A Conversation with Rolling Loud Co-Founder Tariq Cherif at Florida State (4/4/19)
Event recap written by Bryan Anderson, Florida A&M University (Class of 2019, Industrial Engineering)
“In the end, the turnout was delivered to Ogden Payne. One hundred and eighty-nine people came to his event: “A Conversation with Rolling Loud Co-Founder Tariq Cherif” in FSU lecture hall HCB 102. Though that number only half-filled the room, he was satisfied with it. It was the type of lecture hall that screamed “freshman lecture” or “weed-out class.” An auditorium so big that the back wall was made up of two projector screens, angled so students each side of the room could see. The energy would definitely be different. Sitting in the back of a class like that is a universal sign for “I don’t want to be here.” I imagined a young Tariq Cherif sitting at the back trying to force himself to pay attention and getting lost in dreams about his future. That night, a much older Tariq Cherif returned to FSU, but this time, he sat at the front. Front and center. As the co-founder of Rolling Loud, he came back to share his insights with the next generation. The room was buzzing with hope as the young audience listened to how he made his dream his reality. Even the people at the back were paying attention.
I’d be willing to bet that more people were paying attention to this talk than the combined number of students who paid attention to classes in this room every day. While we might not have had pen and paper to take notes, I could tell that everyone was completely immersed in the conversation. HCB 102 has certainly seen its share of professors, but I doubt that it had ever hosted two young promoters. Ogden Payne, someone who brings talent to big college campuses in small cities to share wisdom with students, and Tariq Cherif, a co-founder of the biggest Hip-Hop music festival (and one of the biggest of any genre) in the country. An unassuming guy, not too tall, not too tatted, not too hyper, not too crazy hairstyle. He leaves that to his partner, Matt Zingler. With his Nike soccer pants and Rolling Loud hoodie, Tariq Cherif could have easily been a member of the crowd. He has an air of being a “bro,” not in the obnoxious sense, but the vibe of someone you really want to hang out with. (It wouldn’t surprise me if the name Rolling Loud was what he and Matt Zingler were doing when they had the idea.) On multiple occasions while speaking, he forgot the question he was answering. Oddly enough, he had answered them perfectly EVERY TIME. He has an easygoing vibe, but there is definitely a shrewd mind there.
I was there as a Campus Ambassador, the reward for inviting as many people as I could and getting a decent number to RSVP. On arrival, I knew there was something special going on; people were lined up and waiting outside the classroom. Those of us who participated as Ambassadors got to have our own reception with the Rolling Loud team as well as front row seating. Other “dignitaries” joined us as the event began. One was Tallahassee’s own DJ Demp, who started his career with the Ghost Town Dj’s (biggest hit - “My Boo” for the older crowd or “The Song from the Running Man Challenge” for the younger crowd) and still regularly puts on events, including his Demp Week every January. When Tariq Cherif saw him, he greeted him like an old friend. Before there was Rolling Loud, there was Dope Ent, which began in Tallahassee as the result of classroom daydreams. DJ Demp knew him from his beginning.
Throughout interview, Tariq Cherif’s personality flowed through his stories and advice. The ease with which he answers tells me that he is comfortable being himself. When he forgot a question, he simply admitted it and smiled. Because of it, everything he said was so much more believable, so much more relevant. People asked for advice on making it in every area of the industry. The questions ranged from artists asking about promotion techniques, to photographers inquiring about how to join the Rolling Loud team. An artist, who Tariq actually recognized from his DM’s, told about how he drove seven hours from Broward for the opportunity to hear him speak (I followed him on social media on the spot and gave him a listen when I got home. I have to support people from home, especially with that much drive - pun intended). A DJ asked for tips on how to make it big and balance working on the craft and building his network. Tariq’s answer opened the door for at least one networking opportunity - he told the kid to make sure he spoke to DJ Demp before the event was over. DJ Demp actually exchanged contact information with the kid on the spot. In that moment, it was clear that Tariq Cherif is for the students. A member of the audience asked a question about building a following as an artist; the answer, “Don’t open for someone, do your own shows. Make every part of it as expressive as possible, put as much as you can into it, and do it where your base is biggest. If that’s doing it for 20 people in your house, do it. But when you do it, make sure the show is great. Make sure the audience wants to see more. That’s how you start to build your base of core loyal fans.”
The tone for the evening was set by the interaction of the two young and clearly ambitious promoters. Sitting in the front row, I could see even their most subtle interaction. Tariq Cherif, ever cool, embodied the phrase “Still waters run deep.” After giving insight on making a career in music, his favorite question was about his favorite Surf spot in Florida. Ogden Payne looked entirely engaged, like he was studying every word Tariq was saying. His level of preparation was clear - not just because of the comfortable and fluid way that he guided the conversation, but because of the pages of typed text I could see in the notebook on his lap. I don’t think Tariq was playing cool, nor do I think Ogden was feigning interest. Their authenticity heightened the experience; I could tell that like me, the entire audience felt the positive vibes and the entire room was engaged. Even the empty half.
As I left the event, I began to understand why Ogden Payne was happy with 189 people. That’s a lot more than 20, and engagement, which Tariq Cherif made the case for, was undeniable. It’s about relationships. They didn’t just talk about it either. After the event ended and we had to vacate the room, Tariq Cherif and his team stood outside to continue to answer questions and exchange social media information. One of the other Ambassadors got to personally deliver his resume before the event. As the cofounder of Rolling Loud, Cherif is constantly interacting with different people from all around the world which include the hottest rappers we all know or will know very soon. He has grown from a simple promoter to an important tastemaker in the industry. With all of the success, he isn’t above talking to college kids. He even seemed to enjoy it. Maybe because their dreams sound as crazy as his once did. As for Ogden Payne, he seemed very content in his role as the orchestrator. He was the bridge between the students and the teacher in this classroom. That’s what he started For The Students to do. I imagine everyone in that room left inspired, thinking about what they want to do with their lives, and how to apply what they saw and heard. I think Tariq Cherif outlined some amazing principles about hustle, but for me I would apply that to studying the industry and how it’s developed – and then sharing the information. I’ve always believed that knowledge is power, but that night I saw firsthand what it means to use that power for the students.”
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Photography by Kevin Pham (@filmforlunch on all platforms)