As Rolling Loud's official DJ, Five Venoms wears multiple hats — curator, A&R, and a fill in for artists. Photo Credit: Vickey Ford of Sneakshot Photography
Three Days with DJ Five Venoms: What It's Like to Be the Official DJ For Hip-Hop's Biggest Music Festival
DJ Five Venoms is the official tour DJ of Rolling Loud. One of his most important jobs is acting as a fill in DJ — covering for artists when they no-show. We shadowed Venoms for one wild weekend at Rolling Loud New York.
It’s day two of Rolling Loud NY 2021 and DJ Five Venoms and his team are at a makeshift grocery store called Manny’s Bodega. This, I learned early on, would be the “chill spot” whenever Venoms did not have his own dressing room or mini trailer after a scheduled set. They offered all complimentary “diet smoke” items like organic rolling papers and chocolate-covered cereal that looked like weed — but didn’t contain any — as well as a variety of other snacks and energy drinks. Those who were cool with Manny also could stash their liquor behind the station and use his styrofoam cups to indulge.
It was here where Venoms and I spoke about Rolling Loud New York 2019. “I brought out Fivio Foreign when 'Big Drip' was buzzing but it wasn't the big song that everyone knew yet," Venoms said. "Then, months later, it was one of the biggest songs out.” Later on that night, he said, Meek Mill played “Big Drip" during his set and the late Juice WRLD would follow up Venoms by bringing Fivio out during his own performance. There was a sense of pride exuding through him as he spoke of this moment and what it meant in the context of then to now. Venoms almost sounded like a gratified uncle who was excited to see how much his nephew had grown.
Our moment had to take a pause, however, as a woman named Jessica Paris pulled Venoms to the side. Paris ran artist relations for stage three, the Punx Stage. Paris needed to pull Venoms to fill in for Chief Keef who was set to headline the stage that evening but had issues with his flight.
Once we got to the backstage entrance we were met with a small five guy security team who looked stressed. They were coordinating the exit of those who were backstage as well as fending off a few late arrivals who were trying to get in without wristbands.
As the official tour DJ of Rolling Loud, DJ Five Venoms has to fill in. That means, whenever an artist is late or is a no-show, Venoms comes out and rocks the crowd. Photo Credit: Miki Hellerbach
Venoms told them who he was but knowingly said we would wait off to the side until everyone came out or was let in to not get in the middle of the stress. Once the dust had settled and we had a cleared space he ushered us both through security and onto the stage where he began to get set up.
The crowd was somewhat small in front of the stage and those who were there seemed a bit deflated and disappointed. Venoms pulled out his laptop and plugged himself into the onstage setup. Once Venoms played the first track of his fill-in set though, it was clear he was a pro. He opened with “Red Opps” by 21 Savage and closed with “First Day Out” by Tee Grizzley and for the whole 10 to 15 minutes set the crowd doubled in size.
“I’m keeping the energy up instead of it just being a dead stage,” Venoms said when asked about his job for those types of sets. “I can kind of do whatever I want when it comes to the improv DJ sets to turn up the crowd.”
As the official tour DJ of Rolling Loud, this is what DJ Five Venoms does best — fill in. That means, whenever an artist is late or is a no-show, Venoms comes out and rocks the crowd. In the entirety of the three-day festival (October 28th-30th) I counted Venoms doing six fill-in sets. I am sure, however, that this number is less than he actually did as he would disappear at times for semi-extended periods without explanation. He was moving so constantly it was hard to totally keep track. Before I arrived on day one he had already done at least two fill-in sets, including one for Fetty Wap, who was arrested just outside the venue on federal drug charges. (Venoms told me Wap was grabbed by the feds right outside the artist entrance located near Manny’s Bodega.)
There was only one other fill-in set I personally witnessed which was for a slightly late Key Glock during day two. Venoms was again ushered to the Punx Stage. This was one of the many times where it was necessary to follow Venoms as he moves. He gets a text and has to shoot away.
The start of Five Venoms and Rolling Loud
“I’m keeping the energy up instead of it just being a dead stage,” Venoms said. “I can kind of do whatever I want when it comes to the improv DJ sets to turn up the crowd.” Photo Credit: Miki Hellerbach
Venoms honed his craft in the Philadelphia scene, going back and forth between Philly and Atlantic City clubs. It's when he moved to Orlando to attend Full Sail University when he really started to build his name. He met Rolling Loud founders Matt Zingler and Tariq Cherif at a gig DJing for local Orlando artist Wes Fif. Fif was opening for Curren$y at a show arranged by Zingler and Cherif's company at the time, Dope ENT.
