Music Festivals

Rappers Who Paid to Be on Rolling Loud Lineup Say They Didn't Get Their Money's Worth

As hundreds of hip-hop heads turnt up with Robb Bank$ and crew last Friday at Rolling Loud’s Dab Stage, a more subdued affair was unfolding only a few yards away at the festival’s Citrus Stage. The Citrus Stage, touted as a showcase for up-and-coming indie acts and unsigned artists, offered a more modest presentation than its counterparts. Without the looming LED screens, lights, and girders of the Dab and Sauce Stages, what Citrus lacked in accoutrements, it more than made up for in, well, we can call it spunk. The unmarked white tent touted two microphones – one wireless, one corded – complimented by an underwhelming speaker setup. The Citrus Stage had nothing if not character.

Nicholas Cameron, a 27-year-old Satellite Beach native who raps under the name PurpCaper, took to the stage at 8:30 p.m. with his partner Folklore, only to leave in frustration shortly thereafter. Beset by technical difficulties, shoddy sound, and an audience of only confused passersby, Cameron and Folklore opted to cut their already-brief 15-minute set short. 

“When you’re popping, you get the offers. When you’re not, you gotta offer.”

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“The mics weren’t even the same and didn’t work right,” Cameron says. “Where was the security for these artists? Why is there duct tape and this thing looks crashed?”

Cameron isn't the only act who feels burned by Miami's weed-themed hip-hop festival, now in its second year. Over the course of the two-day gathering, multiple indie rappers slotted to perform on the Citrus Stage expressed disappointment at both the quality of the stage and their treatment as performers, despite having paid to perform.

“I’ve played indie slots, and I’ve never paid to perform — ever,” Cameron says.

Cameron says he paid $750 for his time on Rolling Loud's Citrus Stage. Other unknown indie acts, Miami New Times has learned, paid anywhere from $500 to $1000 in order to secure ideal time slots on the Citrus Stage. If Cameron had deeper pockets, he says $2000 could have gotten him on the secondary Sauce Stage. $5000 would land him on the Dab Stage, where headlining acts like Young Thug, Future, and 2 Chainz performed.

Tariq Cherif, co-founder of Rolling Loud organizers Dope Entertainment, stated that many of the artist’s complaints, such as having to enter through general admission, were covered in emails sent in advance of Rolling Loud. Cherif also says that the Citrus Stage’s upkeep fell upon its sponsor, Citrus Rap, and explained the rationale behind his company’s pay-to-play practice for smaller acts. 

“We do our best to go out and find up-and-coming talent that deserves a chance to perform," Cherif says. "We furthermore go out of our way to find local talent with growing fan bases and book — and pay — them to perform. We even ran a contest on the radio where artists could submit to perform and one artist was chosen as the winner by the listeners and awarded a slot on the main stage… It would be impossible for our staff to listen to all of the submissions.” So instead, Dope Entertainment put Citrus Rap in charge of picking worthy acts for the Citrus Stage, and, the artists who weren't chosen then had the opportunity to pay for a time slot to help finance the stage, Cherif says. "Pay-to-play exists nationwide in all levels of the music industry. Major labels across all genres of music pay other labels to get artists on tour with bigger artists.” Citrus Rap did not respond to enquiries for comment.

Not all performers on the Citrus Stage were bothered by the pay-to-play model. Vincent Sarkis, a Miami-born, Las Vegas-based rapper who goes by Dezmond MF, works with a production company in Las Vegas and sympathizes with the plight of production companies and sponsors to promote non-marquee acts.

“I know you hear it all the time: the rap game is fucked up — but, the rap game really is fucked up,” Sarkis says. “When you’re popping, you get the offers. When you’re not, you gotta offer.”

Both Sarkis and Cameron say they were happy to pay to perform if it meant being exposed to a wider audience and enjoying the privileges that come with being a performing artist at a major hip-hop festival. Instead, independent performers were denied entry through the exclusive artist entrance and weren't allowed re-entry, forcing them to linger in the sizable general admission line. This resulted in some performers lacking prep time, and in some cases, missing their own sets entirely.  There was also a lack of promotion for these paying rappers. Looking at Citrus Rap’s Twitter profile, one will see more promotion of established names like Lil Uzi Vert and Freddie Gibbs. What’s more, the graphic detailing Citrus Stage’s lineup never made it far from Citrus Rap's Twitter feed, absent from both Rolling Loud’s official website and Facebook page, and not available at the festival itself.

“At that stage, Citrus Rap gave [Max P] more of the real deal — they brought the crowd to him… That shit was dumblit for them,” Sarkis recalls, referring to the rowdy and populated crowd that showed up for rapper Max P’s set. “That’s how it should be the whole time… People couldn’t even find that stage.”

Despite any disappointment, many artists, such as Dezmond MF, are itching to come back for next year.

“Next year, I want to be a part of that, and I want it to be better,” Sarkis insists. “I’m not here to diss on them, I’m not here to bag on them. I want to improve the rap scene in Miami. The more things that go smoothly, the more opportunities there are for everyone… I don’t see competition, I see collaboration. So I’m trying to make those connections with Rolling Loud and Citrus Rap, but they gotta do it with me too.”
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Zach Schlein is the former arts and music editor for Miami New Times. Originally from Montville, New Jersey, he holds a BA in political science from the University of Florida and writes primarily about music, culture, and clubbing, with a healthy dose of politics whenever possible. He has been published in The Hill, Mixmag, Time Out Miami, and City Gazettes.
Contact: Zach Schlein