Eight years after its inception in Wynwood, Rolling Loud has transformed from an erratic three-day mosh, where hip-hop's most eminent and enigmatic figures rage in front of raucous fans. Since those early days at Soho Studios in Wynwood, Rolling Loud has taken South Florida's underground, hardcore rap scene to the global stage from Inglewood, California, and New York City to Portugal and Germany.
Right alongside the festival's ascension into a cultural phenomenon, Florida natives DJ Scheme and Danny Towers have become synonymous with Rolling Loud's mainstream rise.
At the helm of South Florida's hardcore SoundCloud era, West Palm Beach native DJ Scheme (born Gabriel Guerra) produced for some of the most recognizable names on the punkier, emo side of hip-hop, including XXXTentacion, Ski Mask the Slump God, Wifisfuneral, and Juice Wrld. Around the time Rolling Loud's cofounders Tariq Cherif and Matt Zingler were booking concerts in Central and South Florida as Dope Entertainment, Guerra was desperate for a chance to take his niche sound to the Rolling Loud stage.
"I was still in high school, and I was going to their Dope Entertainment shows to see Denzel Curry perform or Robb Banks at a club in the middle of Miami," Guerra recalls. "When Rolling Loud first got announced, I had been working with my friend, Wifis, in Palm Beach, and I was like, 'Man, I've got to get on this festival!'"
After nearly being scammed out of $500 by a Twitter profile pretending to be a booking agent for Rolling Loud, Guerra connected with Cherif when he reached out to confirm if the opportunity was real."He was like, 'Oh, that's not real,'" Guerra says, laughing. "I was so sad because everyone thought we were going to perform, but Tariq was like, 'Actually, we plan on doing the stage, so maybe you guys could.' And I was like, 'Let me know. I'll send the money wherever.' And it actually ended up happening."
Even before recruiting artists for their first Rolling Loud, Cherif and Zingler were tapped into the music scene in and outside of South Florida. These were the days when collectives like Carol City's Raider Klan were growing a following on SoundCloud for their alternative and Memphis-inspired moody and choppy flows. In 2013, Cherif worked as a promoter in Orlando and with the local rap collective Swamp Posse when he connected with one of its members, Danny Towers (born Mario Torres). Torres was refining his rapping skills by opening Dope Entertainment shows and building a notable following on SoundCloud. Eventually, Torres and Guerra linked up through South Florida's SoundCloud ecosystem and became members of XXXTentacion's Members Only collective along with Ski Mask the Slump God and Craig Xen.
"There was a time in music when everyone was clicked up," Guerra says. "We felt like everyone had their own thing, like Raider Klan before us and other music groups that came before us. Our mindset was that we're better together than apart, and that's ultimately how the mixtapes came about."
"We clicked up, and the rest was history from there," Torres adds.
In 2020, Guerra and Torres scored one of their biggest viral hits, "How You Feel?" featuring Ski Mask the Slump God and Lil Yachty. The single's hard-hitting bass and quippy lyricism embodied Rolling Loud's raw, chaotic energy. Guerra and Torres teamed up with Lil Yachty and Ski Mask the Slump God again in 2021 for their quirky hit "E-ER."
The pair have locked in the formula for online virality in almost a decade since making their SoundCloud debut. It's a knack that Guerra says they learned cutting their teeth with XXXTentacion and Ski Mask the Slump God while recording the bleeding, emotive songs that became the catalyst for Rolling Loud.
"Rolling Loud was part of what we were doing at the time," Guerra says. "The true essence of what we were doing tied into the essence of what Rolling Loud was doing. You can see that now if you play 'Take a Step Back' or 'Look at Me!' or all the songs from when Rolling Loud was first coming up and when we were first coming up. It's tied in with its soul."
The mosh-pit, headbanging-inducing songs that Guerra and Torres were a part of creating are signature markers of almost any Rolling Loud performance, whether it's Ski Mask the Slump God going viral for a fan backflipping off his stage expecting to crowd surf only to be met by concrete (Guerra assured New Times the fan was okay and snagged a picture with Ski Mask afterward) or Playboi Carti's heavy-metal screeches inciting mayhem among thousands of devout fans.
Guerra and Torres scored another viral hit earlier this year with their Florida anthem, "Florida Water." Produced by Guerra, the official Rolling Loud DJ, the track unites Torres, Ski Mask the Slump God, and an assist from Tallahassee native Luh Tyler. Since its release in February, the song has amassed 14.6 million Spotify streams and 4.3 million YouTube views while peaking at number three on TikTok. "Florida Water" overflows with a Southern rap-influenced bounce, Luh Tyler's sporadic drawl, Torres' gut-punching, gravely bars, and Ski Mask's choppy flow.
"That record was insane to be a part of because we were just doing our thing. It was very similar to a lot of our other records and how they've come together," Guerra explains. "Me and Danny picked the beat together, we got together in the studio, and we came up with an idea of, okay, this is a similar vibe to our big records like 'E-ER' and 'How You Feel?' It goes to show that we are a part of the culture and grind and what it is to be Florida. Our essence is Florida."
Fresh off Rolling Loud's European editions in the Netherlands, Portugal, and Germany, Torres and Guerra released the album just in time to perform in the city where it started. From the first infamously flooded Rolling Loud to now, Guerra and Torres say they still feel excited to witness and collaborate with Rolling Loud.
"You can see the evolution of the festival from X's last set in 2018 to DMX's before he passed away. There were so many special moments, and being there around it and seeing how hard [Cherif and Zingler] pushed to make it happen. Not only is it great for the festival, but it's great for hip-hop. That's the DNA of Rolling Loud," Guerra says.
As Guerra and Torres prepare for a momentous set during this week's flagship Miami edition, including their recent hit "Florida Water," the pair is primed for massive success.
"By the time we were getting ready to drop 'Florida Water,' I knew it was going to go crazy," Cherif says. "It's the same recipe. I'm super proud of my guys. They're becoming strong forces in the South Florida rap scene, and I'm proud to have played that role in helping them grow."
Guerra and Torres' undeniable impact on a niche era of hip-hop and Rolling Loud's rise points to the influence of Florida's rap scene over the past few decades.
While Rolling Loud Miami will attract an influx of fans from all over the country and generate a slew of viral-worthy stunts, Guerra and Torres will anchor the festival to remind people of not just where it all started but who it started with — a group of ragtag South-Florida teens who exploded on the scene with angst and ambition.
Rolling Loud. 4 p.m. Friday, July 21, through Sunday, July 23, at Hard Rock Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens; rollingloud.com. Tickets cost $199 to $1,049 via rollingloud.frontgatetickets.com.