The world’s biggest hip-hop festival returned to its home city this past weekend, and to say it was wild is an understatement. Rolling Loud Miami, which hosted close to 200,000 attendees, had no shortage of amazing moments and headline material, even before its gates opened on Friday, July 22nd.
A fair number of artists dropped for various reasons. Gunna was imprisoned. Lil Tjay was hospitalized, and Kanye West is rumored to have dropped the festival because Travis Scott was not allowed to perform (a twist of irony that we’ll get into later). Polo G, Sheck Wes, and Kid Cudi were added to the lineup afterward. At the festival itself, fans were treated to surprise appearances from Quavo, Takeoff, and many more. They witnessed Kid Cudi walk off stage due to a heckling crowd, and a few rising stars made powerful statements with their sets.
With all this chaos in mind, we want to break down the top five best sets at Rolling Loud Miami 2022. They were great in so many ways. They might have incorporated live instrumentation or brought out incredible guests, or they might have brought enough energy to the crowd to power a city with their bounce. Regardless, they all made for awe-inspiring live experiences.
Huge disclaimer: I did not get to see every set at Rolling Loud (I was physically at Lil Baby, but mentally raging to “Dark Knight Dummo” at Trippie Redd’s set on the other side of the festival). There are also too many great performances to rank, and this list was incredibly difficult to put together. Thus, a lot of names and moments will be left out of this list — Polo G’s set and appearance at Trippie Redd, Kodak Black’s performance amid his house arrest saga, Ski Mask the Slump God in his home city, Don Toliver, Baby Keem, legends like Three Six Mafia, energetic up-and-comers like Bktherula and Babytron… the list goes on. With that being said, I do have three names that I want to include as honorable mentions.
First, we have Lil Durk. The only reason he’s not in the Top 5 is because I didn’t get a chance to see his full set (I was one of many who took the long walk from Cudi to Durkio). With that being said, he was arguably the king of the weekend across the board. Impressive performance with live drums and a slew of hits? Check. Crowd hype and stage presence? Check. He brought out fellow Chicago titan Kanye West for “Hot Sh*t” and “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1,” which made for one of the festival's most surprising and talked-about moments. To top it off, Durk appeared at Future’s set the day after his own closing performance, which was the final win in a string of dubs for the “7220” rapper. He is truly becoming one of the greats of his generation.
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Next is JELEEL!, who takes the cake for the most impactful up-and-coming star at this year’s festival. His music is fit for rage and exemplifies the sounds and attitudes that many rappers are embracing in their shows and production — opening the pits, delivering aggressive synths and bass, and making sure that fans were safe in the process. His sheer size helps, too. His presence was unmatched and he made such a big statement at his first Rolling Loud appearance. Between epic dives into the crowd, his now iconic ad-libs and stage moves (Jeleel, yeah!), and the earnest gratitude that he showed the crowd and festival, JELEEL! is establishing himself as a passionate leader and positive influence that is a must-see live act.
Finally, we have the current king of live performances: Playboi Carti. He might have just screamed on stage and looked over his stage punks that were trashing vans, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t the most visceral pit experience of the festival. Carti has an insane fanbase that brings absolute aggression to every crowd; I saw goons in clown makeup and “VAMP SECURITY” shirts from the moment I got to the Rolling Loud gates. While his energy is infectious, and his raw music is absolutely perfect for a live setting, his set was unfortunately cut short due to a tardy start. Carti is almost guaranteed to kill his sets at this point. No live Hip-Hop show is quite like his, and even if he met expectations rather than exceeded them this weekend, it’s still enough energy to knock your shoes off.
05. Nardo Wick
To start off the Top 5, we have the winner for Best Up-and-Comer. It feels quite weird to say that about Nardo Wick, as “Who Want Smoke?” has been a hit for a year and a half now. Nevertheless, the Wickman really established himself as a legitimate act to watch with his performance on the Monster Energy stage on Saturday. His setlist included a few songs from his latest project — Who Is Nardo Wick?? (Deluxe) — namely, “Krazy Krazy” and “Riot.” However, Nardo’s set was dominated by his biggest hits and high-profile collabs from his breakout album, which made it feel like a victory lap after the XXL Freshman has become one of rap’s newest stars.
