud has a problem or that hip-hop concerts are still facing a kind of surveillance?

BUFORD: Hip-hop concerts in general are still facing a kind of surveillance that are stripping away of civil rights - so First Amendment stuff, basic stuff. So, for example, Drakeo the Ruler out of South Central Los Angeles was recently tried for murder. And the evidence was based on a lot of stuff that he had said in his music, which rap is entertainment, right? So if you're rapping about something, that doesn't make it true. The feds are using rap lyrics to essentially see if, you know, rappers are actually doing this in real life. They are essentially using rap lyrics to try to prove that rappers are violent people in real life. With the overpolicing at Rolling Loud, there is a sense of this is continuing and that Rolling Loud's not doing anything to stop it.

CORNISH: Has hip-hop outgrown Rolling Loud?

BUFORD: I would love for Rolling Loud to be a good hip-hop festival. Hip-hop deserves a really good hip-hop festival. We don't have a lot of the - a lot of the festivals that we have now overlook hip-hop. They do. I mean, if you look at Gov Ball, there's not enough hip-hop representation. If you look at Coachella, there's not enough hip-hop representation. Firefly - any of those festivals, there's not enough hip-hop representation. Rolling Loud is a great idea. The final product right now is not good, and it needs to be better.

CORNISH: That's music journalist Jayson Buford.

Thanks so much for talking with us.

BUFORD: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

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