“They started bringing more and more artists to Florida who weren’t touring there and sold out every show. I was like, 'Yo can I be a part of this?'" Venoms said. "I came and they tried it out and they were like, 'Cool we’ll book you for every show.' About four years into doing this they came up with the concept for Rolling Loud. Then because I was always their DJ in Orlando they had me be a part of that first Rolling Loud. Then it just built from being the DJ for those initial Miami shows to being the official DJ for the festival itself. We started doing shows in other markets like California and New York and I started DJing those and continuing the process."
As the show has grown so has Venoms’ ability to curate all he wants to get out of each new festival stop. Throughout the weekend, Venoms had allotted time slots on each day of the festival When I arrived on day one, the first set I saw him do was his first officially scheduled one. This was the epitome of Venoms’ posse set. The setlist included BabyBoySlimee, Big Havi, Qrunitup, and Elijah the Boy. The first, second, and fourth artists all have collaborative songs with Venoms released in the past year and a half. Venoms had each of these artists perform his songs as well as their own top hits averaging about three songs an artist. Qrunitup, a local rising rapper, was added into the mix as an initiator for collaborations on future songs and to please the NYC crowd. The energy pre and during the set felt intentionally communal. “It’s not as much about what’s happening then on the stage, it’s about a year from now or two years from now,” Venoms said about why he crafts his own sets this way.
“For my sets, it's more planned, like an A&R type of thing or being a tastemaker saying, 'These are the next guys that are gonna be it,’” Venoms said. “I book guest artists, homies that I want to work with, or artists that I see in different markets that could’ve been on Rolling Loud but didn’t make the cut. I put them on my platform to showcase them. My stage is that one step towards becoming a bigger artist. Now they have Rolling Loud on their resume. If it’s a new artist I want to work with, maybe it’s an olive branch of like, ‘You wanna come perform on my set? Then maybe we can work on a song together later.’”
Thinking of the future
Bronx drill rapper Kay Flock plotting his setlist with DJ Five Venoms. Photo Credit: Miki Hellerbach
On the last day of Rolling Loud, Bronx bred drill rapper Kay Flock and his team crowded into trailer with Venoms for pre-set to prep before Venoms last allotted time slot at the DeLeón Tequila Stage. They broke down everything from setlist direction to transitions. Flock is the ideal artist to be featured in a Venoms set. He is a local artist who has seen a recent boost in notoriety in the Bronx’s burgeoning drill scene and was just featured on Lil Tjay’s new single, "Not in the Mood."
The set went beautifully minus a slight delay in Venoms’ intro announcement and Flock’s onstage entrance due to general commotion on the side of the stage. As soon as Flock started rapping you could see young fans running towards the crowd. It felt like a moment Venoms had orchestrated that held to the original essence of Rolling Loud, highlighting niche rising artists supported by the youth right at the moment they are on the cusp of something greater. (Unfortunately,as it has been reported, Kay Flock and his crew got into an altercation with another Bronx drill rapper Ron Suno about an hour after we got back to the artist area and was removed from the premises along with his crew.)
During the first night of Rolling Loud, I was able to ask about the fulfillment that he garners from continuing to do these festivals. "Running from stage to stage can get tiring because they usually give me like five minutes to get ready, but the energy is the most rewarding thing," Venoms said. "Getting that energy back that you give out to the crowd, that’s the highlight for me. Also, the growth of hip hop and the growth of Rolling Loud coincide. You have all these artists that were underground when the festival started who performed on the C-Stage, the stage where no one was really paying attention, and now they’re the headliners... Also, each year we are still showcasing new talent. It’s dope to see that progression and the sonic one aligned with how the festival has gotten bigger and better. It’s gone from distorted 808s to a more melodic sound, while we went from having one festival a year, to having like three or four, to it now going international. The growth is worldwide now.”
Then suddenly, right as we were about to dive even further into the happy stuff, Venoms got a text that said he had to run and cover for Lil Durk’s headlining set on stage two, the Audiomack Stage. This was right at about 9:05 PM; the set was scheduled to begin at 9:10 PM.
Miki Hellerbach is a freelance music and culture journalist from Baltimore, whose work can also be found on CentralSauce, Euphoria Magazine, Notion Magazine, GUAP Magazine, and Complex. He also regularly co-hosts the In Search of Sauce music journalism podcast highlighting the top tier work of other writers.