Wick’s set was also relatively gimmick-free. Sure, there’s the usual DJ hype routines of “Y’all ready?!” and “Open that sh*t up!”, and Nardo himself had many call-and-response moments with the crowd. But compared to many other sets that entirely depend on that artificial crowd stimulation, Nardo Wick impressed everyone with his thorough performances of his songs. He was rapping through nearly every word, injecting conviction throughout the song and making sure that he was proving himself as an MC and not just a rager. This wasn’t his first Rolling Loud Miami, but the Wickman came correct and did not take his performance lightly. It was his time to celebrate his success and plant his flag.
He’s a legend — of course it was going to be a good set. Pluto’s discography is a gold mine, and the fact that he missed out on so many of his hits with this set just proves that point (I was personally waiting for “Codeine Crazy,” but you can’t have it all). Even as a lowkey crooner, Future still spit some of his best verses all the way through and had a strong connection with the crowd. As the Saturday closer on the main Ciroc stage, Future’s pyrotechnics and visual presentation outranked most performers with hazy art and fireworks galore. Miami and Atlanta clearly have a kindred spirit, as Future was one of many Atlanta rappers that felt right at home. He boasted newer hits like “GOLD STACKS” and “WAIT FOR U” from his latest project I NEVER LIKED YOU as well as classics like “Thought It Was A Drought” and “Stick Talk,” which made everyone in the crowd have something to latch on to.
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Future’s set also had one of the biggest guest star moments of the festival. The aforementioned Ye appearance during Lil Durk’s set was a great Chicago victory and a strong display from two fan favorites at the moment, but nothing could have prepared us for when Houston hit the scene. Future brought out Travis Scott to perform their Southside-produced banger, “Hold That Heat,” and La Flame also performed some of his biggest hits like “Antidote.” It was Travis’s high-profile return to festival life after the Astroworld tragedy, and fans in the crowd were so incredibly excited to see it happen. It was a big night for Travis, but it’s nothing without the OG trap star and bombastic set that brought him there.
03. Lil Baby
Speaking of ATL trap exponents, Lil Baby had an incredible show at the Ciroc stage on Sunday. It wasn’t the most guest-heavy, although New Orleans breakout Rob49 did walk on stage in a massive co-sign to perform their song “Vulture Island V2.” What really made Lil Baby’s performance special was, unsurprisingly, Baby himself. He’s grown to be one of trap’s most recognized and lauded lyricists, and his focused flows and performance throughout his set showed the art of MC’ing to be his main priority. It was also quite a diverse setlist emotionally. “Freestyle” was screamed and moshed to like the new national anthem, “Emotionally Scarred” made for a powerful near-close, and laidback hits like “Wants and Needs” and “Drip Too Hard” kept the crowd balanced and singing along.
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If anything, Lil Baby’s show was among the rawest and no-frills sets of the festival. Similar to how Nardo Wick came to devour the mic, the Atlanta native delivered quality over bombast with his set. His performances, both at Rolling Loud Miami and any subsequent ones, will also have a heightened sense of poignancy due to YSL’s incarceration. Many fans were rapping every word of his songs alongside him. In a time of turmoil for the city and an age of low-effort but high-brag live sets, Lil Baby has risen up as his home’s defender. Future might still be at the top of the game, but while Thugger’s absence is painfully felt, Lil Baby’s the Atlanta artist who’s promised to push trap forward right now and make his city proud. With such an engaging and powerful set, I believe every word.
