Playboi Carti — slender as a string bean, flexible as a yogi, his dreads dyed almost the same beige as his cropped jacket — bounded onto the main stage at the Rolling Loud festival Saturday night to rile up his faithful. Carti is an impressionist rapper, slurring together syllables and murmurs into cloudy chant-along mantras. But onstage, he was a dynamo — jumping wildly, curling his body into a parabola as he shouted to the sky, and inciting his tens of thousands of fans to mosh.
This was something like the platonic ideal of a Rolling Loud performance — modern, young, deconstructed, riotous.
This traveling hip-hop festival made its New York debut in the parking lots of Citi Field in Queens on Saturday and Sunday for what was almost certainly the largest multiday rap event ever in the city; 60,000 tickets were sold for each day.
It was a bold success, and reflected some truths about the genre. First, it has melted — its essential stars and innovators all but eschew traditional structure in favor of songs that reduce hip-hop to something primal and instinctual. Second, all bow before the wisdom of the mosh pit — the huge crowds here were their own character in the festival’s narrative drama. And though it took place in the shadow of the 7 train, the weekend was a reminder of just how far New York is from the center of contemporary hip-hop.
That gap was exacerbated by the New York Police Department, which insisted that five rising rappers from the New York area — Pop Smoke, Casanova, Don Q, Sheff G and 22Gz — be dropped from the lineup because they had “been affiliated with recent acts of violence citywide.” (Tariq Cherif, a founder and owner of Rolling Loud, wrote on Twitter, “If we want RL to return to NYC, we have no choice but to comply. That’s the position we’re in.”)
In four and a half years — beginning small in Miami, and now promoting Coachella-sized events around the country — Rolling Loud has established itself as a playground for the young. The aesthetic is relentlessly 2010s, even mid-to-late 2010s. The lineups, especially earlier in the day, depict a rapid feedback system: This time last year, many of the rappers now drawing crowds of several thousand were barely known.
Even the most established rappers had an improvisational flair and a knack for bending words to their whim: Playboi Carti, and the performer who followed him on the main stage, Travis Scott, whose set was far less centered but even more volcanic. (Scott injured his right knee while performing, but hobbled on anyway.) On Sunday night, Young Thug and Lil Uzi Vert performed back to back, one splashy eccentric supplanting the other.
There is an emergent pop-minded generation following in their footsteps, represented at this festival by Juice WRLD, who writes sterling melodies about heartbreak; the squeaky sing-rapping of A Boogie Wit da Hoodie; and Lil Tecca, who had a rapturous midday audience for his sweet-voiced boasts.
Excellent sets by the young rappers Polo G, Lil Tjay and Calboy included standout melodic songs about tragedy. Suicideboys and City Morgue channeled an urgent, gothic misery. Blueface persisted with his viral antics. And there were ample female rappers: Saweetie was impressively focused, Rico Nasty was energetically unhinged and Megan Thee Stallion was briskly efficient.
Rolling Loud suffered from not atypical festival logistics issues — some performers going on early, or late, or not at all. Not enough spacing between big-name performers. A barrier that was no match for the crowd’s intensity during Ski Mask the Slump God’s set.
Which is to say, the kids came to rage. Meek Mill complained about the limp energy of his crowd, but to be fair, he’s a rapper of a different ilk — while he was having trouble whipping his fans into a frenzy, Scott was on another stage inciting mayhem.
That split also played out via the music the D.J.s chose between sets. Some opted for New York classics like Nas and Big Punisher, to little interest. Others played to the crowd’s interests, emblematized by the staccato pugnacity of NLE Choppa’s “Shotta Flow” and the reliably explosive Chief Keef chestnut “Faneto” from all the way back in 2014, a time that was effectively the birthplace of this generation’s taste.
Almost all of them consistently — and pointedly — played music by the absent Pop Smoke, who has had a handful of rowdy hits this summer. Rolling Loud’s New York debut in part was going to be a showcase for new talent from the city, but the N.Y.P.D.’s request laid waste to that section of the lineup, preventing some of the most promising young New York rappers from performing at a signature hometown festival.
That said, there is a difference between a rap festival that takes place in New York and a New York rap festival. For years, the city’s closest approximation of the latter has been Summer Jam, hosted by the radio station Hot 97, a once-a-year accounting of changing local taste and declining local influence.
There were several New York rappers of earlier generations booked for Rolling Loud. The Wu-Tang Clan performed a focused set of old hits. ASAP Rocky, the festival’s headliner — a triumphant homecoming following his recent legal troubles in Sweden — was joined by 50 Cent during his set, which was otherwise a tug-of-war between a conventional star turn and an embrace of the unruliness of the generations that came after him.
But notably, many of the older New Yorkers — and the rappers influenced by them — were shunted to the third and smallest stage on the far side of the parking lot: Fabolous, Pusha T, Wale, Jim Jones, Action Bronson. Watching them was like sampling a regional delicacy.
Toward the end of Saturday night, the New York veteran Fat Joe was performing to maybe 1,000 people there, stringing together hits from a decade ago. Midway through, he brought out the Lox to perform “We Gonna Make It.” That song is something of a New York tradition — the Lox must have performed it hundreds of times at other people’s shows over the years, the opening horns and strings ringing out like a call to arms. In this context, it felt particularly defiant: For a brief moment, for just a few people, the home team was victorious.