02. Lil Uzi Vert
Uzi’s back, and it feels like they’ve been rejuvenated. Baby Pluto also played at the Ciroc stage on Saturday right before Future, which made for a great combo of Uzi’s galactic ragers with Future’s woozy hits. They also released their prelude to their upcoming THE P!NK TAPE, the RED & WHITE EP the day before their set. Needless to say, hype was built, and Uzi delivered. The Philly king’s recent festival performances seem to have injected new life into them, as they were smiling and kneeling down to the crowd and jumping all over the stage. No guests necessary, just the wildcard right in front of you. This was a big moment for Uzi, a return to the rap game after two years of near absolute silence, and an incredible shifting point in their career where it feels like we’re getting something new to come.
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It’s not like the RED & WHITE EP is wildly different from their work. In fact, songs like “F.F.” and “SPACE CADET” are classic-sounding Uzi tracks that might stand toe-to-toe with some of their biggest hits in a few months. Hearing new songs live is a unique experience in a rap show, a moment where you don’t have the luxury of rewinding and replaying to scrutinize a track. Instead, Uzi was purely in the moment, refusing until the very last second to leave the stage after their time was up. They played so many classics and recent fan favorites, too — the infectious “Silly Watch” and “POP” from Eternal Atake; older moshpit classics like “Money Longer,” “WDYW,” and “wokeuplikethis*;” and an absolutely electric mashup of “Sanguine Paradise” and “Neon Guts” that blew my section’s mind. Ultimately, it’s not the fact that Uzi dropped new music that hints toward a revitalization of their career that made the set so special. It’s their positive energy, their almost decade-long dedication to a sound they helped bring into the rap mainstream, and a feeling that the person on stage (despite looking solemnly at the camera in a few instances) is having just as much fun with their songs as you are. Uzi had the most genuine performance at Rolling Loud Miami, hands-down.
01. Kendrick Lamar
Yeah, it’s Kendrick. It may feel like a cop-out, but how could the most celebrated and beloved rapper of the past decade — just two months after a monumental album drop — not have the most mind-blowing set of the weekend? With expectations high and excitement even higher, Mr. Morale delivered, frankly, one of the most engaging and unitary performances I’ve ever seen. What led the charge was his control of the mic. Aside from a few missed bars and breath breaks, Kendrick rapped his songs word for word with such conviction, skill, and confidence. This was also one of the only performances at the festival where I saw what I’ll call “verse pits”: no shoving or jumping, just fans rapping every syllable of the setlist to each other or to Kendrick. Boy, what a setlist it was. Longtime classics like “m.A.A.d city” and “Backseat Freestyle,” powerful bangers like “Alright” and “DNA.,” some of the best highlights from Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers like “N95” and “Count Me Out,” plus an anthemic and incredibly nostalgic performance of “Money Trees” that stands as the festival’s most magical moment.
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While Kendrick didn’t have the production value of his arena tour or his other high-profile festival performances, I’m sure he also knows that his audience didn’t need them. The expectations for Rolling Loud Miami are a hard collection of hits with great rapping and energy, and Kendrick has the unique position of appealing to the hardest ragers and the most old-school hip-hop heads. As such, he hit every note perfectly, but he still had some big moments in store beyond main-stage pyrotechnics. His stage background was a huge crowd of black-and-white-clad onlookers, who lined up like a battalion of soldiers and also moshed among themselves for the chaotic songs. His screens were populated by iconic phrases, credits, and other writing that will keep his fans theorizing and analyzing for weeks. Finally, he brought out Kodak Black for a very fun performance of “Silent Hill,” which was a big moment despite the criticism that Kendrick has drawn for Kodak’s inclusion. Towards the end of the set, he brought out his cousin Baby Keem and displayed invigorating chemistry for their incredible track, “family ties.” It was the festival’s last breath of rage and energy for the mosh pits. Whether you were at Rolling Loud Miami 2022 for the pits or for the bars, Kendrick’s versatile set stands as the festival’s best performance. He may not be our savior, but his discography and artistry make for a legendary feat to witness in the flesh.